As we approach the end of another bowling year, the big weekend of the bowling season is upon us. A few provinces have already had their Open championships, and the
rest will contend for their respective crowns over Easter weekend. For many it is the most exciting week of the year – a time to renew friendships and to partake in what the competitive side of bowling is really all about.
Bowling for a national championship in 5-Pin has been around since 1953, but previous incarnations actually go back many years before that. The CBA was created in late 1926 following a meeting at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, and part of their mandate was to create a national championship for 5-Pin Bowling. The first CBA tournament was held in March 1927 at Karry’s Terauley (on the site of what is now the north end of the Eaton Centre) in Toronto. The event was held in alternating seasons at Karry’s and Olympia Gerrard (that building is still there) for over 20 years, though the CBA tourney was primarily an Ontario event. It grew to a point in 1950 where there were over 5000 entries covering all of the events (teams/doubles/singles). There were also classic and industrial-team divisions in later years.
Meanwhile, the 5-Pin game was growing by leaps and bounds in the West with the advent of City Championships that were held in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, and Vancouver with the establishment of associations, starting with Winnipeg in 1928. Edmonton held their first City finals in 1930, and other cities followed. In late 1944 the Western Canada Association was created and the first Championship was held in April 1945 reporting by telegraph between the 6 cities.
Bill Hawrylak of Regina, who led the Western association and Charlie Hill from the CBA in Toronto got together and over a couple of years they devised a plan to hold a true ‘Dominion’ Championship, and in 1953 this came to be, despite the fact that the west and the east were playing with 2 different scoring systems. They agreed to use both systems for 5 games each across 10 games.
The singles finalists to determine the Eastern singles representative came from district roll-offs, one of which was the Toronto and District Match Play Championships which were held at the old Ace Bowling Centre on the Danforth in Toronto, with a 10 game qualifier followed by 5-game single knockout elimination matches to the end from a round of 64. Tommy Mallon from Toronto defeated Tommy Sutcliffe 1414-1381 in front of some 600 spectators (the old Ace was a 2-floor 32 lane house so it would have been a bit tight). The Eastern final match was held on a specially installed lane at the CNE during the Sportsmen’s Show sponsored by Molson’s, with Tommy Mallon winning the 10 game final and $500 with 2636. The team final was won by Seagram’s from the City Major League in Toronto who defeated the Ace Bowling Centre team by 23 pins at Karry’s with 6015 for 5 (24 teams).
In Regina the first ‘Dominion’ championship was held. There was only a Men’s singles and Men’s team event the first year which was held at the Bolodrome. The Regina men won, and Tommy Mallon won the singles with 2393. Molson’s came on as a sponsor in 1954 for the national event held in Windsor with both Ladies and Men’s teams and singles competing. A yearly national event was born, and later in 1960 the mixed team event was added.
It became practice to hold the Western and Eastern events and then immediately hold the Nationals on the following 2 days in one of the host cities. During the 60’s most of the events were 8-game total pin fall formats, and the 1964 national event was particularly memorable as it was held in the Regina Armories, with Brunswick installing 6 brand new lanes along with A-50 Pinsetters. Billy Hoult spared a right side split in the 7th game of the 10-game final, and then went on to win the title in the last game with a hit in the 9th, the first one in the 10th, and a corner spare to win by 15 pins in front of a capacity crowd.
The disputes over the counter pin ensued in the late 60’s and this caused the Open Nationals to be cancelled from 1969-71. In 1972, the Open resumed in Saskatoon, and Peterson points were used in singles for the first time. In 1973 they reverted to straight pin fall for singles (12 games) in Winnipeg, and in 1979 the 8-point system was used for teams for the first time.
The numbers of bowlers and zones continued to grow through the peak years in the 70’s, and eventually CBC extended their coverage of 5-Pin to include live coverage of the Open Nationals singles starting in 1989 in Red Deer which were broadcast yearly until 1996. Who can ever forget Ernie Afaganis (!).
The increase in the volume of newspaper archives continues to bring out many stories from the old days of the Opens across the country and its predecessors that are quite fascinating to read. There is definitely one thing can that can be drawn from reading through these articles, and it is that the spirit and passion continues with the people who play this game today, along with all of the good memories that it creates. Have fun, bowl well.