Diamonds: An Athlete's Best Friend
A History of Playing Fields in the Niagara Falls / Stamford / Chippawa area from 1900-2000
Related by Robert Barnes and written by Ron Brown.
In the early 1900's there were numerous sites available for sport in the Niagara Falls and Stamford Township area. Events for boys and girls fifteen years and up were held at the Bridge Street grounds located near the corner of Victoria and Bridge streets. Poplar Park, now the site of the Greater Niagara General Hospital was used for years as a fairground, trotting horse race course and for baseball and soccer. A boxing club was also established in a small wooden field house on that site.
Events for local school children were held on the school grounds wherever possible. Simcoe and Barker Streets and later, Maple Street, Memorial and Falls View and the Stamford Township Schools also established fields. Niagara Falls Collegiate and Vocational Institute was the site of the city's first running track. It is interesting to note that outdoor skating rinks were also provided on or near school grounds. Chippawa, with its renowned spirit and pride also established playing fields for their schools.
Parks' development around Niagara was unique in that the city, Stamford Township, the Niagara Parks, Cyanamid Canada and the Oakes family were all keenly interested in the establishment of healthy sport for all citizens. The N.P.C provided picnic grounds, playing fields and Lawn Tennis for citizens and Visitors alike. Niagara's main athletic field, "Bridge Street Grounds" remained the traditional site for all sports for many years. Championship Baseball, Soccer and Rugby were played on a well maintained fenced area. A change house was located on space available at the North End Hose Brigade Station, near the Bridge Street site. Ideal transportation was available via the N.S. and T street car line that crossed at Queen St. and Victoria Avenue. Many events such as the annual border crossing celebrations by Canadian and American Aboriginal groups along with carnivals and war rallies were held there. By far though, its most popular use was as a baseball and softball field. Many league championship games that were played there, generated legends that remain to this day.
Local industries provided play areas for employees and their families. Cyanamid of Canada is especially remembered for its large swimming pool and the recreational building that were made available for public enjoyment at their Fourth Avenue location. Facilities for Tennis, ice skating and a employee recreation building were also much appreciated. Excellent Lawn bowling grounds and a picnic area were located on the "Bell Site" on Victoria Avenue. These amenities provided much summer enjoyment for children and adults alike.
During the Hungry 30's many bread winners were unemployed. Relief work was initiated to provide support. Federal, Provincial and Civic Fathers realized that more meaningful and larger programs were required. As a result, with the assistance of local industry, and commercial leaders, a new athletic field and swimming pool were envisioned. This was an ideal concept in that the work was meaningful and long lasting. Sir Harry Oakes, one of Niagara's most famous entrepreneurs, provided a sixteen-acre site located on the corner of Stanley and Morrison Street near Fairview Cemetery. Mr. Oakes also pledged hand tools and most of the funding for this project. It was stressed that a great deal of community effort would be necessary to complete the dream of a valuable city park and playing fields during an era that affected the entire nation. City council and local business men cooperated in supplying services and goods for construction of the project. A "Community works Committee" was formed that consisted of city, township and representatives of local athletic clubs. Mr. George Emery Sr., Cemetery Superintendent, and Harry Oakes were in charge at the work site. The committee decided that a truly first class facility would be created and that most of the funds would be directed to athletic fields development. Site planning and surveying were completed in the spring of 1930. It was decided that the park should be developed in two 8 acre segments. They would contain a rugby and lacrosse field and as well as baseball facilities surrounded by a six-lane grass running track.
Superintendent Emery assigned city landscaper and gardener Edward Strange and Walt Edgar, a groundskeeper, with the responsibility of overseeing the daily operation of the park development. All work was to be within the original parameters and required the committee's inspection and approval on a regular basis. It should be noted that along the centre lines of the park eight English Oak trees were planted in honor of the City's public and high schools. These stately trees remain to this day as the only original plantings in the park. The west playing field consisted of a large grass playing area and ample parking facilities. The West field was intended to be the site for many special city events such as school field days and summer athletic activities. Another projected use for this portion of the new park were ceremonial rites and celebrations connected with the Jay treaty. This treaty had guaranteed aboriginal rights for border crossing and assembly.
The Eastern half of the park was bi-level in nature. The first area remains as the site of a regulation baseball diamond bordered by a five-foot embankment.Dimensions of the field were as follows: Left field fence 400 feet from home plate, Five hundred feet straight away centre field and Three Hundred and eighty Feet for right field. A Safety Screen of some ten feet in height was to be erected on an excavated bank at home plate providing a safe back stop. To the south of the baseball field an area of 300'x450' was reserved for the development of a bowling green and tennis facilities. Unfortunately the latter two were never developed. Today this particular area provides great service for minor ball and children's play. The director's determination to construct a top quality facility never wavered. This resulted in underground services that boasted sewage and drainage tiles under the main baseball field's diamond. This was one of the first fields in Ontario to guarantee such quality features.
A starting date was set for the early spring of 1930. If this date were to be met, it would require the solving of many construction problems and much co-operation between the Township, City and Industry. Tasks included the installation of water lines to all playing areas and construction of high quality washroom facilities in the grandstand of each field. Water services for the above were to be connected to the Stanley St. main service. In an example of good will and cooperation, Stamford Hydro supplied the electrical service located on Township land and leased it to the city tax free. At last in the early spring of 1930, work was underway. There was a daily labour force of 10 to 20 men. Every five days, the labour force changed on a rotational basis. This enabled employment for as many workers as possible. Work was to be done with hand tools wherever feasible. The assistance of the drivers and teams of horses pulling scrapers and wagons provided labour for the heavier work. Labourers were credited with $1.00 of wages for an 8 hour shift. The drivers, who supplied their own horses and wagons were paid $2.50 for an eight hour shift.
Work continued daily throughout the hot summer months. In spite of the heat and rotating labour force very few labour management disputes occurred. A distinct feeling of pride and satisfaction in working on such a fine athletic field permeated the entire site. By September of 1930 each field was deemed ready for final grading. The leadership committee was very pleased indeed with the progress made. As a result they added an ambitious fall project. A security fence of chain link, six feet in height, complete with walking and driving entrances was constructed. It enclosed the entire park and guaranteed protection of the work scheduled for completion in the spring of 1931.
A sense of urgency and excitement must surely have monopolized the thinking of those who advocated a midsummer opening of the new park. Landscaping design for the perimeter fencing included climbing red rose bushes alternated with spruce, pine, and elm trees inside the fenced area facing Morrison Street. Stanley Avenue was graced with silver maple and mature plantings of spruce and pine. The baseball infield was completed by the use of copious loads of clay loam and sod that covered the installations of a 4" tile that drained into an 8" main sewer running through the park in a west to east direction. Fresh water for washrooms and irrigation was provided by a 2" galvanized line.
A special feature of the park was a white native pine flag pole more than fifty feet in height. When the Union Jack was flown, it indicated that a sport or cultural event was in progress. Bearing in mind, the economic nature of the times of the 1930`s, it is interesting to note that the grandstands for the new park were purchased from the city of Toronto's horse racing track, at a great savings. Total seating included two five hundred seat sections along the first and third base lines, 12 portable three-tiered bleachers behind first and third base and twenty-four portable benches. The seating was considered barely adequate for the huge crowds expected. The dugouts were placed at field level and were designed for rugby games as well as baseball. Public washrooms with running water were located under the grandstand. The old clubhouse at the entrance to the park was salvaged from the Bridge Street Athletic Grounds where it had served as a fire station. The building was modified to provide two dressing rooms with shower facilities, and a coal stove on the main floor and a meeting room on the second floor. A portable press box was also constructed and stored in the club house. F. H Leslie, publisher of the Evening Review provided a large scoreboard in deep right field that was a feature of Oakes Park for decades. Finishing touches for the sparkling new stadium included, a four-foot wide sidewalk along Morrison Street and a large green and white sign on the eaves of the clubhouse. The sign offered a warm welcome to Oakes Park Athletic Field Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Niagara Falls Review archives indicate that the proposed opening date could not be met, as a result, the stadium opening date was rescheduled to the civic holiday, August 31st 1931. It is estimated that over five thousand people jammed the new stadium to see a gala parade that consisted of of the City's Senior and Intermediate Baseball teams, the Lacrosse team, the Cricket Club, the Cataract Football Club, the all Scottish Football Club, the Echoes Senior Basketball Club, Burgess Battery and the Taylor and Bates Baseball teams. Also in attendance were the Mayor and Members of City Council. Additional features of the ceremony were a flying demonstration, a sea cadet drill team, and an exhibition baseball game. Nancy Oakes officially declared the site open.
Now after seventy years of service, the old ball park, steeped in history and still regarded by many as one of the finest in Ontario, continues to serve our community. Roars of approval for good play still echo throughout the city streets during the days of summer. One cannot help sense that the united efforts of our past City Fathers and Park Superintendents are remembered and appreciated by all. The approval of the men who built that park at a wage of $1.00 per day are surely echoed in the roar of the crowds even to this day.
GREATER NIAGARA BASEBALL ASSOCIATION
Bob Barnes - Bill Campbell - Terry Price - Fred Plato - Nick Phillips
John Quagliariello - Art Conte - Jack Sadler - Bill Gaynon
Bill Southeran - Mike Barto - Nels Sunstrum - Bryan Hart
Bill Jenkins - Guy Snyder - Bill Reece - Norm Fisher - Bob Hanna
Pat Defoe - Paul Campigotto - Don Price - Peter Mancuso - Ken Eastman
Tim Topping - Norm Turcotte - Tony Marazzo - Bob Pysher
Dino Pozzobon - Dave Gayman - Tony Volpini - Bill Ouderkirk - Bob Connon
Bill Chase - Dan Profeta - Jim Atack - Ray Theriault - Vito Scaringi
These individuals have contributed at least 10 years of service to the Association and enjoy all the rights that Life Membership in the G.N.B.A. includes. Thank you for your time and effort.
The First G.N.B.A. Senior Rookie Ball Travel Team
Left to Right - Front Row: Jesse Campigotto, Jonathon Reid, Stephen Peters, Matthew Baglieri, Teddy Long, David Erskine, Matthew Fortuna and Michael Fossey.
Left to Right - Second Row: Adam Angelone, Greg Warkenton, Daryl Sauve, Adam Candeloro, Brian Cleaver, Mark Bird and Brian Peters.
Left to Right - Back Row: Coach: Ed Helinski Sr., Assistant Coaches: Rick Fortuna, Paul Campigotto, Tony Baglieri and Stan Reid.
Missing from picture are Matthew Bird and Justin Storey.
Niagara Falls Citizens, the 1955 Ontario Baseball Association Juvenile 'A' Champions.
Front Row:Left to Right - Jim Atack, Ted Stephens, Bob Barnes (Coach), Ray Bragnolia, Eric Russell, Wayne Adams
Second Row: Left to Right - Bruce McCrie, Murray Johnston, Bob Chamberlain, Henry Hoogasain, Jim O'Laughlin
Third Row: Left to Right - Joe Dennis (Secretary/Treasurer), Red Littlewood, Lyle Racey, Malcolm Cushing (President), Albert McRae, Bob Green (Manager)
Missing: Merv Currie, Wayne Fleming, Tom McKinley, Mike Lococo, Dusty Bondar.
From The Niagara Falls Review - September 1955
CITIZENS RALLY IN NINTH FOR 9-8 VICTORY
Score Four Runs In Ninth, Edge Ottawa On Rain Swept Field
A never-say-die crew of local Juvenile diamond champions were forced to battle postponment and the elements as well as the home Bytown nine in a rain-swept Ottawa over the weekend as Bobby Barnes and his Citizens came from behind in the ninth and final frame on Sunday afternoon to capture the OBA "A" crown with a 9-8 victory.
With saturdays scheduled game rained out, the Fallsers finally moved into action on Sunday afternoon and after six innings of play found themselves almost hopelessly trailing by an 8-1 score. The with a series deadlock and another game staring them in the face, the inspired Citizens rallied for three runs in the seventh and one in the eight before coming up with their four run victory drive in the ninth.
The heroic task of blanking the Bytown crew through the last three frames fell to Bob Chamberlain and Eric Russell. While their mates struck for eight big runs in those late innings, Chamberlain pitched no-hit no-run ball for two innings and Russell came on to hurl the all-important hitless ninth.
Victory standouts in addition to the relief mound pair were Bruce McCrie with a three run homer in the seventh, Jimmy Atack with a two run single for the sixth and seventh runs and Merv Currie with a long pinch-hit double which set up the winning runs. The tying marker came in on Wayne Fleming's perfect squeeze-bunt single and the winning tally was cashed on Littlewood's infield out. The latter led the all Roar City hitters with three solid singles.
Needed Full Bench
Rain and winds were as high as 45 miles an hour postponed the Saturday meeting between the two teams and with weather prospects poor for Sunday, Robert Barnes and Bob Green, handlers of the Citizens, had decided to send seven or eight members of the squad home to pare down their budget.
However, the sun did shine and players from both teams went to the field early in the morning to dig ditches to drain off the water excess.
It was just as well the Citizens had a full bench for today's game. They used 16 of 20 players that made the trip, five of them pitchers. McKinley started, was in trouble in each of the innings in which he appeared. Racey came on in the fourth after Gordie Ventura, Ottawa catcher, had homered with two on, giving the Saints a 7-1 lead.
Racey, Chamberlain and Russell found the going a little easier. Racey gave up one run in the fifth, gave way to Chamberlain in the seventh. He held Ottawa scoreless in two frames. Russell hurled the ninth and protected the one run lead built up by the Citizens in their hectic ninth-inning uprising.
Althouth their bats were mute in the first six innings, Citizens sluggers came to life with a boom in the seventh. Bruce McCrie homered with two mate aboard to put the Ottawa margin to 8-4 and a single run in the eigth left Niagara trailing by three runs coming into their last inning.
Here's the way the ninth went: Bragnola led off with a single. Lococo was hit by a pitched ball and Atack singled scoring Bragnola. Currie doubled in Lococo and stephens walked.
Clutch Squeeze Play
Ottawa manager Glen Seeley brought in left hander Nels Skuce to pitch to Wayne Fleming and with the squeeze play on, Atack came in with the tying run. Ken Littlewood then grounded to the infield and when the play went to first base, Currie scored the winning run.
Nia.Falls - 0 0 0 -1 0 0 - 3 1 4 - 9
Ottawa - 3 0 1 - 3 1 0 - 0 0 0 - 8
Niagara Falls - 9 Runs - 11 Hits - 4 Errors
Ottawa - 8 Runs 7 Hits - 0 Errors
G.N.B.A. Past Presidents
1931 to 2011
Thirty - Seven individuals have held the position of G.N.B.A. President over the past seventy - one baseball seasons. Mr. Peck Ward was also the OBA President in 1942.
2012 - Present - Vito Scaringi
2005 - 2011 Bob Pysher
2002 to 2004 - Bill Chase
2001 to 2002 - Tim Topping
1999 to 2000 - Jim Atack
1997 to 1998 - George Mayer1995 to 1996 - Mario Massi1993 to 1994 - Richard Bell1991 to 1992 - Ken Eastman1989 to 1990 - Don Price1986 to 1988 - Paul Campigotto1985 - Pat Defoe1983 to 1984 - Bob Hanna1981 to 1982 - Guy Snyder1979 to 1980 - Bryan Hart1977 to 1978 - Allan Bilney1970 to 1976 - John Quagliarello1967 to 1969 - Doug Hastings1966 - Terry Price1965 - Fred Plato1964 - Bill Reece1962 to 1963 - Nels Sunstrum1957 to 1961 - Bob Connon1954 to 1956 - Bob Barnes1951 to 1953 - Ed Crossman1949 to 1950 - Jack Barclay1947 to 1948 - Fred H. Young1944 to 1946 - Orm Embelton1942 to 1943 - Mike Barto1941 - Fred Caverly1940 - Gifford Scott1939 - Fred Fisher1937 to 1938 - F.D. "Mickey" Paige1935 to 1936 - Peck Ward1933 to 1934 - W.J. Gaynon1932 - Dr. Biff Potter1931 - Jack Houck (Chaiman Elect)
G.N.B.A. Ladies Auxiliary Past Presidents
2002 Evelyn Felstaed 1996 to 2001 Laurie Marazzo 1993 to 1995 Evelyn Felstead 1988 to 1992 Joanne Angle 1985 to 1987 Sandi Green 1980 to 1984 Rose Heximer 1978 to 1979 Audrey Bench 1976 to 1977 Connie Loro 1974 to 1975 Lucinda Moody 1971 to 1973 Rose Buemi 1969 to 1970 Betty Mallett 1967 to 1968 Helen Sadler 1964 to 1966 Marge Conte 1961 to 1963 Grace Sunstrum
Further historical data will appear in the future as research continues.
©1998 Greater Niagara Baseball Association.
Last modified: 09/10/2003 12:35:21