By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist

Have you heard about our exciting new project? We have teamed up with local author Sean Grassie to publish a book celebrating iconic stories from 150 years of sport in Manitoba.

All proceeds from the book will go to KidSport Manitoba, an organization that provides support to children in order to remove financial barriers that prevent them from participating in organized sport. Once a month, we will be releasing a sneak peak of the stories from our book!

Purchase your copy of the book here.

This month’s feature story from Iconic Stories from 150 Years of Sport in Manitoba takes us back to the 1870s where organized sport was beginning to form in our province. Long before Sport Manitoba (or even Manitoba as a province) existed, people here took part in numerous athletic contests. Continue reading the story in french and english below, to find out what sports were popular 150 years ago.

Read the full story below, and thanks to our friends over at La Liberté, we are able to offer this story in French.


Anyone up for a game of quoits?



When most players would have put their bats away for the season, a cricket club in Winnipeg had plans to play a military team in November.


The year was 1875 and Manitoba had turned five years old. Although the game had to be postponed due to cold weather, the effort to play showed the enthusiasm of the athletes.


Manitoba’s climate was ideal for a wide variety of summer and winter sports and residents embraced the diversity. Numerous sports clubs, leagues and associations formed by the turn of the 20th century.


The development of organized sport in the province began long before Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870. In the area that would become Manitoba, people took part in numerous athletic contests for enjoyment, to build character and to test important physical skills such as strength, speed and stamina.


“Various physical attributes were tested in countless numbers of races on foot, on snowshoes, on skates and in boats and canoes, in stone-throwing and quoit-pitching matches (similar to horseshoes), and in many contests that involved jumping for distance or height,” wrote Manitoba sports historian Morris Mott in his PhD dissertation Manly Sports and Manitobans: Settlement Days to World War One.


Mott wrote that boxing, wrestling and horse racing were among the popular activities in the territory at the time.


In 1870, the Fort Garry Cricket Club was established. Eight years later, the Winnipeg Cricket Club started and became the leading organization in the Northwest, he wrote.


The first lacrosse club in the province, the Prince Rupert’s Lacrosse Club, formed in 1871. In his article One Town’s Team, Souris and its Lacrosse Club, 1887-1906, Mott wrote that for about a 30-year period beginning in the late 1870s, lacrosse was unmatched in the province in terms of consistently creating spectator interest.


“In Winnipeg, for example, in the late 1880s certain games between the Winnipeg Club and the Ninetieth Club were expected to be so exciting that it was evidently not unknown for a mayor to declare a civic half-holiday so that no one need miss them,” he wrote.


Souris hosted the Winnipegs in a Western Canada Lacrosse Association game in 1905. The contest was played on a Monday civic holiday, which allowed 300-400 supporters of the Winnipegs to accompany the team on an excursion train and join many fans from Souris and surrounding areas.


“The Souris club are particularly entitled to praise for their excellent police arrangements, a volunteer force of 15 stalwarts guarding the field from any spectators,” the Manitoba Free Pressreported.


Baseball also has a long history in the province. In his book Baseball in Manitoba, Hal Duncan wrote that residents of the Red River Settlement in the 1840s “played what was probably quite a rudimental game with rather flexible rules.”


“It is generally accepted that the first organized games of baseball in Manitoba were played in Winnipeg in 1874,” Duncan wrote.


As towns sprung up across the province, so did baseball diamonds.


“Baseball in Manitoba provided a significant contribution to the social development of every area of the province,” Duncan wrote.


In 1886, the Metropolitans, the Hotelkeepers, a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) team and a team from Portage la Prairie formed the Manitoba Baseball League. About 1,500 spectators attended the season opener on Victoria Day at Dufferin Park. Advertisements in the Free Press for league games listed the admission price at 25 cents, with free entry for ladies.


In his book Diamonds of the North: A Concise History of Baseball in Canada, William Humber called the league “the first professional association of this sort on the Prairies.”


Portage la Prairie, using local amateur players, suffered a resounding defeat early in the season and dropped out of the league. The three Winnipeg teams carried on, although the CPR team folded near the end of the season.


A member of the CPR club told the Free Press that when they entered the league, it was understood players would be amateurs. The railway team started out with a roster of all amateurs before eventually bringing professionals in. The league only lasted one season.


Organized tennis was played by a small group of Winnipeggers in 1881, and the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club was formally established the next year. Playing on one grass court at what is now Memorial Park, 40 members, all men, took part in matches in 1883. Women were admitted as full members for the first time in 1935. They were previously limited to when they could play as “tea members.”

The first golf course in Manitoba was established in 1889 in Stony Mountain. Col. Samuel Lawrence Bedson, the first warden of Stony Mountain Penitentiary, initiated the building of the course.


“He kept prisoners out of trouble, for a time, by having them construct a nine-hole golf course and a curling rink near the prison,” J. Alan Hackett wrote in his book Manitoba Links: A Kaleidoscopic History of Golf.People came from all over to participate in the games.”


Manitoba’s second golf course, and first organized golf club, was started in Virden in 1892. The sport was introduced in Winnipeg in 1894 with the opening of the Winnipeg Golf Club in Norwood.


The first recorded basketball game in Winnipeg was played in 1900. Members of the 90th Winnipeg Battalion of Rifles took part, with a final score of 4-1. A military league was the province’s first basketball league.


The first curling club in the province, the Manitoba Curling Club, was founded in 1876. Challenge matches were popular at the club. Examples include: Old Country (Scottish) versus Canada, City Fathers (aldermen) vs. Ordinary People, and married men vs. bachelors.


Portage la Prairie hosted a bonspiel in 1885, with teams coming from Winnipeg, Stony Mountain and Stonewall. A banquet for the curlers ended at 1 a.m. before play resumed, lasting until 3:30 a.m.

The first Manitoba Curling Association (MCA) bonspiel was held in March of 1889, three months after the association formed. It was soon recognized as the world’s largest annual bonspiel. Curlers from Scotland came to the MCA bonspiel for the first time in 1903.


“For the time (of the bonspiel), as Athens was given over to idolatry, Winnipeg is wholly given over to curling,” Rev. John Kerr, captain of the Scottish contingent, wrote in his book Curling in Canada and the United States: A Record of the Tour of the Scottish Team, 1902-3, and of the Game in the Dominion and the Republic. “What St. Andrews is to golf, so is Winnipeg to that other royal and ancient game.”


By the 1910s, the bonspiel became the centerpiece of a big winter carnival in Winnipeg. With reduced railway rates during the bonspiel, numerous sporting attractions, conventions and an annual automobile show were held in the city. Hockey, skiing, snowshoeing, swimming and wrestling were some of sports in the carnival program.


Minnesota brothers Mike and Tommy Gibbons, who were both inducted into the International Boxing Hall Fame, squared off against each other in an exhibition bout at Winnipeg Theatre as part of the 1916 bonspiel carnival.


Toronto’s Fred Robson, who set several world records in speed skating, and American Jimmy Smith, who was touted by the Winnipeg Tribune as the “world’s greatest bowler,” competed in Winnipeg during the 1919 bonspiel.


Railway officials estimated 35,000 visitors came to Winnipeg during the time of the 1916 bonspiel. All the activity was great for business.


“We wish there would be a bonspiel every month,” a furniture store manager told the Free Press in 1916.