Historicist: Wicket Little Town
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Historicist: Wicket Little Town

Toronto's well-to-do learn the game of cricket, and the origins of the first ever international cricket match.

Cricket at the Upper Canada College grounds.  George Dickson and G. Mercer Adam, A History of Upper Canada College 1829–1892 (Rowsell & Hutchison, 1893: Toronto).

Cricket at the Upper Canada College grounds. George Dickson and G. Mercer Adam, A History of Upper Canada College 1829–1892 (Rowsell & Hutchison, 1893: Toronto).

George A. Barber came to Upper Canada from England in the 1820s to assume a teaching position at the Home District Grammar School in the town of York. When Upper Canada College was formally established a few years later, in 1829, Barber was recruited as one of the school’s first faculty members, teaching writing and arithmetic at U.C.C. for the next 10 years. He is probably best remembered to history, however, as the man credited with having popularized cricket in Canada, leading to him being nicknamed “the Father of Canadian Cricket.”

Due to the limited source material available, it is unclear when the game was first played in York. Several historians, including Stanley Fillmore in The Pleasure of the Game: The Story of the Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling Club, 1827–1977, believe that troops at Fort York played cricket near the garrison. The earliest known civilian cricket pitch appears to have been on the grounds of the Home District Grammar School, near what is now Jarvis and Adelaide. In their 1893 history of Upper Canada College, George Dickson and G. Mercer Adam write that “the ground surrounding the school which, in primitive times, was slightly undulating, had been cleared of the stumps, and a face of a few hundred feet square, was selected for the good old English sport of cricket, which was cultivated from 1825, under the enthusiastic direction of Mr. George [Anthony] Barber.”

In 1827, Barber helped found what later became the Toronto Cricket Club, which likely practised and played their matches at the Home District Grammar School, and later on the grounds of Upper Canada College, which was then situated near King and Simcoe. Sometime around 1840, another Toronto pitch was established on the Boulton family property, near the modern-day intersection of McCaul and Orde.

The cricket ground on the Boulton property, southwest of where College and University meet today.  Topographical map of the city and liberties of Toronto, James Cane, 1842.

The cricket ground on the Boulton property, southwest of where College and University meet today. Topographical map of the city and liberties of Toronto, James Cane, 1842.

Barber’s attempts to develop the game at U.C.C. proved successful. In 1836, Upper Canada College formed its own cricket club, featuring a mix of students and faculty, including Barber himself. That July, the Toronto Patriot extolled the merits of cricket and heralded the formation of this new club with great enthusiasm: “The players’ virtues in this game are promptitude, activity, cheerfulness, and noiseless vigilance…The amusements thus carried on, amid the loveliest scenes of nature, and during the brightest, sunniest hours of summer, leaves an influence on the mind no less strengthening and wholesome than on the braced and invigorated body. Such being our opinion of the excellence of cricket, we are delighted to hear that the boys of U. C. College have formed a cricket club.”

The College and Toronto clubs soon arranged a match, which U.C.C. won handily. According to the Patriot, at the match’s conclusion, lieutenant-governor Francis Bond Head, “rode up to the ground, and was received with those clear-toned and hearty cheers which the lungs of staunch cricketers can so melodiously emit.” Amongst those who played in this match were two future mayors of Toronto: William Henry Boulton represented Toronto and led his side in scoring, whereas 19-year-old John Beverley Robinson represented the College.

Over the next few years, cricket grew in popularity in what is now southern Ontario, and local newspapers frequently reported on matches between clubs from Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, Brantford, and other towns. George Barber left Upper Canada College in 1839 following a financial dispute, but found other work in Toronto and continued to play and promote cricket.

Portrait of George A. Barber.  Upper Canada College Archives, 0000.3400.1.  Used with permission.

Portrait of George A. Barber. Upper Canada College Archives 0000.3400.1. Used with permission.

In August of 1840, the Toronto Cricket Club received a shock when 18 members of the St. George’s Cricket Club, an American club based out of New York City, arrived in Toronto expecting to play against their Toronto counterparts. After considerable initial confusion, the two clubs discussed the situation and discovered that someone had apparently impersonated G. A. Phillpotts, one of the Toronto club’s members, and arranged an invitation to the St. George’s Club as a prank, which, given the lack of easy and affordable transportation between the two cities in the 1840s, was a very expensive prank indeed.

After assessing the situation, the two clubs drew up an official document in which the Toronto Cricket Club indicated that they had no prior knowledge of the “affair,” but nevertheless offered a formal apology and invited the New York club to play a match the next day, for $250 a side. The St. George’s Club emerged victorious in the match, the British Colonist observing that “The New York Club appeared to be better drilled than the Toronto players, and there was a unity in their play which the other party wanted.” The match was evidently well-attended, the British Colonist writing that “his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor [Lord Sydenham] honoured the game with his presence, and, their bright costumes showing pleasantly through ‘the bushes and alleys green,’ many fair dames graced the adjoining pleasure ground.”

Advertisement for The Cricketers' Hand Book.  This appeared in the Toronto Herald, which was edited by George A. Barber himself.  Toronto Herald, April 8, 1844.

Advertisement for The Cricketers’ Hand Book. This appeared in the Toronto Herald, which was edited by George A. Barber himself. Toronto Herald, April 8, 1844.

A second, less formal match took place two days later, the British Colonist describing it as “with sides promiscuously chosen,” and that it “afforded some capital entertainment.” After this second match, the Toronto Cricket Club held a dinner at Ontario House to honour their guests; as there was remaining embarrassment as to how the New York players had come to be in Toronto, there was a considerably strong desire on the part of Toronto’s more prominent citizens to make it up to the visitors. The British Colonist noted that even some from outside the cricket community took the opportunity to help entertain their American guests, evidently with some success: “The warm shake of the hand with which they parted, and the hearty tone in which the farewell was spoken, satisfied all, that every unpleasant feeling was eradicated, and that hospitality and good feeling had drawn the sting of disappointment.”

With a good relationship now established between the two clubs, Toronto invited the St. George’s Club back in 1843, which the New York club accepted—but this time they arrived with three outside cricketers from Philadelphia in their party. The Toronto Cricket Club evidently believed this to be in violation of their agreement and refused to play them. The American group instead had to content themselves with playing a cricket club from Guelph, which, to make things more even, was permitted to add some players from Upper Canada College.

George Barber.  John E. Hall and R.O. McCulloch, Sixty Years of Canadian Cricket (Bryant, 1895: Toronto).

George Barber. John E. Hall and R.O. McCulloch, Sixty Years of Canadian Cricket (Bryant, 1895: Toronto).

The apparent success of this 1843 match led to the organization of a match of more national proportions in September 1844, when a delegation of Canadian cricketers made the difficult trip to New York City, to take on an American team at St. George’s home ground. Perhaps due to limited opportunities for communication and transportation in the 1840s, the “Canadian” team was Toronto-heavy, comprising seven Toronto players, two from Guelph, and one each from Montreal and Kingston. The American team was correspondingly dominated by St. George’s players, but included cricketers from Philadelphia and other eastern cities. The New York Herald, which reported regularly on what it called “The Great Cricket Match,” usually referred to the two sides as “the St. George’s Club” and “the Canadians.”

Canada’s team included George Barber, John Beverley Robinson, and the Toronto Club’s professional, Fred French. “Professional” in this era had a different meaning than today; French’s duties included not only instruction but also maintenance of the grounds. In The Pleasure of the Game, Stanley Fillmore writes that “French cared for the grounds and on occasion cooked for the members; his specialty was lamb chops in tomato sauce, said to be a delectable dish, enough to draw members from all sides of the city whether they chose to play cricket or not.”

The St. George’s team included their own professional: Sam Wright. Wright maintained the St. George’s Club grounds for 32 years and was skilled as both bowler and batsman. Two of his sons, Harry and George, later developed into talented American cricketers before achieving more enduring fame as pioneering baseball players; Harry Wright assembled and played with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, on which his brother George also played, generally regarded as the first professional baseball team.


The international match was held at the St. George’s Club in Manhattan, on a site now occupied by the New York University Medical Center. The two sides each staked $1,000 on the outcome, a sizable sum for 1844, indicating the degree of wealth enjoyed by many of the players. Betting was also high amongst the spectators; after the first day of the match, the New York Herald reported that a combined $100,000 had been bet on the match so far.

(Right: Sam Wright. A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.)

Although the announced start time was 10:00, it appears that play on the opening day did not begin until after 11:30, when the Americans won the coin toss and opted to begin in the field. A reported 5,000 were on hand to see the Canadian team take the lead, reportedly led by superb batting and bowling from David Winckworth. The New York Herald spoke effusively about the quality of play for both sides, and noted that “Mr. [Winckworth] was struck in the face severely, but true cricketer like [sic] did not impede his excellent bowling.”

The second day of the match was postposed by rain. When play resumed, the Canadian team emerged victorious, although not without some controversy. One of the Americans’ top batsmen, George Wheatcroft, did not arrive at the St. George’s Club until 20 minutes after play had ended. The Canadian team, apparently enforcing the accepted rules of cricket of the day, refused to allow another player to substitute for him (although they did permit some other, temporary substitutions for injured fielders). Despite this, both the New York Herald and subsequent analysis by historians suggests that, given the Canadians’ margin of victory, it is unlikely that Wheatcroft’s bat would have affected the result.


Gracious in seeing their local team defeated, the New York Herald wrote highly of the Canadian team, and claimed that “this throughout has been one of the most spirited games of Cricket ever played in this country or in the Canadas, and great interest has been excited in consequence.”

(Left: New York Herald, September 28, 1844. The notice indicates that an engraving of the “Great Cricked Match” is featured in the latest issue of a companion publication, the Illustrated Weekly Herald.)

Following the official match, David Winckworth and Sam Wright, both considered excellent all-rounders on their respective sides, arranged an additional single-wicket match between them, for $200, to be held the next day. Winckworth batted first, the New York Herald writing that he “proceeded to play, which was most beautiful—cautious, steady, and certain—frequently eliciting great applause from the spectators. He remained in upwards of two hours, receiving near upon 150 balls and defying some of the most beautiful bowling of Mr. Wright.” After Winckworth finished with 40, the two switched roles, and Wright came close to matching his counterpart, reportedly staying in nearly as long as Winckworth to score 34. “Never came together a pair of more equal players,” wrote the Herald. “They were the admiration of all on the ground.” For the second innings, both demonstrated their bowling prowess, each bowling the other one out before additional runs could be scored.

The success of the international match resulted in the establishment of a semi-regular cricket series between Canada and the United States, which later became known as the K. A. Auty Cup. The 1844 match at the St. George’s Cricket Club is now regarded to be the first match of the series, and the first time that two cricket clubs competed while officially representing their respective countries. In fact, it is believed to be the first time two countries officially played each other in any sport, ever.

Cricket’s popularity grew in Toronto over the next few decades, and, due to its connection with Upper Canada College, became closely associated to the city’s elite; in Canada Learns to Play: The Emergence of Organized Sport, 1807-1914, Alan Metcalfe writes that “in Toronto, the Cricketers Ball was one of the highlights of the social season and was attended by the Lieutenant Governor.” By the early 20th century, however, local interest in cricket appears to have peaked, losing press coverage to other sports more popular with the middle and working classes, especially lacrosse and baseball.

Additional material from: Edgar A. Bracht, “A Brief History of the Toronto Cricket Club,” South Armour Heights Residents’ Association website; The [Toronto] British Colonist (September 9, 1840); George Dickson and G. Mercer Adam, A History of Upper Canada College 1829–1892 (Rowsell & Hutchison, 1893: Toronto); Stanley Fillmore, The Pleasure of the Game: The Story of the Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling Club, 1827–1977 (Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling Club, 1977); The Globe (July 23, August 13, 1844; August 23, 1848); Edwin C. Guillet, Toronto: From Trading Post to Great City (Ontario Publishing Co., 1934: Toronto); John E. Hall and R.O. McCulloch, Sixty Years of Canadian Cricket (Bryant, 1895: Toronto); Toronto Herald (April 8, 1844); Maxwell L. Howell & Reet A. Howell, History of Sport in Canada (Stipes, 1981: Champaign, Illinois); John I. Marder, The International Series: The Story of the United States v Canada at Cricket (Kaye & Ward, 1968: London); Alan Metcalfe, Canada Learns to Play: The Emergence of Organized Sport, 1807–1914 (McClelland and Stewart, 1987: Toronto); Roy Morgan, Real International Cricket: A History in One Hundred Scorecards (Pitch Publishing, 2016: Durrington); New York Herald (September 24, September 25, September 26, September 27, September 28, September 29, 1844); The [Toronto] Patriot (July 15, 1836); St. Catharines Cricket Club, The Canadian Cricketer’s Guide and Review of the Past Season, 1858 (James Seymour, 1858: St. Catharines).

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