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Sport of cricket attracted many to work in gold mines

William Place was the first to hit a 'century' locally

With the establishment of the Timmins Tigers, cricket returned to the City with a Heart of Gold.

But what many don’t realize is cricket was popular in Timmins in the 1930s and ‘40s. In fact, along with soccer, it helped draw men to the Porcupine Camp to work in the mines.

John Place was born in Timmins in 1942. He is currently living in Alliston, Ont., but has newspaper clippings about his father, William Place, playing cricket in Timmins.

In addition to playing in the local mine league, William played for a town cricket squad that faced outside teams.

“One of the clippings has him hitting for the first century in town,” John said. If you know cricket talk, a century is when you hit 100 runs in a match.

“I’ve asked some cricket players down here just how tough it is to do, and I think it is probably harder than a perfect game in bowling, that sort of thing.”

William Place’s journey to Timmins began long before he stepped on the cricket field.

“My dad was born and raised in England, in Shepherd’s Bush, which is a part of London,” John said. “He was in an orphanage. He had two brothers and a sister. When each one of them turned 15 ... they put them on a boat and shipped them to Canada.

“They didn’t come over all together. One brother ended up in British Columbia, one brother ended up in Winnipeg, my dad ended up in Lindsay, Ont., on a farm. And his sister, Lydia, died at sea coming across.”

Like many immigrants at the time, William excelled at sports.

“He found out that if he was to go up to the North and play soccer and cricket, they were trying to promote those sports, they would have a job in the mine,” John explained. “So, my dad came up to Falconbridge and he was on a soccer team. From there, he went up to Timmins and I have a statement here that he worked at the McIntyre Mine from 1932 to 1972.

“He was 40 years at the McIntyre Mine, the only place he worked up there. Can you imagine working underground for that long?”

A front-page story in the Sept. 1, 1932, edition of The Porcupine Advance showed the sport was big news at the time. The headline “Timmins to have a Cricket Team in 1932” was in the top half of the page, proclaiming the town would have a town team and a league.

“At a meeting held in the Hollinger Recreation Hall on Friday evening of last week, Aug. 26, at which a large number of cricket enthusiasts were present, it was decided to form a cricket team for the year 1933,” the story reported. “As this season is now nearing its finish, it was decided to just buy what material was necessary to have a practice game or two this season and buy the rest of the material at the commencement of next season.

“There is every appearance of there being enough playing members to place three good teams in the field and some interesting games should result, it being the intention to arrange games, if possible, with outside teams. Practice games will be held on the cyanide this year as long as the weather is favourable, but a suitable field will probably be obtained for next year.”

The newspaper story said the sport was expected to grow locally.

“At various times in the past there have been cricket enthusiasts here who have considered the idea of forming a cricket club in Timmins but when actual organization would be attempted it would be found that circumstances were not as favourable as expected,” reads the story. “Now, however, actual organization has taken place and it is found that there are comparatively large numbers of cricket players here. No doubt that more will come forward now that the organization of a club has been taken up.

“Next year it is expected that this game, so popular in the Old Country, will take its place among the sports of this land.”

John Place has a team photo his father was in and a number of newspaper clippings, none of which are dated.

“I’m thinking that it was the early ‘30s,” he said. “I know that he played for the town team, he played for the mine team. I got a picture of the cricket team. All the players are dressed in white.”

He remains proud of his father’s accomplishments on the field.

“My father passed away in ‘91,” John said. “I never saw my dad play cricket. I was born and raised in Timmins, have his clippings. I put together a package and sent (it) to the Timmins Sports Hall of Fame. He didn’t make it through, but there are no sour grapes over that. I’m not pushing my dad to get into the hall of fame. I’d like to see a whole group of names from the early days, but it didn’t happen.”

John said he is hoping to come back to town for a visit.

“The next thing I know, the Timmins Tigers are starting up,” he said. “I’m wanting to go up to Timmins, both my parents are buried up there.

“I want to get in touch with the Timmins Tigers. I have an old cricket bat to show them.”