Around the Bay

 

Boston: the Canadian Story
By David Blaikie ©

Around the Bay

Billy Carroll, so far as is known, never ran a footrace in his life. A stoutly-built man with a smooth countenance, Billy was more suited to socializing with his large circle of friends than engaging in vigorous physical activity. There was about him a benevolent and clerical air that suggested the bearing of a Sunday school teacher and his sedentary appearance was enhanced by that of his wife, a woman of large dimensions with a genial disposition like his own.

Yet if any man might be looked upon as the father of Canadian road racing few would be more deserving of the title than Billy Carroll, and no establishment could be said to have played a more important role in nurturing the sport than the little cigar store Billy ran in Hamilton at the turn of the century.

The imposing statue of an Indian, decked in feathers and brandishing a tomahawk, guarded the entrance to the store at 104 North James Street. Billy had long been prominent in Hamilton sporting circles and his store was the best-loved hangout in the city for those who shared his wide-ranging athletic interests. Runners and trainers met there regularly to swap gossip and advice although talk on any given day was apt to ramble through the full catalog of local sport—baseball, football, hockey, horses, whatever was current. That a tobacco store should be so closely identified with sports, particularly a sport so demanding of the lungs as running, was not thought out of place at the turn of the century. A newspaper of the time called attention to Billy’s high quality stock and his exemplary conduct as a businessman.

“Mr. Carroll carries, and has a reputation for handling, all the best lines of cigars, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and smoking tobacco. The patrons of his store know what it is to be treated with politeness and affability, and once Billy knows a man, that man is forever his friend,” the article said.

“The stock he carries is his one attraction but it will not be gainsaid that his personality and high reputation are much more valuable assets to him in his business. In everything he is above board, anxious to give a square deal and is a reputable citizen. Hamilton people will be well pleased to learn that no cigar store in the city does more business than Billy Carroll’s.”

Billy’s premises were small but neatly kept, highlighted by a conventional counter and shelves with glass doors through which could be seen his array of fine products. What the newspaper neglected to mention was the existence of a separate second room at the back of the store. Tobacco, in fact, was not the one attraction of Billy Carroll’s cigar store. In truth, it was not even the main one. It was in the back room, a more unkempt place than the neat one fronting the street, that Billy carried on his principal business activity. The room was one of the poorest kept secrets in the city. Always blue with smoke, it was littered with newspapers and ash trays, and an old barber chair gathered dust to one side, a reminder of earlier times when Billy augmented his income by cutting hair and shaving whiskers.

It was to this room that most of Billy’s loyal clientele came to do business, the amount of money changing hands within its drab confines far exceeding what collected in the till from tobacco sales. For Billy was a bookmaker, the best of his time and proud of it. He was known far and wide. If anything, his standing as a trustworthy bookie surpassed the esteem in which he was held as a Hamilton merchant. A generous man, Billy supported numerous charities and was a benefactor to many teams and sports clubs, his philanthropy made possible by his thriving backroom activities. Bettors fallen on hard times were often taken aside by Billy and offered quiet advice on a wager that might solve their problems. Occasionally, he simply excused the debt and allowed the client to start afresh.

Bookmaking was not then, as it is not now, a legal enterprise, although wagering was common among those who attended sports contests. Most turned a blind eye, however, and Billy took the view that he was fulfilling a public service, rather like a social worker who happened to be a bit ahead of his time. Few were inclined to be critical. Bookmaker or not, Billy Carroll was an upstanding citizen. One young man who used to wander in and out of Billy’s store, savoring the small talk and ambience, was Fred Howe who long afterward wrote about it in a series of articles on turn of the century life published by the Hamilton Spectator in the 1960s.

”His store was the gathering place for practically every horse player in Hamilton, with wagers ranging from fifty-cent parlays to one hundred dollars across the board,” Howe recalled.

”It was most interesting to observe these bangtail addicts in the back room, scratching their wagers on available pads or pieces of brown wrapping paper. The cash was deposited in a creaky pull-out drawer, and the betting slips tossed into a large brown bag under the counter. It has always been my conviction that Billy Carroll kept no books, but paid off the bets the next day to the few successful ones on their word alone.” Howe frequented the store when Billy Sherring wanted to travel to Athens where he would become a Canadian sports hero for winning the marathon in the 1906 Olympics, the now unrecognized games that fell between the regular Olympic years of 1904 and 1908.

”Billy Sherring, having difficulty raising funds to finance his trip to Athens, received a tip from Eddie Whyte, trainer for the Hendrie Stable on a horse named Cicely. He managed to raise forty dollars and placed the bet with Billy Carroll.

”Cicely won at odds of twelve to one. The bet was cheerfully paid by Mr. Carroll and Sherring booked his passage to Greece through the Heming travel agency the next day. It is now history that Billy won this great marathon with the heat at ninety-three degrees.”

Billy Carroll’s contribution to running began long before he handed four hundred and eighty dollars in cash to a happy Billy Sherring in 1906. It went back twelve years to 1894 and an idea that was hatched in the smoky talk of his beloved cigar store. The origin of his interest had more to do with walking than running, however. Walking was a common pastime in this era before the automobile and it became popular for a period to stroll “around the bay” on Sunday mornings, the bay in this case being Hamilton Harbour and the stroll stretching nineteen miles. A surprising number, when the weather was pleasant, would strike out early, equipped with picnic baskets and walkmg sticks, and make a day of it, pausing here and there to rest and eat or call on neighbors along the route.

In most cases it would not be possible to circle a bay the size of the harbour at Hamilton, the open side being too wide for a bridge to close the gap. Hamilton Harbour is unique in that a narrow spit of land seals off the mouth, making it more like a lake than a bay. Ships from Lake Ontario, then as now, came and went via the Burlington Canal.

Circling the perimeter on foot was thus a natural challenge and as more and more citizens took it up arguments arose, particularly at Billy Carroll’s store, over who had completed the circuit fastest. With several claiming the record the debate proceeded to its logical conclusion. A footrace was arranged around the bay. The details were settled amid much haggling and discussion by Billy and his pals. Billy played a critical role by agreeing to accept bets on the outcome. The idea caught the fancy of the Hamilton Herald and John M. Harris of the newspaper’s management explored the possibility of acting as official race sponsor. A deal was struck and the first race was set for Christmas morning, 1894.

The decision was a landmark in Canadian sport. Made three years before the first runners set out from Ashland to Boston, it began an event that continues today. Although not long enough to qualify as a marathon, the race remains the oldest footrace of its kind in North America.

The Herald seized on the event to boost circulation, offering a handsome cup as first prize (a) and using its news pages to stir up interest. Little fanfare was necessary, the race having its own appeal to Hamilton citizens. Anticipation soon ran high.

Traffic in and out of Billy Carroll’s store intensified as Christmas neared, a steady flow of betting slips being tossed into the bag under the counter. Other bookies followed Billy’s entrepreneurial lead and the odds for various runners became widely quoted and discussed. The best athletes for miles around trooped into the Herald offices to sign up for the race, the newspaper trumpeting each addition to the list. The precise layout for the course was chosen and announced, beginning as expected at the Herald offices on King Street, striking east through city streets to the beach road across the harbour mouth, then circling around the shoreline back to the starting point. It measured 19 miles, 168 yards. (b)


Rules for Herald’s Great Road Race

1. The race is under the sanction of the A.A.U. of C. and all entrants must be registered with either the A.A.U. of C. or some of the amateur affiliated bodies. The committee reserves the right to reject any entry.

2. The course is from the HERALD office to lames Street, down James to Barton, down Barton to the Jockey Club, where the runners turn north, following the turnpike to Fitch’s Hotel, then across the beach to the canal, over the Radial swing badge to the Brandt house, along the side of the Plains road, and past Hendrie’s farm and the Valley Inn; thence up the hill over the high level bridge, past the cemetery, down York street to MacNab, up MacNab to King, down King and finish at the Herald of rice.

3. Each runner is allowed two attendants and must leave their names with the referee at least one hour before the race.

4. Runners must not run on the sidewalk until the corner of Sherman avenue has been passed on Barton street, nor on York, MacNab or King streets when finishing.

5. Runners must run without their attendants from the corner of York and Dundurn streets.

6. Each competitor must wear two numbers, one on the back and one on the front of his jersey. The numbers will be provided by the committee and can be obtained on the Saturday night preceding the race.

7. All entries must be made on the official entry form and no post entries will be accepted. The entries will positively close on (the deadline) and entries mailed on or before that date and reaching the secretary will be accepted.

8. Each competitor must undergo a medical examination previous to the start by the medical officer or officers appointed by the committee.

9. A competitor must retire from the race at once if ordered to do so by a member of the medical staff or by the referee.

10. No competitor either at the start or during the progress of the race may take or receive any drug. The breach of this rule will operate as an absolute disqualification.

11. If necessary the station of each competitor at the start will be determined by lot, and in the event of competitors being too numerous to be started on a single line, they will be started on two or more lines.

12. Any competitor who drops out of the race and who subsequentIy obstructs another competitor, or who seeks to finish the race without having run the whole course, will render himself liable to suspension by the registration committee.

13. Any competitor whose attendant or attendants obstruct another competitor will be disqualified.

14. Each competitor must provide his own attendants and the required refreshments. (6)


Christmas, which fell on Tuesday in 1894, dawned bright and clear Ideal weather for the race. John M. Harris supervised preparations at the Herald offices, checking in runners and attending to last-minute details. A lively crowd gathered, many stopping to take in the spectacle en route home from Christmas morning mass. At nine o’clock, with all in rcadiness, Harris fired the starting pistol and the field sped off, carriages, cyclists and riders on horseback departing in unison. The favorites among the runners were Bob Harris, thought to be a relative of the starter, and W.R. Marshall, a heavy-set man whose one-hundred-and-seventy-pound bulk belied his speed. The progress of the race was relayed back to the Herald office and announced in periodic bulletins to the crowd. The most eager for news were those with money at stake.

Marshall proved the most agile of those who ran the inaugural race. Leading for much of the way over the rutted roads, he finished alone in front, running down King Street to cheers and victory. His time was recorded as two hours and fourteen minutes. Marshall survived the test of stamina better than the accompanying horses. Many of the animals returned exhausted, bathed in sweat and foaming at the mouth.

The race was hailed a great success, by none more so than the writers of the Herald, and led to a lively interest in long distance races. A ten-mile race from Dundas to Hamilton and back was held the same day as the race around the bay in 1895, when the event was set back from Christmas to Labor Day.

In 1896, the Herald changed the date once again. this time to Thanksgiving, a spot the event retained on the calendar for seventy-five years. (c) Accounts of the day describe in vivid detail the conditions that confronted Canada’s early road racers. After Alexander Donald, a young Scotsman, won the 1897 race over rain-soaked, barely passable roads, the Hamilton Spectator carried this account:


“The little fellow plodded through the mud as though he liked it and will be styled a mudlark’ in future. Donald believes in the old maxim, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try again.’ He was entered in the first race but took a pain in his back on Christmas morning and did not start. Last year he gave Wood a good race but pumped himself in trying to get to the Valley Inn first to win a special prize. and was beaten breasting the hill. This year he trained faithfully for the event, and having no bad habits, he was able to get himself in perfect condition, and when he toed the scratch he was determined to win. He deserves his reward and he has decided to retire with his laurels.

”After the last race Wood was the lion and poor lime Donald was nowhere. Now Donald is on the crest of the wave of popularity and the young Englishman is a ‘has been.’ The general public makes much of a champion but has little use for a beaten man.

”The race developed several surprises, the greatest of all being the poor showing made by Wood who was a warm favorite in the betting. He made a good race to the pumping house at the Beach but after that he was not a factor. He made the great mistake of setting a hot pace from the Jockey Club’s road house, his intention being to kill Donald, but the latter was in better condition than Wood, and it was a case of survival of the fittest. Another surprise was the phenomenal performance of Charley Bates, an eighteen-year-old who finished second, covering the course in a shade over two hours and twenty-two minutes. C. Valendar finished third and upset the calculations of (John) Lahey’s backers, who played him across the board.

“Corktown was in mourning last night, and the price of many a growler went on the ice. Nobody seriously thought that any of the other starters had a chance, and they finished where everybody. except perhaps themselves, expected. Archibald Patterson took so long to finish it was thought he had stopped for dinner along the way.

“The Aldershot wonder, (Ben) Charrington, who has stones broken on his chest in museums, had his heart broken early in the race. Of the starters very few of them know how to run properly and have no business in such a race.

“Donald’s victory was exceedingly popular. except with the cinch bookmakers, who virtually laid up against Wood, holding him at such a short price that few people played him. If they had been more liberal with their odds they would have had a strong play on Wood, and could have rounded their book.

“As it was they were hard hit on Donald’s victory, one amateur penciler’s sheet showing $1,500 or $1,600 on the wrong side. Donald’s friends made a good coup, getting as good as two to one for their money by being discreetly silent as to the young runner’s chances.” Archibald Patterson, the object of the Spectator’s scorn for his slow pace, was a local architect who took about four hours to complete the circuit. An oddity in a time when road races were confined largely to the fleet of foot, Patterson occasionally had company in an even more eccentric local character named Richard (Dick) Pim. Fred Howe, in his written reminiscences of the period, recalled Pim as a man in his sixties agile beyond his years, with twinkling blue eyes, apple red cheeks reddish-brown moustache and flowing whiskers.

”Though small in stature, he had the stamina of an ox, always finishing the route clad in running shorts, with whiskers streaming, and greeted by cheers of the sidewalk spectators. He took his task seriously and had a childlike faith in everyone he encountered. I always looked with disfavor on the pranksters’ tricks played on this trusting old gentleman,” Howe wrote.


Fewer than ten runners sometimes entered but the race around the bay generated a wave of civic enthusiasm each Thanksgiving, scores of volunteers pitching in to make the event a success. The Herald never failed to thank contributors. The Canada Steamship Co. was cited one year for getting the passenger ship Mascassa off promptly to Toronto, ensuring that runners would not be halted at the swing bridge over the Burlington Canal.

The feverish atmosphere of betting that surrounded the race had a dark side, one that caused bitterness and periodic rumors of impropriety involving certain runners or trainers. Suspicion that the race was not always conducted honestly was apparent in the attention devoted by Hamilton newspapers to race fraud elsewhere in the wave of popularity that distance running experienced across North America in the early years of the century. One case that made headlines far and wide involved the lawsuit of a businessman in Springfield, Illinois, against a group of unscrupulous athletes and politicians. Seeking six thousand dollars in damages, a fortune at the time, the suit alleged that unsuspecting bettors had been bilked of two thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars m egged athletic competitions. More than one disgruntled bettor in Hamilton wondered if he had not been swindled similarly in the race around the bay.

Scandal finally surfaced openly in 1908, not once but twice. By this time Hamilton’s two largest newspapers were each sponsoring a road race, the Spectator trying to duplicate the success of the Herald’s race with one of its own, run each spring from Brantford to Hamilton. Each race came under suspicion because of the same runner. His name was never disclosed publicly although he was widely assumed to have cheated in both races by covering part of the distance in a horse and carriage. The Canadian Amateur Athletic Union was asked to investigate.

“This is being done as it is felt that crookedness of this kind should be exposed to prevent repetition, and also in justice to the various honest competitions in the race who may have been deprived of honors which they earned but did not receive as a result,” the Spectator said.

”Fair play is ever the feeling of those deeply interested in clean sport, and while there is a disposition in certain quarters to drop the charges made this week in connection with the two races in question, there is no chance of the affair being overlooked.”

Nothing apparently came of the investigation, however. The bad feeling remained, the air going uncleared, and the reputations of both races suffered as a result. The Herald race was dealt a further blow m 1909 when fraud again was alleged. Once more an investigation failed to establish improbity but the findings were viewed with contempt, casting in sour light the victory of Jimmy George, an Indian runner who was one of the swiftest of his day. In reality, the bloom was fading from the sport of road racing. The novelty had passed and public interest was waning.

Yet a few highlights remained before the annual bay race declined to a small local event of comparatively little interest. One of the most notable occurred in 1912 with the emergence of Jimmy Duffy, an Irish-born immigrant who flew over the course in 1:46:15, a record that stood for close to half a century. (d) An immensely popular runner, Duffy went on two years later to win the Boston Marathon, reviving the glory days of Caffery. But the renewed interest was short-lived.

The Herald continued to sponsor the bay race until 1926 and then the newspaper abandoned the once great event, leaving its future to anyone interested enough to take over sponsorship. No one bothered, so completely had interest deteriorated. For more than a decade the race was not run at all, until 1936 when it was revived by the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans of Canada, Unit 153 of Hamilton. The ”Anavics” have been sponsors ever since, maintaining the race through its thinnest years. Recently, the race has undergone a revival, reflecting the mass passion of the 1970s and 1980s for running as a recreational pastime. Often the field has topped five hundred runners, including some of the fleetest in the country, women as well as men.

The race was slower than most to abandon the discriminatory taboo against women. When the first woman joined men at the starting line in 1975 she was shunned. Her name was Tarsilla Komac of Burlington and she ran without a number. (7) In 1976, following Kathrine Switzer’s Boston lead, she obtained a race number by registering as “T. Komac” and ran the race a second time. The organizers were not amused. It took them three more years to recognize women officially and even then they did so reluctantly. As late as 1983, when the field was sprinkled with women, the starting line announcer sent runners off with the remark, ”Gentlemen, have a good race. “

Today the race is known as the Billy Sherring Memonal Around the Bay Race in honor of a storied past and a storied man. Sherring, who died in 1964 at age eighty-seven, was never forgotten by the people of Hamilton for his heroics at the Athens Olympics.

Financed by Billy Carroll, Sherring sailed for Greece early in the spring of 1906, arriving two weeks ahead of time. He found temporary work as a porter and used the time to get accustomed to the food and climate. The marathon was run May 1 in blazing mid-afternoon heat. Shemng’s weight dropped from one hundred and twelve pounds to ninety-eight pounds in the course of the race, forcing him to slow to a walk m the final miles. But he suffered no ill effects. Sixty thousand Greek spectators saluted his arrival at the Olympic Stadium and he was paced through the final lap by a uniformed member of Greek royalty. Sherring won the race in 2:51:23. becoming a hero throughout Greece. Women flocked after him and he was showered with gifts, including a ribboned goat from the royal family. Back in Hamilton, he was honored at a public reception and given a purse of money. Invitations seeking his presence flowed in from across the country.

As for Billy Carroll, the benefactor who started it all, his fate was an ignominious demise. The mores of the community shifted with time and the police eventually raided his famous cigar store, ransacking the place for evidence. Billy was hauled into court, a shameful ordeal for so esteemed a citizen, and convicted of bookmaking. As Fred Howe recalled decades later in his memoirs of the period, “It broke his heart.”

Footnote:

(a) Prizes were also offered to runners-up. In later years many were donated by businessmen, the civic-minded Billy Carroll once offering a silver cup. Special prizes also came into vogue for leaders at specified points along the route. The pacesetter at the Jockey Club once won a cane for his efforts, the leader at Fitch’s Hotel an umbrella. Trophies grew increasingly ornate and were displayed in advance in the Herald window. In the heyday of the race all runners finishing in less than three hours won silver medals.

(b) Alterations to streets and roadways over the years, coupled with minor route changes, have shortened the course to just under 19 miles. The official distance today is listed as 30 kilometres.

(c) Since 1971, the Around the Bay Race has been run the last Sunday of March, a convenient warm-up for the Boston Marathon three weeks later.

(d) Duffy’s record stood until 1958 when it was lowered to 1:42:07 by a runner named Gordon Dickson. The modem record of 1:33:28 was set by Fergus Murray of Great Britain in 1967 when a special field was assembled in honor of the Canadian centennial.