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Fairness, Risk and Reward
The notion of economic competition was relatively unfamiliar to the typical
rural lowland Scot in the late seventeenth century when self-sufficient
isolation was still a dominant economic system. But their grandchildren grew up
in a rapidly changing world where national and international market forces
dramatically affected life in even the remotest of fermtouns. While
's modernization was fairly gradual -- more evolutionary than revolutionary --
's break with "isolationism" was relatively abrupt.[i]
Scots were suddenly thrust into the new economic order and they had to learn --
very quickly -- the concepts associated with competition.
nineteenth century Scot did indeed recognize that competition is very healthy
and very rewarding. Fairness, incentive and reward were important elements in
the varied competitions of the Scottish-Canadian communities. In the early years
of pioneering, the prize may have been an extra jug of whiskey.
That the Scots
were great builders of
may be partly attributed to their keen sense of self-improvement through
competition of all types -- recreational, vocational and economic.
The Scots in
Scarborough annually challenged the curlers of
Toronto. At the Annual Meeting of the Scarborough Curling Club, held on November 14,
1843, President John Torrance Senior:
Presented the Club with a very handsome curling stone to be played for on
the 17th January, next, on the Scarborough Pond. The members of the Toronto
Curling Club are hereby invited to compete for the said prize on that day
along with the Scarborough Curling Club.[ii]
John Torrance was
's greatest curler of the mid nineteenth century. Perhaps his most decisive
victory over a
rink was on January 11, 1842 on
Bay : 46 shots to 7. His players included 5 Lanarkshire Scots: Robert Reid, Thomas
Brown, James Findlay, Andrew Fleming, and Abraham Torrance (his brother and
seventh rock). Archibald Glendinning was from Dumfriesshire, throwing fifth
rock. Edward Whitfield was the other regular member of his rink. Torrance' other
early victories over Toronto were by scores of 31 to 15 on Jan. 30/39; 24 to 18
on Feb. 5/40; 38 to 14 on Dec. 26/42; 27 to 17 on Feb. 9/43; 27 to 24 on Feb.
16/44; and 37 to 13 on Jan. 24/45. On February 12, 1841, John Torrance did not
play and his rink lost 31 to 20, John Laurie being called upon to play fourth
rock and Abraham Torrance to skip. Alexander Wilson, J. Johnston, and J. Brown
played in one or two of these eight games[iii]
for the Torrance
rink -- presumably as spares, to use today's curling jargon. John Torrance'
curling stone was known as "Tinto"[iv],
named after the highest hill in Lanarkshire.
was one of
's early athletes and a very serious competitor. On October 9, 1839, the British
We have received a communication from Mr. John Muir, of Scarboro,
complaining of the decision of the judges at the Athletic Games, as to the
prize for Rifle Shooting. That prize, it will be recollected, was awarded to
Mr. C.C. Small, of
. Mr. Muir disputes Mr. Small's right, and claims it himself, having had the
best single shot on the target, which the clerk admitted... Mr. Muir expressed
his willingness, under the circumstances, to contest the matter over again
with Mr. Small, but this he is said to have declined and Mr. Muir will
continue to claim the victory until it is fairly won from him.
Scarborough's prize ploughmen, many of them Scots, consistently outclassed their
opponents from other townships,
in particular. Boyle's History of Scarboro includes an interesting
account of these inter-township ploughing matches. A dispute broke out with
in 1852 in which the
committee offered that "the stakes to be doubled".
accepted this challenge initially but later demanded some unreasonable changes.[vi]
Jos. H. Smith, the Secretary of the Scarborough Committee, wrote to the British
Colonist on April 30, 1852:
...All competitions, to be fair ones, must give equal privileges to both
parties, and the party who demands an undue advantage, must either be
conscious of inferiority on their part, or be actuated by unprincipled
motives, and the party who submits to such degradation, must betray the
confidence required? in them by their constituents...[vii]
The match was eventually declared off -- cancelled. Boyle's list of ploughmen
who competed at all of these inter-township matches is thoroughly dominated by
lowland Scots: James Patton, John L. Paterson, James McCowan, Archibald Thomson,
John Crone, James Weir, Thomas Crone, John Weir, William Weir and William Hood.
At a meeting of the Scarboro Agricultural Society in 1855, it was resolved:
purse of £50 won from the ploughmen of Vaughan Township, shall be equally
divided among the men who ploughed at the several matches between the
townships, giving each ploughman a share in proportion to the number of
matches at which he ploughed.
A typical entrance fee -- a risk -- was 25 shillings for each ploughman. First
prize was often an iron plough of about £9 value.[viii]
There was both risk involved in entering and incentive to plough well.
competitors, money was not at all an issue. Self-respect was the greatest
incentive for at least one champion in 1880:
Purdie of Malvern in answer to a letter from Walkinshaw of the Toronto Mail
says he does not and will not play for money, but will accept the challenge
and play him a game of quoits in
any day he may name.[ix]
(1893-1982), "winner every year for 28 years in the field crop competitions
of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair... won the York County Better Farm
Competition" in 1935. At age 24,
was identified by the Markham Economist and Sun as the coming champion on a
Provincial ploughing level. But it
had taken dedication and practice to get there:
Ormerod, a few years younger than Clark [Young], told Bruce McCowan (1984) a
story about one of
's first ploughing matches as a youth. Bill overheard
lamenting to his father during his ploughing: "Dad, I just can't do
did it. He won prizes at practically every match in which he competed... By
1921, he had been champion plowman in
in both tractor and team classes... His contribution to the provincial
agricultural industry earned him a place in
's Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1983, only a year after his death... Bill
Ormerod told Bruce that, unlike many other ploughing judges,
would take the time to explain to a young competitor exactly where and how his
ploughing could be improved.
Walter McCowan was born on the McCowan Road
homestead of his great-grandfather.
in the mid 50's, it was decided that there would be a McCowan rink in the
Canada Life, that famous and popular curling event held annually throughout
the greater Toronto
area. Harold, Bill's father, was the skip, my father, Ashley, was the vice, I
was second (being older no doubt) and Bill was lead. We won some games and
lost some. Our popular win -- we beat Harry Howard of the Granite Club. It was
like eliminating Andy Grant in Briar. Harry Howard was a personal friend of
our fathers. So my father said "Well, at least we beat Howard!"
McCowan, June 4/92
See, for example, Devine and Mitchison, People and Society in
Scotland, Vol. 1, p. 1.
British Colonist, Dec. 22, 1843.
British Colonist 1839/2/6; 40/2/12; 41/2/24; 42/1/26; 43/1/4;
43/2/15; 44/2/20; 45/2/18.
Boyle, Scarboro, p. 242.
John Muir, from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, was the father of Alexander
Muir, the author of "The Maple Leaf Forever".
Boyle, Scarboro, p. 80.
British Colonist, May 7, 1852.
Boyle, Scarboro, p. 81-3.
Markham Economist, October 21, 1880, as printed in "Scarborough
Historical Notes and Comments", Vol. 4, No. 3, 1980.
Scarboro Heights Record V13 #10