Today marks Canada Day (July 1), and to celebrate, Brighton Museum’s resident Canadian revisits a baseball game that took place at Preston Park in 1917, introducing the Brighton community to the comical world of Canadian fandom in the early 20th century.
It’s been one year since I moved from Canada to England to work as a Collections Assistant for the Royal Pavilion & Museums. I spend most of my time with objects and while museum work is often about uncovering stories, I was quite surprised and excited to find a story about Canadians so far from home. This baseball game sounds like quite the event. I am actually sorry I wasn’t there to see it.
A charity game and a respite from the Great War
On 25 August, 1917 Preston Park brought a bit of North America to Brighton. On the cricket ground a charity baseball game was played between Canada and the United States. With the ceremonious pre-game welcome, the philanthropic intentions (all proceeds going to the Brighton, Hove and Preston division of the British Red Cross Society) and the whole event a symbol of Britain’s appreciation for Allied support in the war, it is not unfounded to imagine that local spectators were expecting a quiet, dignified afternoon of sunshine, socialising, and the occasional “well played sir”. But that is not what happened.
The Canadian fans make themselves known
The game itself, described by the Brighton Herald as ‘some hustle’, was not the only entertainment import that day. For a true North American sports experience, North American fans were needed, and the rambunctious Canadian fans in attendance did not disappoint. In a huge crowd consisting of civilians, allied officers, and convalescing soldiers from the Royal Pavilion, it was the Canadians who were heard above the rest, shocking their Brighton hosts with unrelenting denunciations . . . of their own players.
Never mind that most of the team had just come back from convalescing; there was an insult for every play.
“Give him a basket” in response to a missed hit.
“Are you dead? Or only at the feet?” in response to a player not getting to the base in time.
“Get that margarine off your hands” in response to a dropped ball.
“Get the dust out of your eyes” in response to just about everything.
Even a two star officer reached over and shook his fist at a player telling him to “go back to Canada”.
As the Herald reported: “The Canadian Team wasn’t playing very well, and every Canadian there let them know it.” For me, and I am sure for other Canadian sports fans, this is not at all surprising.
The Herald likened the constant Canada-on-Canada bashing to machine gun fire, remarking that the polite British spectators feared bloodshed. But after a few innings, when they saw that the team and the umpire (who received his fair share of insults) were hardly phased, they soon caught on that the berating wasn’t meant to be cruel; it was just the North American way of saying that their attention was, shall we say, undivided. The Herald concluded that the commentary was as “much a part of the game as the ball or peanuts and chewing gum”.
Familiar Brighton names make the Canadians feel at home
Peanuts and chewing gum were, of course, provided that day. Henry D Roberts, prominent cultural facilitator, and the first director of the Royal Pavilion Estate, made sure there was an abundant supply of these game-day staples in order to create a “home away from home” for the Canadians. And while he managed the transatlantic confectionary, Mr and Mrs Thomas-Stanford of Preston Manor, tended to over fifty convalescing soldiers from the Royal Pavilion, serving tea and running to and fro amongst a sea of blue uniforms. The hospitable gestures did not go unnoticed. With the buzz of the game, the array of not-so creative insults, and the snacks, the Canadians were quite at home.
A successful event
Despite the Canadians’ spectacular loss (12-1), the event was considered a great success. Following the match, each player was awarded a silver matchbox by mayoress Mrs Herbert Carden and Mrs Thomas-Stanford and the large crowd commended the teams’ efforts with rousing cheers. In this brief respite from the realities of war, a good time seems to have been had by all.
Today, there are many fan bases that would rival the Canadians but at the time was one of the first baseball games played in Brighton. The vocal reprimanding would have been as shocking as it was entertaining – as much an import as the game itself. The Canadians did vow revenge, so if a rematch was held today, it would be interesting to see how much has changed. Most Canadian sports fans would probably wager very little.
You can read an account of the baseball game in the 1 September 1917 edition of the Brighton Herald. A pdf of the publication can be downloaded from our online image website.
Kasey Ball, Collections Assistant