9.1 C
Thursday, September 29, 2022
Niagara’s History Unveiled: The Schoolmaster’s House and cricket in NOTL

Steve Ferley
Special to The Lake Report

The history of The Schoolmaster’s House (307 Mississagua St., at Gage) stretches back to around 1818.

By 1846, the property was owned by H.N. (Horatio Nelson) Phillipps and his son Thomas D. Phillipps. The father, Rev. H.N. Phillipps, operated a local school in the house with himself as headmaster and his son T.D. Phillipps as an assistant. This was actually a predecessor of the Niagara High School which operated from 1875 out of the current Niagara Historical Museum building.

So how and when did cricket come onto the scene?

H.N. Phillipps had arrived in Canada from England, so it was perhaps only natural that the new school would have its own cricket club. In the 1850s it was known as the Niagara Grammar School Cricket Club. They probably played their games in what is now Memorial Park (a layout sketch from 1843 indicates a “proposed cricket ground” in that location).

The seminal work by John Hall and R.O. McCulloch, “Sixty Years of Canadian Cricket; 1836-1896,” records that on Aug. 20, 1853 Niagara (H.N. Phillipps’ school club) beat St Catharines by an innings and 27 runs. Niagara scored 113 in their one innings (Phillipps contributing 10) and in two innings combined St. Catharines managed only 86 (50 and 36). 

Recent research by local amateur sports historian Tady Saczkowski – often using valuable archival information from the excellent NOTL Historical Museum – reveals that the Niagara Grammar School Cricket Club was “reorganized” in the late 1850s, perhaps as a result of some financial difficulties.

Headmaster H.N. Phillipps chaired a meeting at which a group of sponsors each agreed to contribute $1 to the help the cause. The group consisted of F.A.B. Clench, Major Grange, John Powell, H. Paffard, J.M. Lawder, Rev. Dr. McMurray and A. Montmorenci.

Slightly later, in May 1861, the club’s committee made T.D. Phillipps an honorary member, presumably because he was already seen as a very talented cricketer having represented Canada internationally. The reorganized club was successful in games against St. Catharines and Stamford. Others playing on the Niagara team in those days were James Flanigan, C. Baxter, J. Clench, F. Long, W. Paffard, F. Paffard, J. Phillipps and R. Conner. 

The Saczkowski research shows that a second organization – the Niagara Cricket Club – was then constituted at a slightly later meeting on June 27, 1862. J.B. Plumb was elected as the new club’s president with E.C. Campbell as secretary – and the records show that H. N. Phillipps and A. Montmorenci also attended that first 1862 meeting of the Niagara Cricket Club.

T.D. Phillipps was the new club’s leading figure. He had learned his cricket in the late-1840s as a student at Upper Canada College in Toronto and was acknowledged as one of the most accomplished cricketers of his time. He played across Ontario and was even selected for a tournament in Halifax in 1874, when travel in the eastern part of the new country must have been a real challenge with the Intercolonial Railroad existing in only isolated sections.

The Hall and McCulloch work lists many of the games in which T.D. Phillipps represented Canada against the U.S. from 1857 to 1879, often with distinction, and in 1872 he was even selected for Canada against a visiting English team featuring the legendary W.G. Grace.

So we can see that the Schoolmaster’s House and the sport of cricket in NOTL enjoy a closely connected history.

And the linkage to cricket continues to this day even as the town’s economic basis evolves. The Shaw Festival’s cricketers, under the guidance of leading lights Ian Joseph, Tim Carroll and Jeff Irving, maintain the tradition by playing the home games of their annual fixture against the Stratford Festival very near to the Commons ground which hosted cricket games in the 19th century.

And NOTL’s migrant workers are welcomed every summer to play their games on that same ground. 

* NOTE: While conventional spelling of the family surname in this article might be "Phillips," the vast majority of the historical records (including an article written by T.D. Phillipps himself) use "Phillipps.”

Rev. T. D. Phillipps. (Supplied)