Sporting Goods: The Hogtown Hash House Harriers
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Sporting Goods: The Hogtown Hash House Harriers

Sports coverage tends to focus on major league teams, but every day in Toronto people make fun (and sometimes wacky) activities an important part of their lives. Sporting Goods looks at some of these.

Casket Case, Back Door Buzz, and Drinkslikeagirl pose in their ceremonial garb.

A pack of about 40 middle-aged people, men and women, charge into an alleyway south of Queen Street. They are all—including the men—wearing pink dresses and running shoes. Someone produces a small insulated lunchbox, and inside are a few dozen Dixie cups of pudding. Everybody takes a cup and slurps it down. Whoever made the stuff used Baileys instead of milk. And so what’s actually happening is that all these people are on the street, in downtown Toronto, at about 4:00 p.m., and they’re doing pudding shots.

“Here, take one,” says a guy, 31, who goes by the name Casket Case. We accept the pudding, because we already committed a faux pas by not showing up in a dress, and we don’t want to seem weird.
For the Hogtown Hash House Harriers, this is all fairly routine.
Hash House Harriers is an organization that claims 1,700 chapters worldwide. Purportedly founded in 1938 by British expats in Kuala Lumpur, it has metastasized into a kind of global social club for people who enjoy both jogging and alcohol. Members describe it as a “drinking club, with a running problem.”
The run (or “hash,” as members call each gathering) Torontoist joined took place on a recent Saturday. It began at the Amsterdam Brewery, near the foot of Bathurst Street. Inside, members took us aside to explain some of the group’s jargon and its rituals. There are lots of rituals.
One of the big ones is that only neophytes go by their real names. Everyone who gets involved with a chapter of the Harriers eventually gets a nickname, and tradition dictates that it be as filthy as possible. One woman, a kindly 40-ish banker with thick, plastic-rimmed eyeglasses, introduced herself as Sex Toy.
Despite the names, HHHH isn’t really overtly about sex. The better word to describe it would be “bawdy,” like a cartoon version of a ’50s frat house. Everybody respects the protocol, but nobody takes it too seriously. They treat the club as a social activity.
Because chapters (or “kennels”) are located in so many different parts of the world, some members even use hashing as a global networking tool, almost as though it were a church. “A lot of people here have professions where they travel,” explained Hai Poo Guy, grand master of the HHHH. He’s a baby-faced, 45-year-old executive at a small marketing company, who, as he spoke, happened to be wearing a pink strapless dress, a white baseball cap, and a fanny pack. He started hashing in 2007, while he was living in Singapore.
“We have everything from students to VPs of corporations,” he added.
Incidentally, a note on the costumes: hashes are usually done in plain clothes. The pink dresses were a once-a-year thing HHHH does in conjunction with its women’s chapter (known as TWAT) to benefit breast cancer research.
After a few minutes of milling around inside the brewery, the hashers finished their plastic cups of Amsterdam beer and then gathered in a circle in the parking lot. A guy wearing a plastic Viking helmet and a pink sarong stepped into the centre and began to explain the order of the day. His nickname was Ra, and he was what’s known as the “hare,” or route-setter. The hare is the only one who knows the path of the run; everyone else relies on chalk markings the hare makes on sidewalks and buildings a few hours before a meeting.
HHHH used to use flour instead of chalk, because flour holds up better in rain, but they don’t do that so much anymore because of the incident at last year’s pink dress run, when Hai Poo Guy had to explain the white powder to some very concerned, G20-ready police officers. “I was wearing a pink burka,” he said. “I actually strapped an ammo belt of beer cans underneath.”

The group hits the streets.

After Ra finished his introduction, the group followed the first chalk arrow north on Bathurst Street. Some ran, some jogged, and others walked. Drivers, seeing all the guys in their pink gowns, honked their horns and yowled. Hai Poo Guy, whose cleavage started to peek out from under his neckline as he ran, was loving the attention. He shouted his stock rejoinder: “Lock up your sons!”
The group jogged west down a street lined with rowhouses, north to Queen Street, and then east for a while until they arrived at an alleyway, where a chalk marking indicated a rest point, and everybody stopped and slurped those previously mentioned pudding shots.
We made our way around to a nearby park, where another chalk marking indicated what the group calls a “beer check.” Hai Poo Guy’s wife, who goes by Helen Keller, rolled up in her car and emerged with pitchers of beer Hai Poo Guy had brewed himself. Everyone drank it from plastic cups. It was perhaps 5:00 p.m. There were no police officers in sight. One 50-something guy went behind a tree to adjust his cocktail dress.
The path forward took the hashers past Rogers Centre, where a game was letting out, flooding the sidewalks with perplexed onlookers, some of whom begged the male hashers for photos, which they were all too happy to pose for.
A second beer check happened near Fort York at about 6:30 p.m., and then the whole party made its way back to the Amsterdam Brewery for a closing ceremony that was like a consensual version of a frat-house hazing ritual, where individual hashers were made to come to the centre of the room and chug plastic cups of beer in punishment for alleged rule infractions, while everyone else sang drinking songs. Torontoist got one penalty beer for being a visitor, one for wearing plaid and jeans instead of pink, and one for leaving before dinner.
One HHHH member, a woman who goes by Moist Leatherette, put it best: “It’s a way to get away from the ghastly, guarded tedium of being a grownup,” she said. And then she jogged away.
Hashes take place a few times a month. Anyone of legal drinking age is welcome. Check the Hogtown Hash House Harriers website for details.
Photos by Steve Kupferman/Torontoist.