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Sues Woody English

The November 20 1937 edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail contained a photo of Helen English, who was in the process of divorcing her husband, baseball player Woody English.

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The couple had apparently eloped in 1930. He had been previously engaged to another woman, who eventually filed a breach-of-promise suit against him.

Woody English (1906-1997) played in the major leagues for twelve years, his career ending in 1938. He managed the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1952 to 1954, when the league disbanded. He won a championship with them in 1953.

The Society for American Baseball Research has a long article about English. I couldn’t find out anything about what happened to the former Mrs. English after the divorce.

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Pair skating champions

The March 22 1924 edition of the Toronto Globe contained a photograph of Elizabeth Blair and John Machado, who were the reigning Canadian pair skating champions.

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The Canadian Figure Skating Championships Wikipedia page has a complete list of winners. Besides being the male half of the pair champions, John Machado also won the Canadian men’s figure skating championship in 1924. At the time, it wasn’t that unusual for the men’s winner to also be the male half of the pairs winner; before World War II, Melville Rogers, Montgomery Watson, and Ralph McCreath held both titles at least once. The last Canadian man to accomplish this feat was Wallace Diestelmeyer in 1948.

Both Mr. Machado and Ms. Blair had been champions before joining forces in 1924. Mr. Machado won silver in the Canadian men’s championship in 1921, 1923, and 1925, and won bronze in 1922. Ms. Blair was part of the team that won the fours championship in 1922, 1923, and 1924. (After the war, the fours competition was held irregularly between 1951 and 1965, and was revived in 1982 before being discontinued for good in 1997.)

Mr. Machado and Ms. Blair married shortly after this photograph was taken, and continued to perform in the pairs championship. They never won again, but they earned a silver medal in 1925 and a bronze medal in 1927.

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Champion beverages

The September 7 1933 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this ad for O’Keefe beverages, in which they were endorsed by two famous rowers.

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Bobby Pearce (1905-1976) was an Australian rower who won gold in the 1928 and 1932 Olympic Games. This did not protect him from the Great Depression: he entered the 1930 Empire Games in Hamilton, Ontario only due to the charity of friends. He managed to land a job in Hamilton after the games, which must have been a blessed relief.

Ted Phelps was a British rowing champion. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but there is newsreel footage of him being interviewed, and I found an article on him and his brother Eric, both of whom were professional rowers.

Pearce and Phelps wound up in an O’Keefe ad because the World Sculling Championship took place in Toronto in 1933, in which Pearce beat Phelps before a crowd of approximately 30,000. Phelps had won the three previous titles, so this was an impressive accomplishment.

Pearce won the next two title matches, in 1934 and 1938, and retired undefeated. He spent the rest of his life in Canada, and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.

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Miniature farm hobby

The August 11 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this photograph of a British tennis champion who kept a miniature farm as a hobby.

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It’s pretty cool when someone wins a championship so often that they just let her keep the trophy. Though I’m not sure what you would do with it – display it proudly on the mantelpiece, I guess.

Joan Ridley (1903-1983) had her best result in 1931, when she was a finalist at Wimbledon in mixed doubles. She got married in 1935, and appears to have ended her tennis career at about that time.

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Wrestling from 1943

The June 8 1943 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this ad for a wrestling match:

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One thing I want to know is this: when did newspapers stop using a period when abbreviating a first name? It used to always be common practice, when shortening a name such as Edward, to write it as “Ed.”. They don’t do that nowadays. When did it stop happening?

(I also want to know when they stopped writing “today” as “to-day”, but that’s another question.)

All three of the main protagonists in this ad have Wikipedia entries:

  • Ed (or Ed.) “Strangler” Lewis (1891-1966) was a four-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, having started in his chosen profession at the age of 14. At the time of this match, Lewis was legally blind, having contracted trachoma; this did not appear to disqualify him from refereeing. Sadly, he died destitute, relying on his wife and acquaintances to survive.
  • “Whipper” Billy Watson (1915-1990), whose real name was William Potts, wrestled professionally from 1936 to 1971; his career ended when he was hit by a car. During his lifetime, he raised millions of dollars for Easter Seals and other charities. In the last twelve years of his life, he gained 130 pounds, weighing 350 pounds when he passed away.
  • Yvon Robert (1914-1971) was known as “The Lion”. He wrestled professionally from 1932 to at least 1959.

I could find nothing on Andre Vadnais, the Quebec Habitant Angel.

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Bashing Bob Cosgrove

Though Canada was at war in 1942, there was still time for sports and other amusements. The October 16 1942 edition of the Toronto Daily Star included this photograph of an offensive lineman:

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The Ontario Rugby Football Union, abbreviated O.R.F.U., was the last amateur football league in Canada; as you can guess from the name, it was based in Ontario. During the war, after the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union suspended its league play, many military teams were formed that played in the O.R.F.U. One of these teams, the Toronto RCAF Hurricanes, won the Grey Cup in 1942, becoming the last amateur team to do so.

Bob Cosgrove has a Wikipedia entry: he played for various Toronto-based football teams in the 1940s, including the Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers (called the Balm Balm Balmies in this photo).

The O.R.F.U. competed for the Grey Cup until 1954, by which time the I.R.F.U. (later to become the East Division of the Canadian Football League) and the Western Interprovincial Football Union (later to become the West Division of the CFL) had become fully professional. The O.R.F.U. ceased to exist in 1974.

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Auto polo

When reading the September 2 1922 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, I discovered that the 1922 CNE featured auto polo as one of its exhibits. This was like polo, except with cars instead of horses: two teams of two cars competed, with each car containing a driver and a man with a mallet.

The article reported that only one man in twenty was fit to play auto polo:

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The article did not mention whether the other 19 lacked the necessary requirements or simply had enough common sense to avoid such a dangerous sport – even if the game being played was now “very scientific” and the construction of the cars was “almost perfect”.

Wikipedia has an article about auto polo. It mentions that, in 1924, the British and American auto polo teams had to endure 1564 broken wheels, 538 burst tires, 66 broken axles, 10 cracked engines, and six completely destroyed cars. Scenes like this one, portrayed in a Library of Congress image from between 1910 and 1915, were all too common:

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It comes as no surprise that the popularity of auto polo faded away in the late 1920s.

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Helen Stephens

The July 10 1936 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained an article on Helen Stephens, an American athlete.

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The article isn’t exactly flattering (and contains an unfortunate typo of “bed” instead of “bet”). The woman she was compared to, Babe Didrickson, was a gold-medal winner at the 1932 Olympics and became a successful professional golfer and to pitch in two major-league baseball spring training games.

Ms. Stephens, who was 18 at the time, went on to compete for the United States at the 1936 Olympic Games, winning the 100 metre dash and anchoring the women’s 4 x 100 metre relay team. She had to endure having to pass a “gender test” after being accused of not actually being a woman. After her race, she met Adolf Hitler, who apparently pinched her bottom.

She later owned a women’s semi-professional basketball team, and passed away in 1994.