Monday, March 14, 2011
A WARTIME POWERHOUSE - John Honeyford
The game of five-pins went through a period of relative dormancy during the dark years of the Depression. Unemployment was very high - upwards of 20% in the city of Toronto, and a number of the bowling facilities that were opened during the roaring ‘20s simply closed from lack of business. Once the economy started to gain traction in 1937, things started to turn around, and people started to bowl again.
The period from 1939 onwards saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of bowlers taking up the game. A substantial number of company and factory leagues were created during the war period to provide recreation for people, and the numbers who became competitive grew exponentially as well.
In Toronto, the City Major League had grown to 40 teams, and the Ladies City Majors had 16. The 40 teams in the Men’s league were divided geographically into 5 sections, who bowled 3 series of 7 weeks in a round-robin, with the section winners meeting (after a 9 game playoff) in a 25-game total pins playoff across 5 houses. Players were signed up to teams which were sponsored by the bowling houses for the most part along with distilleries like Seagram’s and Hiram Walker, and the league played Saturday afternoons at 2:30pm. They played a 3-game ‘home and home’ schedule, with half the weeks played on home lanes. The playoff rounds and singles finals would routinely draw 800-1000 spectators, according the news reports.
One of the houses in the downtown core was Acorn Central. This 32-lane, 2-floor house at 22 Sheppard Street was directly north of where First Canadian Place (BMO) is today, and was right across the street from the massive offices of Bell Telephone. Karry’s Temperance, a 10-lane house originally opened by Tommy Ryan as the second Toronto Bowling Club, was also right across the street up on the 4th floor.
Acorn Central was well frequented by people working downtown, who bowled a game at lunch or after work, and it was also a beehive for pot-bowling with lots of sweeps action. The Manager, Frank O’Connor had 3 teams in the City Majors, plus a top Ladies team in the Ladies Major league. The Central #1 team was created with two of the Managers at Central, George Kerr and George Corbridge bowling on the team (both are O5 Hall of Famers). They also had Bill Brown, and Harold ‘Junior’ Kellett on the team, who won the CBA singles title that year.
1939 also marked the first high average crown for George Corbridge at 265. George was known as ‘the Grim Reaper of Sheppard Street’, a quiet man with a very slow deliberate style playing the down the middle of the lane. He was 56 years old at the time. George would later go on to mentor two of the games legends, Billy and Jimmy Hoult, who set pins at Central and Town Bowl where George later worked. In ’39 George Kerr won the City Major Singles tournament at Karry’s Terauley, coming back from 280 pins down to win by 47 over Tommy Mallon. One of Central’s rivals in their division, Karry’s #1, captured the City Major title that year.
The ‘Central Fives’ as they came to be known, made a couple of additions in the next season. Al Gard (O5 Hall of Famer) who was one of a large bowling family in the city was added, along with Harry Cockrell. Then they started to take root. They went 13-2 over the first 5 weeks and they ended up winning the City Major playoff title by an incredible 942 pins over a 15-game final, while only averaging 243. This win gave them $200 ($3000 today, more or less). George Kerr won the average. In 1941, they stayed intact and two of their players won the average and singles crowns – Bill Brown at 255, and George Kerr won the singles.
In 1942, though they made a few changes that loaded them up with talent. Tommy Sutcliffe was a young fellow in his late 20’s who actually had a Manager, Art ‘Chunky’ Barnes, who wrote in the Toronto Star. Occasionally, articles would be written about challenge matches involving Sutcliffe, including one between him and Hamilton bowling legend Jimmy Morris over 20 games, and a doubles match involving Sutcliffe and George Kerr, proclaimed in the paper as two of the best money bowlers in the city, to bowl Morris and a partner of his choosing for a purse of $500 - that’s about $7500 today, and this was all in the newspaper! Not to mention the bookmaking on the side of all of this! There was even an article later placed in The Star that he would bowl anybody, for any amount of money – anywhere, and doubles too with George as his partner - simply hard to believe that they would publish things like this but they did.
Along with Sutcliffe they added Charlie Goldsmith, and Rolly Glandfield, another O5 Hall of Famer who was involved in the brokerage business, coming down from St. Clair Bowl. Rolly’s son Jim is well known to many veteran bowlers in the Toronto area, and he is retired and living now in B.C. This 1942 team started to shoot 4000 triples with some regularity, which was unheard of in these days of lanes hand set by pin boys, where depending on where you were they either could, or could not be your friend. They shot a 4231 set, which was a new record at that time, The team ended up high in the league on pin fall, averaging 1259.8 for the year, with George Kerr winning the average at 263. The section playoffs saw them in a wild scrap with Peoples Credit Jewelers, another downtown team laden with legends such as Red McQuaker and Eddie Hawkes. At Central for the last 3 game set, Peoples were down 85 pins, but shot 1557 to Centrals 1310 to take the lead with McQuaker firing 398 and Hawkes 397. The second game saw Central shoot 1349 over Peoples 1297, with the ‘Grim Reaper’ firing 407. The final game Central threw 1534 to beat Peoples 4193 to 4005. This was just to get out of the downtown section. In the 30-game playoff that year, they won by a convincing 1059 pins, let by Sutcliffe, who averaged 264.
In 1943 they went on absolute tear, with Sutcliffe being replaced on the team by Harold “Hoppy’ Hopkins (CBA Executive and O5 Hall of Famer). During this season they set what was then a record 4441 team triple, which came during a 6 week spell where they shot over 4000 5 times, and 3996 on the sixth. The highest averaged player on the team at that time (Junior Kellett at 270) sat out that day. At season’s end, Kerr ended up at 267, Corbridge 266, Kellett 264, Hopkins 262, Goldsmith 261, and Glandfield 255. They held the top 6 averages in the league.
They won the playoffs, and Hop Hopkins won his second singles championship – 20 years after winning his first. And, the Central team players placed in all of the top 6 spots.
It is interesting to note that this particular group wasn’t a bunch of kids out there beating up on all of the old guys. The team averaged 41 years of age at that time, and threw uniquely different styles on the lanes. The game would have been vastly different back in the day with teams having to play away from home, where the opponent could select a specific pair of lanes that they knew like the back of their hand, and of course when at home the same advantage could be exercised. They all would have been masters of the chisel shot too. A team like this would have been something to see.