Montreal Sports And Pastimes

Interesting as Montreal may be in historical recollections, in fine buildings, and in beautiful parks and surroundings, it is the health-giving properties of the climate and the innumerable attractions of outdoor life that give to the city its principal charm. One instinctively associates the word ” Canada ” with vigour, health and sport; maybe from actual knowledge of the people, or from the memory of some delightful excursion into the Laurentian hills, or, perhaps, from the many vivid pen-pictures of various writers. Each season has its own peculiar charms, although, from a purely city point of view, winter easily holds first place. During the summer, people are divided between the lake districts, the Gulf resorts, and the thousand and one holiday haunts in different parts of the country; but in winter, all efforts at amusement and recreation are necessarily concentrated in the immediate vicinity of their homes.

Winter is, indeed, hailed with delight, everyone being weary of the prevalence of mud and the lowering sky, and oppressed by the sight of decaying vegetation, that tells of summer dead and gone. There is a longing for the sound of the dear tinkle of the sleigh bells, and for the sight of the pure white mantle of snow, that hides the dreary ground until the young green shoots appear next spring. Canadians (with the exception of a few individuals, here and there, who, owing to the ill-advised advertising of their country in the past, are now hysterically irritated at the mere mention in print of the word ” snow ” ) fully realize the blessing of the deep, long-continued snow, the value of which, even if it did no more than keep down dust, would be priceless to health and comfort. But it also shields and fertilizes the ground, distributes water gradually, provides broad bridges over rivers and lakes, and allows the easiest and most pleasant of all possible travelling.

The first steady snowfall is keenly, almost anxiously, awaited; until finally, some morning you are awakened by the sense that an evenly diffused and pleasant light is in the bedroom. With something like a thrill, you recognize that a friend has come back, and you spring up and go to the window. The ground is white, the houses over the way seem to snuggle cosily down as they did not yesterday; they appear lower, because their roofs, lintels, steps and sills are capped with adornments of the ground’s new colour. Little fleeces are falling steadily, so shrouding the distance that the buildings, the trees and the shy all seem blended into a new agreeable intimacy. A sort of enchantment prevails, diminishing the immense size of the world, and making its visible people more cheery. Passers-by step out briskly, their cheeks freshened; and the filaments of the girls’ hair hold little decorative particles of white, while the enhanced brightness of their eyes surely denotes new gladness. The small boys are pelting one another, and taking an occasional shy at cabbies and policemen, who have not the heart to protest angrily against what they once liked to, do themselves, and what they wish the dignity of manhood would permit them to do now. Over yonder, some little girls, red-sashed and red-stockinged, are out with their sleds. For pure glee, they ship rather than slide; and one can see in their looks a happy assurance that winter is come once more. All the world is merry with tinkling of, – bells and laughter; and so dear is the prospect outdoors, that you grudge the time given to breakfast, the newspaper, the day’s work; and, in fact, everything that restrains you from the prime Canadian duty of proceeding to rejoice manifestly in the snow.

It is difficult to say which is the most popular of the many different forms of amusements indulged in during the winter months, as each, in turn, appeals to a particular section of the people. The three most in evidence are sleighing, skating and snowshoeing. Sleighing in the city proper is, of course, a necessity to those who wish to move expeditiously without taking the cars,-but a necessity that is at the same time a pleasure. It is during a ” drive ” round the mountain, however, that the full enjoyspeeding along over the crisp snow, to the sound of the tinkling bells, is to be appreciated; or, better still, when a party is formed, some moonlight night, to drive out to Lachine or the ” Back River” and partake of a merry supper there before returning to the city.

Skating is an amusement that can be enjoyed by both old and young, as no great activity is required, and the number of rinks, both covered and open, makes it a very easy matter to find some sheet of excellent skating ice in every quarter. The most celebrated rinks are the “Victoria,” immediately behind the Windsor Hotel, one of the finest covered rinks in the world, the Montagnard, and the Westmount Rink, belonging to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. This association, generally spoken of as the M. A. A. A., is by far the most important and influential of the many amateur athletic associations in the city, and its members number over two thousand. It was incorporated in 1881, and included all the leading clubs at that time, amongst others being the Montreal Snowshoe Club (the old “Tuque Bleue”), the Montreal Lacrosse Club, the Montreal Football Club, etc., and it has always taken a strong lead in everything relating to sport. The list of members includes the names of the best known men in Montreal, and the headquarters are situated in a handsome building on Mansfield street. Their grounds at Westmount are very extensive, being used in summer for tennis, lacrosse, cricket and football; while in winter the greater part is flooded and converted into a rink, which is invariably crowded with a merry throng of skaters. Here takes place the skating championship of America, records being made at every meeting, only to be broken, however, at the next. At the Victoria Rink are to be seen the famous fancy-dress carnivals, which, with out exception, make the most picturesque sight in America. The huge hall is decorated with streaming banners and countless Chinese lanterns, and ablaze with electric lights, while on the ice may he seen every variety of quaint and gorgeous costumes–from a devil to an abbe, and a savage redskin to a stately monarch in all his regal splendour. Snowshoeing is a most fascinating pastime, and one that affords more variety than any other, by reason of the fact that it is not confined to any particular ground. Off you go, wherever the fancy takes you, tramping over the deep snow as safely as though on a macadam road, the broad surface of the snow shoes taking you easily over places that are otherwise inaccessible. There are a number of snowshoe clubs in the city, chief of which are the old Tuque Bleue, the St. George, and Le Montagnard. The various clubs arrange ” tramps ” twice a week, as a rule, with now and again an amalgamated ” meet ” or torchlight procession. The ladies are as enthusiastic as the men, and in their picturesque blanket costumes or jerseys, their red or blue tuques and their multi-coloured sashes, make as bonny a picture of unaffected girlhood as can be seen all the world over. A tramp over the mountain at night is something that will live ill the memory for many a year. First, a scramble up the mountain side, with laughter and jokes at someone floundering in a deep patch of soft snow; then, a cut across the road at the top before defiling through the dark, gloomy wood, which, however, soon echoes with the merriment of the party. Next comes the supper at Lumpkin’s, with songs and music, and then home again to the city, hich is now settling into the silence of midnight. Then there is the “bounce,” which a new member is seized by ready hands and tossed right up in the air, to be caught again safely as he descends; and a ” club-night,” when the members and their guests spend the evening at the club-houses, with songs, dances and recitations, surrounded on all sides by trophies of every kind of sport.

Another amusement once more in vogue is tobogganing, which, however, requires a certain amount of nerve. The small boy is in his element here. Any thing from a twenty-dollar toboggan to a stave from a broken barrel (the latter from preference as being the more exciting) will serve him, and away he goes, whizzing down the hill, perfectly happy. Regular slides are built in places, with the snow well looked after, so that a perfect surface is always kept; and the speed attained when descending one of these is marvellous. Toboggans, large enough to hold four or five people, go by like a flash, and, for those who enjoy a sensation, nothing can be more exhilarating. The Park Slide, illustrated here, is the best of a11 the slides, and is situated on the western slope of the mountain; and it is quite a common thing to see men, well on in the sixties, spend the whole of an afternoon in shooting down the slide and pulling their toboggans up the hill again, repeating this performance ten or twelve times. It is no light test of a girl’s pluck to fly down a hill, lying full length on a toboggan, face downward; and yet, not only one but scores can be seen doing this. The pastimes mentioned, so far, may be said to be practised by everyone, but there are a number of games which require more or less skill, and these are brought to a high state of excellence in Montreal. Chief of these is hockey-the fastest It is not and most exciting game in the world. quite impossible for any one who has seen hockey played to realize the terrific pace, the lightning quickness of movement, the presence of mind, the accuracy of eye, and, above all, the steady nerve that is required. The Arena is usually the battle-ground for the cup matches, and on these occasions the game is witnessed by thousands. One exception must be taken to hockey, and that is the rough play indulged in; and this remark applies also to lacrosse, and even football, as played in Montreal. In England, athletics are a part of a public-school boy’s education, and the first lesson taught is to ” play on the ball.” In Montreal the principle appears to be ” go for the man,” a principle that destroys the spirit of true sport, and cannot fail to eventually bring any game into disrepute.

Another sport requiring an extraordinary steady nerve is ice-yachting-a sport that is necessarily limited to those of sufficient means to afford it. Races take place on Lake St. Louis at times, and the exhilaration of rushing through the keen air at railway speed, or even faster, and the spice of more than ordinary danger, combine to make ice-yachting one of the most fascinating of sports to those of a venturesome disposition. Considering the important places that the Scotchmen hold in the community, it is not surprising to find that curling has firmly established itself in the city; in fact, the curlers were about the first sportsmen to found a club in Montreal, the Montreal Curling Club being established in 1807. This club, as well as the Caledonian and the Thistle Curling Clubs, now nobly upholds the great Scotch game in Canada-playing it a great deal too well, according to the opinion of the Scottish curling team who visited this country early in 1903. Some years ago the game used to be played in the open-air, on the frozen St. Lawrence, but it is now almost entirely confined to covered rinks in the city and suburbs.

With the mention of horse-racing {which comes in for a good deal of attention during the winter, when some very speedy trotters turn out for the races at Delorimier Park), the list of winter sports and pastimes is about complete, and those belonging to the summer months may be touched upon, first place being given to the national game of Canada, i.e., lacrosse. This is a game second only to hockey for speediness and excitement. Although it can be seen played in many places, a League game on the Shamrock Athletic Grounds is the ideal game to watch. One must, indeed, be a phlegmatic individual if the blood is not set tingling during the course of a lacrosse game. The swift runs of the lithe players; the rapid passes, by which the prospect of the game is changed in an instant; the marvellous use of the “sticks,” by which the ball is caught or thrown while the player is running at full speed; the wonderful accuracy with which the ball is shot from the net of the “stick” at goalall combine to work the onlookers up into such a state of excitement that they keep almost silent; and it is only when an extra fine piece of play takes place, or a goal is obtained, that the tension is relieved, and the roar from the thousands of throats tells how acutely they were following the game. As regards athletics, there is not a very great deal of outdoor training done, the various gymnasiums and outdoor recreations doing all that is necessary. On the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association Grounds, however, there is a fine cinder-track, where, in alternate years, the Canadian amateur championships are contested. Cricket does not appear to be much favoured, but baseball is getting more patronized by the small boy every year. A professional baseball team was organized in 1897, and has splendid grounds near the Arena. 1898 Montreal held the chantpionship of the Eastern league, but since then the team has fallen on evil days and now is no more. Football (both Rugby and Association) is extremely popular, but no very high degree of skill has vet been reached, nor is likely to be until the teams play more together and not so much mail against man. Lawn-tennis, racquets, quoits, polo, bicycling, shooting, swimming, are all represented by their respective clubs, and a horse-race meeting is usually held once a year at Bel-Air. The ” sport of kings ” does not, however, reach a very high level at this meeting, and the book-makers in attendance are certainly very far from being actuarial experts. When three horses are running, a favourite rate of odds is as follows : 3 to 7 on one horse, even money against the second horse, and 3 to 7, or, perhaps, 7 to 9, against the third. If this mathematical absurdity in the way of odds was offered to any other than a Montreal race-course crowd, the bookmakers would assuredly meet with an end more tragic than agreeable.

If horse-racing be not at its best in Montreal, fox-hunting most certainly is, the city possessing the original hunt-club of America-the Montreal Huntwhich was formed in 1820, and now owns the finest club-house and kennels in Canada. These are situated behind the mountain, and the runs which take place in different parts of the island are many and glorious. Cubhunting gets a good share of attention, and every year the members of the hunt hold steeplechases and other races. The Canadian Hunt Club have their headquarters at Slocum Lodge, on the other side of the river, at St. Lambert, and their annual steeplechases, which are among the chief sporting events of the year are greatly appreciated by the farmers around.

“The ancient and royal game of golf ” is by no means neglected, two very popular clubs being in existence. The Royal Montreal Golf Club has an excellent eighteen-hole course at Dixie (a few miles out of the city), with a most charming club-house, and the Metropolitan Club has a fine nine-hole natural course on the mountain-side, near the Incline Railway. The Outremont Golf Club, organized in 1902, is referred to later.

Boating and yachting have been left to the last, as they are so closely allied with the subject of the next chapter; but they are probably the most popular of all summer pastimes. All along the lake-front, a few miles from the city, are to be found summer-residences of the Montrealers, from the magnificent mansion of the railroad president to the little cottage of one of his junior clerks. These extend from Lachine right away round the island, and Lake St. Louis affords one of the most perfect sheets of water for sailing purposes in Amer ica. Here are sailed the races for the Seawanhaka Cup, a trophy for twenty-footers, which was won from the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club of New York by G. Herriek Duggan, some few years ago, and which various clubs of the United States have vainly endeavoured to will back. The Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club is the premier boating club of Canada, and has its club-house at Dorval, which is the centre of the yachting world around Montreal. On Saturday afternoons in the summer there is nearly always a regatta at one of the lake-side resorts; and, as they are seldom more than a mile or two apart, it means the concentration of every description of yacht, row-boat or launch in and around one or the other of the lake=side points. The regattas afford a great deal of fun and amusement, and as several city firms have their own boating clubs, which take part in the races, the interest is general. The war-canoe race is always a very popular event and one that attracts much attention.

Lake St. Louis is not the only suburban resort at which boating can be indulged in, St. Rose, Back River, St. Lambert, Vaudreuil, etc., all having their own particular attractions, such as sailing, rowing, swimming, wildduck shooting, etc. Facilities for wild-fowl shooting are great indeed, the shores of the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence being the haunts of thousands of wild-duck and many other birds, wherever the shores are low and well fringed with reeds; or, if it be considered preferable to leave all traces of metropolitan life behind, a short journey to the Laurentian Hills gives easy opportunity to embark in a canoe, and, following some noble stream, penetrate into the heart of a virgin country well away from civilization, where, with rod and gun, the sportsman may have all the untrammelled freedom of backwood life, which, after the mad whirl of twentieth century business life, is worth so much in the wax, of bodily and mental recuperation.

It is the love of unfettered outdoor recreation that has done so much to form the Ca nadian character. Even as children, it is evident in the gleeful abandon with which the wee dots plunge and roll in the snow, their chubby faces merry with mischief, and their clothes, hair and caps almost unrecognizable beneath the amount of snow that covers them. It is evident in the brilliantcoloured sash that encircles the waist of furcoated men, telling of the pride felt in being an active member of some snowshoe-club; and it is evident in the lithe form and healthy colour of the Canadian girl, whose thorough enjoyment in every branch of sport does so much to make them popular. Shooting and fishing are deserving of more than passing mention, and so will have a chapter to themselves; but, even without taking credit for the facilities with which these may be reached, it is safe to say that no other city in the world has so many charming summer recreations, nor so many grand winter sports and pastimes, as Montreal.