Vintage Toronto Ads: The Toronto Bicycle Club Races, 1895
At the height of the city's Victorian-era love affair with cycling, a record was broken at a local club's annual competition.
In a two-page feature spotlighting the Toronto Bicycle Club in October 1892, the Globe expressed pleasure in the growth of cycling as a leisurely pursuit:
As a form of healthy and manly recreation no sport can surpass that of wheeling. If the rider desires to be alone that he may commune with his own thoughts he may be so, but the social side of cycling had strong attractions, a fact which is demonstrated by the existence of organizations of bicyclists whose bond of union is the wheel, and around which they cluster for the promotion of good fellowship and the cultivation of the social amenities. It is a form of recreation that does not preclude the enjoyment of ladies’ society, and sensible young women, who possess sufficient spirit to throw off the enthralling claims of conventionality, are beginning to appreciate the aid to health and pleasure that the bicycle affords. In increasing numbers they are betaking themselves to a mode of recreation that their mothers were ignorant of.
The paper also praised cycling’s health and competitive benefits:
With the development of the bicycle and its adaptability to speedy locomotion there has been a corresponding development of athleticism among the numberless votaries of the sport, and many young men with a distaste for too violent a form of exercise have adopted the wheel as a means of recreation and of physical training. It is an exercise that contributes to a healthy body and mind, and in this way cannot fail to have a beneficial effect upon society. One of the most popular pastimes of the day is bicycle racing, and, with the improvement of the machines, and the careful and systematic training of the wheelsmen, records hitherto considered impregnable have been ruthlessly smashed to pieces.
By the time this article appeared, the Toronto Bicycle Club (TBC) was among the most prominent of the half-dozen organizations in the city dedicated to bicycle rides and racing. Formed by 10 cyclists in April 1881, the TBC held its first major meet later that year on the Exhibition grounds, beginning an annual tradition of drawing top cyclists from across the continent to participate in races of varying lengths. Regular events included evening rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a longer ride on Saturdays, during a season which lasted from May through October. The TBC moved into a spacious club house at 346 Jarvis Street in the spring of 1891, around the same time that its ladies’ section held their first major race.
The TBC’s major meet in 1895 marked a shift for the club. Instead of being held over the August civic holiday weekend, it was moved to June 1. Organizers expected a good turnout to see the races, which were held on a high-quality track in Rosedale made from brick dust, cinder, and clay. Despite a strong west wind, oppressive heat reduced attendance, which was estimated between 1,200 and 2,000 spectators. “There were several punctures of tires, and one or two consequent spills,” the Mail and Empire reported, “but no accidents of a serious nature marred the splendid sport.” There was even musical accompaniment, thanks to the Queen’s Own Rifles band.
Many eyes were glued to several competitors from California. C.R. Coulter was expected to break records, but the combination of a long trip from suburban Boston and the weather did him in. After participating in preliminary heats for the mile race, he claimed he was too sick to participate in the final. His substitute was San Jose cyclist Otto Zeigler. “A mere boy in appearance,” the Globe observed, “but in regard to muscular development a miniature Titan, he was loudly cheered when he made his appearance.” Zeigler set a new Canadian competition record, finishing his mile in two minutes and four seconds.
“In many respects the Torontos had reason to pat themselves on the back,” the Globe concluded, particularly “the excellent way in which the races were conducted and the strict adherence that the officials kept to the laws laid down for their guidance as regards to the time allowed riders to prepare for their races.”
Additional material from The Ride of Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 by Glen Norcliffe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); the October 22, 1892 and June 3, 1895 editions of the Globe; and the June 3, 1895 edition of the Mail and Empire.