By Terry Hughes
When my grandson informed us that he would be playing ball at Burgar Park, it brought back some memories about being present for a variety of activities there as well as its storied history as a local sports icon. Not only did it host baseball games but, also, the historic band tattoos when the city hosted its one hundredth birthday in 1958. A football tradition was the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Notre Dame and Welland High that in a number of cases turned out to be a “mud bowl”. For me, my connection with the park was the removal of the barbwire from around the perimeter of the park when employed by the city parks board in the early sixties.
It is hard to believe that this location goes back more than a century as a place where baseball was played. In the early 1900’s, Sundays were considered as a day of rest and religious reflection. Even the canal closed down to shipping and many ships sought dockage at communities along the waterway. This reverence included the playing of games including baseball that was beginning to catch on with local youth.
Ashers Bush was a vacant piece of land that was bounded by the C.N.R. tracks on the east, Hellems Avenue on the west and Asher and Lincoln streets on the north and south. It was covered with trees and contained several open meadows. During the winter the locals would use it for skating around the vegetation much like the park Joe Barkovich refers to on Woodlawn Road during his winter outings.
When the warm weather returned and the clearings dried out, it became the location for illegal ball games on Sundays. Instead of attending Mass or Sunday School, the boys would head to this secret playing field, hidden by the underbrush and blocking the voices and cheers of the participants. Four teams would emerge known as the Dirty Shirts, Windy Days, Never Sweats and Forget-me-nots. As time went on the popularity of the games came to the attention of the participants’ parents causing this ritual to disappear.
Welland and Crowland had become the centre for industrial development during the early nineteen hundreds, properties along the transportation routes were in high demand. Canada Forge located on the property opposite Ashers Bush that became the area known as “French Town.” The bush was purchased by a Buffalonian by the name of T.D. Moore. Hoping to cash in on a profitable real estate deal, Mr. Moore missed the boat and finally, in 1924 gave permission to the Welland Amateur Athletic Association to build a baseball diamond there. The rest of the story is history.
With the large number of workers who had returned from the war and were employed at local plants, it was not long before an industrial league emerged drawing huge crowds to the park. Teams such as the Wurbagool Juniors, Welland Combines and Bluebirds brought honours to the city. Names such as Swayze, Blazetich, Billyard, Buntrock, Patakfalvi, Mateka, Roschuk and many others entertained the fans occupying the bleachers. After the game a brief walk over to Ideal Fish and Chips to get a cone of fries completed the evening.
The accompanying photo, above, courtesy of Welland Library, depicts some kind of national holiday, probably Dominion Day, being celebrated due to the presence of many Union Jacks and the white attire being worn by the ladies.
Next Column: Hanging Out at the Cross Street Pool
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)