Competition and Reward
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Competition, 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 England 's modernization was fairly gradual -- more evolutionary than revolutionary -- rural Scotland '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.

The early 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 Canada 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 Scarborough 's greatest curler of the mid nineteenth century. Perhaps his most decisive victory over a Toronto rink was on January 11, 1842 on Toronto 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.

John Muir[v] was one of Scarborough 's early athletes and a very serious competitor. On October 9, 1839, the British Colonist reported:

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 Toronto . 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, Vaughan in particular. Boyle's History of Scarboro includes an interesting account of these inter-township ploughing matches. A dispute broke out with Vaughan Township in 1852 in which the Scarborough committee offered that "the stakes to be doubled". Vaughan 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:

That the 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.

With some competitors, money was not at all an issue. Self-respect was the greatest incentive for at least one champion in 1880:

David 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 Toronto any day he may name.[ix]  

Clark Young (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, Clark 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:

Bill Ormerod, a few years younger than Clark [Young], told Bruce McCowan (1984) a story about one of Clark 's first ploughing matches as a youth. Bill overheard Clark lamenting to his father during his ploughing: "Dad, I just can't do it". Well, Clark did it. He won prizes at practically every match in which he competed... By 1921, he had been champion plowman in Quebec , Ontario and Manitoba in both tractor and team classes... His contribution to the provincial agricultural industry earned him a place in Ontario 's Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1983, only a year after his death... Bill Ormerod told Bruce that, unlike many other ploughing judges, Clark 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.

One year 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!"

Walter McCowan, June 4/92



[i]               See, for example, Devine and Mitchison, People and Society in Scotland, Vol. 1, p. 1.

[ii]               British Colonist, Dec. 22, 1843.

[iii]              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.

[iv]              Boyle, Scarboro, p. 242.

[v]               John Muir, from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, was the father of Alexander Muir, the author of "The Maple Leaf Forever".

[vi]              Boyle, Scarboro, p. 80.

[vii]             British Colonist, May 7, 1852.

[viii]             Boyle, Scarboro, p. 81-3.

[ix]              Markham Economist, October 21, 1880, as printed in "Scarborough Historical Notes and Comments", Vol. 4, No. 3, 1980.

 

 

The Scarboro Heights Record V13 #10