Monday, October 26, 2015

The Hudson Bay Company's Creepy Latin Motto


Pro Pelle Cutem. Skin for skin. Kiiiiind of a creepy 350 year-old motto. The Hudson Bay Company dropped it in 2002 and just started using it again in 2013. It seems to be a pun-ish reference to Satan's line in the Book of Job: "Skin for skin; yea, all that a man hath, he will give for his life." There are various interpretations of the motto, but lots of people say that it was a morbid suggestion that the Company was willing to risk the lives of their fur traders (and to kill others!) in order to get their hands on beaver pelts. Much of early Canadian history, of course, was driven by the European appetite for beaver hats. The fashion nearly drove our national animal to extinction.

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You can learn more about the history of motto — and the Company — from the Bay's website here. And the Manitoba Historical Society has an old article about the motto here, originally published in the Beaver in 1958.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dream 19 "The Wolves of King Street East" (Charles G.D. Roberts, 1884)

He had the same dream every winter. He was standing on King Street, alone on a night with fresh snow, a clear sky and a full moon. Icicles hung like crystals. Every dark corner was made bright. Even then, he could only barely see them: faint lupine shadows slipping up out of the frosted forests of the Don Valley and into the sparkling heart of the city. They moved quickly and with purpose, seemed to know all of the houses and schools where the children slept. They slunk beneath the cracks of closed doors and through barely-open windows, crept up stairs and into bedrooms. Toothy muzzles were lifted up onto pillowcases, and steamy, wet breath warmed young, sleeping faces.

Those wolves whispered secrets into those innocent ears. On that night, the boys and girls of Toronto dreamed of the frozen White North. Of the wintry wilds of Canada. Of moose and of elk and of ice.

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Sir Charles G.D. Roberts was one of the very first world-famous Canadian authors. He wrote children's stories about animals in the late 1800s and early 1900s and became the first Canadian author to be knighted for his work.

You can read more about his life and his clash with U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt on Spacing here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

On José Bautista's Bat Flip & The Making of History in Toronto

The very first legendary home run ever hit in Toronto was hit in 1887. More than a century before Joe Carter's famous World Series walk-off at the SkyDome, Cannonball Crane hit a homer into the sky above the Don Valley to end a game at Sunlight Park. It was made all the more impressive by the fact that it came during extra innings in the second game of a double-header — and that Crane had pitched all 20 innings for the Toronto Baseball Club on that Saturday afternoon. Those two victories sparked a 16-game winning streak that brought Toronto our very first baseball championship.

Cannonball Crane fell apart soon after, spending his final days as a broke, unemployed, depressive alcoholic who met his end by drinking a bottle of a chloral at a seedy motel across the lake in Rochester. But thanks to that home run, he'd already written his name into the history of our city. He was a hero. For decades to come, his name would be mentioned with reverent awe on a regular basis in Toronto. And it still is from time to time. In fact, next summer Heritage Toronto will unveil a new plaque on the spot where Sunlight Park once stood — at Queen & Broadview — and it will include a mention and a photo of Crane. Nearly 130 years after his game-winning home run, the name of Cannonball Crane is still remembered. 

Those opportunities for quasi-immortality don't come along very often. Extraordinary talent has to conspire with a strange amount of luck in front of an unusually large audience. Cannonball Crane was one of the greatest pitchers and sluggers of his time, brought to the plate at just the right moment in front of a record-setting crowd — about 10% of the entire population of Toronto was at Sunlight Park that day.

On Wednesday night, one of the greatest sluggers of our time came to the plate at the SkyDome during one of the strangest innings in baseball history — and more than 10% of the entire population of Canada was watching.

Ned "Cannonball" Crane
No one ever expected José Bautista to become a superstar. He was drafted in the 20th round. He spent years as a forgettable utility infielder. In his rookie season, he got released and traded four times in just a few months — from one terrible team to another. Finally, Pittsburgh traded him to Toronto for a middling minor league catcher.

The Blue Jays didn't expect him to become a superstar either. But after making an adjustment to his swing — adding a higher leg kick to change his timing — that's exactly what he did become. In 2010, he hit 54 home runs — a dozen more than anybody else hit that year. And he hasn't looked back. Since Bautista became a slugger, no other slugger has hit more home runs than he has. On Thursday, Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports called Bautista's career "one of the most bizarre and inspiring stories in the history of baseball."

They say that thanks to his early struggles — along with facing the subtle and not-so-subtle racism of the old school baseball establishment — the Dominican Bautista has always played as if he has something to prove. And that, in part, is what makes him such a perfect fit for Toronto.

Torontonians, too, feel like we have something to prove. We always have. It's our infamous colonial mentality, stretching all the way back to our early days as a muddy outpost on a distant, snowy frontier. Our city was founded as a capital — but a tiny capital, thousands of kilometers away from the heart of the British Empire, dwarfed by the American juggernaut to the south. We've always been secretly ambitious (our founder, John Graves Simcoe, wanted Toronto to become a city so awesome that Americans would beg to be let back into the British fold), but we worry that if we're honest with ourselves we'll find that we're largely irrelevant. That inferiority complex was already in place long before Cannonball Crane stepped to the plate on that September afternoon in 1887. It was, I suspect, part of what drove the crowd's frenzied reaction when he crushed his game-winning home run.

As the fans lifted Crane onto their shoulders and paraded him out of Sunlight Park and onto Queen Street, the team's owner scrawled a triumphant message on the scoreboard: "CITIZENS, ARE YOU CONTENT? TORONTO LEADS THE LEAGUE."

The crowd went nuts. In Toronto, we're always looking for signs that we really do deserve our place as one of the most important cities on the continent — even if those signs come from something as random and trivial as the outcome of a baseball game. On that day, it must have felt like our city was finally coming into its own: a booming metropolis in a brand new nation... and now a famous baseball star to call our own and a fresh championship pennant to hang in our brand new stadium.

It felt like that again in the early 1990s, as Joe Carter wrote his own name into our city's history with his own game-winning home run. We were still a booming metropolis, even bigger now, playing on a bigger stage, proud of our country and our place in the world — of peacekeeping and of Heritage Minutes and of top spot on U.N. lists — with yet another fresh pennant hanging in yet another brand new baseball stadium. Those Blue Jays seemed like us, the way many in Toronto were beginning to see themselves back then: cosmopolitan, multicultural, professional, elite...

Joe Carter's walk-off
But since then, of course, our sports teams haven't exactly helped with the whole inferiority complex thing. At this point, no North American city with as many major sports franchises as we have in Toronto has gone this long without at least appearing in a championship final. And while sports are supposed to be a silly distraction that ultimately doesn't mean much, it does do something to a city — there is a civic toll that comes with being a city full of Leafs fans. Especially here, where sometimes it still feels like we live on a forgotten, snowy frontier, where blowing a 4-1 lead late in a hockey game seems to confirm our worst fears about ourselves and our place in the world. Even if that's really quite silly.

In Toronto, we're used to getting our hopes up only to have them immediately dashed in spectacular, heartbreaking fashion. We're used to feeling embarrassed by our sports teams, and that feeling spills over into other areas, too: we're embarrassed by our sports teams, by the new name of the SkyDome, by our transit system, by our racist Prime Minster, by our crack-smoking mayor...

For most of this last week, it felt like it was all happening again. As far as talent is concerned, the Blue Jays are a juggernaut — some say they're one of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled. But in a short playoff series bad luck can bring down even the greatest of baseball teams. And Toronto is used to bad luck.

When the Jays lost the first two games at home, there was a familiar sinking feeling. And as they clawed their way back into the series over the next two games, hitting thrilling home runs in the distant heat of Texas, we were reluctant to get our hopes up again, a city full of Charlie Browns sick of trying to kick that football.

For most of Wednesday night, in the sudden death of Game Five, it seemed like we were right to be suspicious. For the first six-and-a-half innings, disaster loomed: the Jays quickly went down by two runs, fought their way back to tie the game with a mammoth home run from another lovable Dominican slugger — Edwin Encarnación, walker of the parrot, bringer of hat tricks — and then, almost immediately, there was that bizarre fluke throw by Canadian catcher Russell Martin, the ball clanking off Shin-Soo Choo's bat and sputtering down the line as the go-ahead run dashed home from third base. This was how we were going to end our season? This confusing mess of a run?

The aftermath of the Martin-Choo play
The pathetic, childish, dangerous rain of beer cans that followed wasn't just about that specific moment in the game, it was about 20 years without a Blue Jays playoff appearance, about half a century without a Stanley Cup, about Vince Carter and Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. It was disgust not just with the umpires or the rules, but with all of sports in general, with the whole concept of random chance, with the very nature of the universe itself...

But luck is a funny thing.

Baseball — like life — is at its best when it feels like magic. It's a long, unfathomably complicated thing, a baseball season. It's impossible for a mind to wrap itself around all the pieces and interactions involved: the hundreds of players, the thousands of games, the hundreds of thousands of individual plays that can be broken down into millions of distinct elements. It can be an awe-inspiring experience, watching it all unfold. The almost quantum-like fluctuations of individual pitches gradually build themselves into larger structures over the course of the summer, into the baseball equivalent of planets and stars: games, seasons and careers. At times, luck and human agency come together in a sequence of events that seems to defy the laws of reason and logic and chance — producing moments that seem nearly miraculous. Cannonball Crane hits a walk-off home run on a day he pitches 20 innings. Joe Carter becomes the only player in the history of the sport to hit a come-from-behind home run to win the World Series. We are reminded that amazing, wonderful, stupid, lucky things can happen. Even to us.

No one has ever seen anything like that seventh inning. Posnanski called it, "The craziest, silliest, weirdest, wildest, angriest, dumbest and funniest inning in the history of baseball... There has never been an inning like it." That thought has been echoed over and over again in the hours since it happened — not just by people in Toronto, but by baseball fans everywhere. On her CBS Sports Radio show, Amy Lawrence promised, "We will never forget what happened in that seventh inning." It was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable 53 minutes in the entire history of a sport that has kept records since before the American Civil War... since before Canadian Confederation... since before Toronto's first skyscraper was so much as a glint in an architect's eye... Talent and good luck conspired on an international stage in a way that no one has ever seen before. And it happened in Toronto. To Toronto.

Russell Martin tries to throw the ball back to the pitcher and it hits Choo's bat. The Rangers make three straight errors. José Bautista comes to the plate...

No current Blue Jay has been a Blue Jay as long as José Bautista has. No Blue Jay has waited longer for the team to make the playoffs. For years, Jays fans have worried that bad luck and the lack of talent around him would conspire to waste his years here. That he might be doomed to share the fate of Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay: superstars who never played a playoff game with a blue bird on their chest, who will always be remembered fondly in Toronto, beloved, but never had a chance to write their name into the history of our city in one instant, with the indelible ink of a miracle in the postseason or during the final days of a pennant race. They never had the chance to do something extraordinary with our whole city watching, our whole country, our whole continent... the kind of moment that turns you into more than just a baseball player, that makes you, in some very small way, immortal.

Historica bait
You could see it all in that bat flip. The years of struggle. The years spent playing for Toronto teams that were never quite as good as he was. The years of being ignored in favour of the Red Sox and the Yankees. The years without a playoff berth. Gone. In an instant. In one blazing miracle of a home run.

Gone for Bautista and gone for Toronto, too. We're happy to have that bat flip speak for all of us — which is part of why I think we fell so deeply and instantaneously in love with it. It's the swagger Toronto is learning to have. The swagger we want to have. The Toronto of Drake and of #The6ix. Of a giant TORONTO sign in Nathan Phillips Square. Of one of the world's great music scenes. Of Nuit Blanche and First Thursdays and Friday nights at the ROM. Of a city that is slowly realizing — despite all the real and serious problems we still have to solve — that we really are pretty great, y'know.

We're a city coming to the realization that more than 200 years after Simcoe founded our muddy town, we actually have lived up to our original promise. And if we still doubt it, Bautista's home run gives us another chance to get the external validation we want so badly. For this moment at least, we can forget about them flying our flag upside-down and about whatever that moron Harold Reynolds thinks. Toronto, the scribes of NBC Sports remind us as they marvel at that miraculous inning, is "one of the world’s great cities." 

Now, whatever happens, we'll always remember these Blue Jays. These Jays who feel in so many ways like a reflection of our own city. Of the Toronto of 2015. A cast of characters drawn together from all over the world. Truly multicultural. The young, social media savvy pitcher from Long Island. The rookie closer, the youngest player in baseball, who quit school as a kid to work in the fields of Mexico. The oldest player in baseball, who loves the members of his fan club so much that he goes to their weddings. The quiet Dominican slugger who bought an entire block of his poor, corrupt-sugar-company-run hometown so the residents can still keep living there. The nerdy veteran pitcher from Nashville who has battled depression and struggled with childhood sexual abuse, who mastered the mysterious art of the knuckleball when it seemed like his career was over. The Australian reliever. The Japanese goofball. The Italian-American who spent years playing in the independent leagues before finally getting his big break. The catcher from Montreal who gives press conferences in both official languages. The rookie from Mississauga who runs like the wind. The whiz-kid Canadian General Manager, who got his start with the Expos, who is usually reserved but who parties, gets drunk, and curses with his team on the night they clinch the pennant.

Even if the season ends next week, even if the Jays don't win another game, people in Toronto — people all over Canada — will remember Donaldson and Tulo and Price and Sanchez and Papa Buehrle and Pillar's crazy catches and the beaming smile of Ben Revere...

But most of all we'll remember José Bautista. And that bat flip. And the night it felt like Toronto really could live up to our spot on the big stage. Just like we did in 1993. And in '92. And in 1887.

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Rob Ford was there, by the way, somewhere at the Dome as Bautista's home run soared into the seats. But we weren't embarrassed — we were too busy celebrating, we didn't even care. 

You can my full, illustrated history of baseball in Toronto here. I've also written more about the tragic tale of Cannonball Crane here, the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club here, plus the greatest second baseman in Toronto (who isn't who you think it is) here, Babe Ruth's first home run here, and Joe Carter's World Series-winning dream here.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Tragic Tale of Toronto's First Big Baseball Star

The bases were loaded. It was the bottom of the eight. This was it: first place was on the line. Toronto and Newark headed into that Saturday afternoon battling for the lead in the International League — along with the team in Jersey City. With only a couple of weeks left in the 1887 season, every win was vitally important. And with only an inning left in their second game of the day, Toronto was losing to Newark by three runs.

That's when Ned "Cannonball" Crane came to the plate. He was the ace of the Toronto pitching staff; a giant of a man: big and tall and impossibly strong. He once threw a ball more than 400 feet — a world record; impressive even by today's standards — and he could throw a ball faster than anybody else could, either. He was one of the game's first big power pitchers. He combined the blistering speed of his fastball with a "deceptive drop ball" that baffled opposing hitters. It was a deadly combination. He won 33 games for Toronto that year — more than any other pitcher has ever won on any Toronto team.

And he could hit, too. Crane was one of the best hitters in the whole league that year. His .428 average is still considered to be the best batting average by a pitcher in professional baseball history. (If he'd hit that in the Majors, it would put him sixth on the all-time list for any position.) On the days when Crane wasn't pitching, he was in the outfield or at second base so they could keep his bat in the line-up.

On that Saturday afternoon in September, Crane had already done more than his fair share. Toronto and Newark were playing a double-header — two games at the Torontos' new stadium at Queen & Broadview, on a spot overlooking the Don Valley.

It was originally known as the Toronto Baseball Grounds, but it would soon be nicknamed Sunlight Park in honour of the nearby Sunlight Soap Works factory. Spectators could walk in off Queen Street or ride up in their carriages and park their horses on the grounds. Admission was a quarter — plus an extra dime or two to sit in the best seats in the house. The sheltered grandstand had enough room for more than 2,000 people, and there was standing room for another 10,000 — a capacity not that much smaller than a Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre today. But the stadium had never seen attendance like this. Those two games against Newark drew a record-setting crowd.

In the first game, Crane pitched all nine innings, keeping the Newark hitters at bay while the Toronto bats smashed their way to victory. The final score was 15-5.

But there was still one more game left to win. And now the Torontos had already used up their ace. The scheduled pitcher for the second game was a fellow by the name of Baker — and as the first pitch drew near, he was out on the field, getting ready just as everyone expected.

Sunlight Park (detail from an 1890s map)
And then, a surprise: as the Toronto team took the field to start the second game, Baker didn't head toward the pitcher's box. Instead, it was Cannonball Crane who came back to take his spot in the middle of the diamond.

A reporter from the Globe was there: "As soon as it was made clear that Crane was to pitch the second game, hundreds leaped to their feet and cheered frantically, a mighty whirl of enthusiasm took everybody within its embrace and an astounding volume of sound shook the stands and swept down toward the city and out over the grounds like the march of a tornado."

Cannonball Crane was going to pitch two games in one day.

Still, even with Crane in the pitcher's box, the second game didn't get off to a good start. Toronto fell behind and stayed there. It wasn't until the eighth inning — behind by three runs — that they rallied to load the bases, bringing Cannonball to the plate with a chance to play the hero.

And that's exactly what he did. The slugger hit a double, clearing the bases. Three runs scored. The game was tied. It would head to extra innings.

Crane kept pitching. He held Newark scoreless in the tenth. And then again in the eleventh. He had now pitched 20 innings in one afternoon.

In the bottom of the eleventh, Crane came to the plate with a chance to play the hero yet again. He crushed a pitch high into the sun above the Don Valley: deep, deeeep, gone. A walk-off home run. Toronto had won both games. According to the Globe, as Crane rounded the bases "the mighty audience arose and cheered and stamped and whistled and smashed hats... the frantic fans dashed on to the field and carried Crane aloft as his foot touched home."

The team's owner — a stock broker by the name of E. Strachan Cox — headed over to the scoreboard. He wrote a message for the crowd:

"CITIZENS, ARE YOU CONTENT? TORONTO LEADS THE LEAGUE."

The team had taken first place — and they would keep it for the rest of the season, winning every single game for the rest of the year. By the time it was all over, they'd won 16 in a row. Toronto had our first baseball championship.

But our hero wouldn't be back for the 1888 season. Instead, Crane signed with the New York Giants, helping them win the National League pennant and then the World's Series. He threw a no-hitter that year — and became one of the very first pitchers to ever wear a glove while fielding.

Sadly, that season was the beginning of the end. Things began to unravel for the pitcher almost as soon he left Toronto.

At the end of that first season with the Giants, Crane was invited to join Spalding's World Tour. The biggest stars in baseball signed up for a trip around the world, showcasing the sport to other countries. They played games in the shadow of the Sphinx, on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, outside the Villa Borghese in Rome... plus Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, France, Samoa, Yemen, Ceylon...

Spalding's World Tour at the Villa Borghese
The problem was that when the players weren't on the field, they were partying. Crane had gone his entire life without ever having a single drink... right up until the days just before the tour began. "Crane," as one newspaper reported, "did not know what the taste of liquor was like until he made the trip around the world. He got his start drinking wine at the banquets tendered the American tourists."

And as Crane quickly discovered, he liked to drink. Far too much.

"Crane began drinking heavily from the moment he joined the tour in Colorado," according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). "By the time the men reached San Francisco, he had missed several games due to drunkenness and being hung-over." They hadn't even left the United States yet and Crane was already a mess.

He spent much of the tour serving as a sluggish umpire with a headache and heatstroke instead of actually playing in the games. At some stops, he never even got off the ship — choosing instead to get drunk on board with his tiny, trouble-making pet monkey, entertaining his fellow passengers by breaking into song. At one point, he even had a stand-off with soldiers at the French-Italian border when they insisted he pay an extra fare for his simian companion.

The Giants repeated as World's Series champions the very next year. And Crane was back in the pitcher's box, serving as their ace, winning five games in the Series. He would go on to have a solid Major League career, finishing up with a 3.99 ERA over eight seasons. But as he continued to drink, his weight ballooned and he lost his effectiveness as a pitcher. His final year in the Majors was a disaster: a 6.98 ERA over twelve games. He was released by the Giants twice, signed by Brooklyn and then released by them, too. Things were spiraling out of control.

People in Toronto still loved him, though. In 1895, he returned to play for our city. But he wasn't the same. After an uninspiring beginning to the season, he was released for what the Toronto Evening Star called "alleged sulkiness on the field." The team across the lake in Rochester then signed him and gave him another shot, but Crane didn't even show up for his first game.

He made his final appearance at Sunlight Park in the summer of 1896. He was playing for Springfield now. The Toronto fans gave him a warm welcome as he came out onto the field overlooking the Don Valley, but it was a bittersweet reunion. By then, Crane weighed nearly 300 pounds. His glory days were far behind him. He was no match for the Toronto bats. They crushed him.

Once, as the Globe remembered, Crane's name "inspired dread among all other players... But that is but a hazy memory. The once mighty name has lost its magic. It no longer inspires dread and fear... He essayed to pitch for Springfield against Toronto over the Don yesterday afternoon, and he made a sorry exhibition of himself... It would be painful to go into the details of the game." Soon, Springfield gave up on him too.

Finished as a player, Crane tried to find work as an umpire. But even that was a failure. "Crane," the Globe reported, "is said to be a way off in his judgment on balls and strikes." The newspapers blamed it on whisky. At 34 years old, he was unemployed and alcoholic, his wife and child had left him, he was depressed.

Rochester in the 1890s
"Crane sank deeper into the bottle as his prospects and money quickly ran out," SABR recalls. "He became despondent, freely talking about his troubles and the grim outlook for his future wherever he went."

Cannonball Crane wouldn't live to see the end of that 1896 season. On a Saturday in mid-September — almost nine years to the day since his glorious double-header in Toronto — he spent the afternoon getting drunk in his room at the Congress Hall hotel in Rochester. He hadn't paid his bill in ages. When he went downstairs, the owner warned him that if he didn't fork over the $70 he owed, he would be forced to give up his room. Crane promised to settle his bill. And then he headed back upstairs.

There was a bottle of chloral waiting for him.

The next morning, the maid couldn't open the door. A bellboy climbed up to peer through the transom. Crane was laid out on his bed. Dead. The official coroner's report described it as an accidental overdose. But everyone assumed it was suicide.

The next morning, he was remembered on the front page of the Toronto newspapers. His life had come to a tragic end, but thanks to those two games in the thick of a pennant race one Saturday afternoon in September, Cannonball Crane had written his name into the history of our city. He'd become an indelible part of Toronto sports lore, mentioned over and over again in our newspapers over the course of the next century — remembered fondly for bringing our city our very first baseball championship.

Next summer — in 2016, nearly 130 years since the Torontos won that pennant — a new plaque will be unveiled on the spot where Sunlight Park once stood. It will include a photo of Cannonball Crane, an ace at the height of his powers. The name of our city's first big baseball star will live in glory on Queen Street once again.

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You can my full, illustrated history of baseball in Toronto here. I've also written more about the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club here, plus the greatest second baseman in Toronto (who isn't who you think it is) here, Babe Ruth's first home run here, and Joe Carter's World Series-winning dream here,

Chris Bateman tells the story of Cannonball Crane and the Torontos over at blogTO here — he's also how I know a new plaque is on the way. The Society for American Baseball Research shares Crane's story here. You can find his Major League stats on Baseball Reference here

You can learn a little more about Spalding's World Tour here and here, or read a whole book about it: find it at the Toronto Public Library here or buy it here

I've also stumbled across Charles Anthony Joyce's PhD thesis about sports and class in Toronto in the middle of the 1800s. I haven't read it yet, but you'll find it in PDF form here.





A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead

Coming September 2017 from Dundurn Press
Available for pre-order now

This post is related to dream
42 The Pennant
Ned "Cannonball" Crane, 1887