Thursday, December 23, 2010

5 Pin Bowling At The Beginning

First off, I'd like to wish everyone a safe and merry Christmas.  You may have already noticed a trend on my blog.  I am trying to keep to a consistent schedule of posting every Monday and Thursday for the time being.  I'd like to thank everyone so far that have sent me stuff to contribute to this space, especially Tom Paterson and John Honeyford who have a lot of content to share.  The following blog is the first contribution from 5pin bowling historian, John Honeyford.  I hope you enjoy this great read, about how 5pin bowling started.
Bowling has existed in Toronto since the city was created in 1834 – in fact 2 bowling alleys are recorded as being in existence at that time. Until the 1890’s, bowling was played in saloons and hotels and was basically a basement-dwelling, cigar-smoking pursuit of men wanting to imbibe and wager a bit of money.
In April of 1892, the Athenaeum Club was opened at 167 Church Street (the front of this property is still there as part a newly-developed condo project) and it was the replacement site for the Toronto Athletic Club. It had 8 lanes for bowling, and this site, along with the 6 lanes installed at the Liederkranz German Club, built in 1894 at 255 Richmond Street West (the Scotia Bank Theatre is now there) were the first 2 bowling ‘clubs’ that existed in the city. They were private clubs for men only (the Athenaeum’s membership was $3 a year). The Armories on University Avenue (where the Court House is now) had 6 lanes that were installed in 1894 for the use of the soldiers, and there were a few other places like the Gladstone Hotel on Queen St West., and the Toronto Rowing Club (near the Boulevard Club on the Lakeshore) that had lanes. Lanes were normally no longer than only 50 feet in length. There was a 12 team ‘city’ league in Toronto at that time.
A group of the more competitive bowlers became dissatisfied with the conditions, as these men would play challenge matches against teams from Buffalo, New York City, Detroit and Chicago, who played on 60 foot lanes under newly established ABC rules which placed the Toronto men at a great disadvantage. 
In 1905, Tommy Ryan was operating at Billiard Hall at 106 Yonge Street with his partner John White. John was involved with the Dukes Hotel at 56 Adelaide Street East, and it is believed that there were bowling lanes there (Dukes Alleys have been quoted in old news archives). Tommy lived at the Grand Union Hotel at 180 Front Street West, and had been involved in competitive 10-pin bowling. During the summer of 1905 Tommy became involved in the pursuit of a new bowling club location that would accommodate 60-foot ‘American alleys’ and after being originally turned down by the City Board of Control in September, 11 new alleys were installed on the fourth floor of the Boisseau Building, at the south corner of Yonge and Temperance. Ryrie Birks Jewelers was on the main and second floor. d Edmond Boisseau, who had owned a wholesale tailoring firm there, was on the board of directors and Tommy became the Secretary Treasurer. On Monday, Oct 16/05, the first bowlers meeting was held at the new Toronto Bowling Club. It was incorporated (capital $10,000) in November, and in December 4 of the 11 lanes received pin-spotters (manual/pulley operated). The pin decks sat right in front of the east windows, facing Yonge Street. There was a full lunch cafeteria and it was a private club. The 11th lane was later covered in favor of spectator seating.
Business grew, and it is well published that it became the lunch time home to many of the men of 'influence' in downtown business, who bowled a game over lunch hour, and then bowled leagues in the evening. John Craig Eaton, of Eaton’s and some of his employees bowled, along with Alderman Sam McBride, later to become Mayor of Toronto.
By 1909, there were a number of other bowling alleys in the downtown core, and Tommy Ryan began to look at other options to stay competitive. He was quoted years later as saying he never made money in the game, and was also involved in baseball, tour excursions, and boxing promotion. Family members James, John, Percy, and Patrick also became involved with the management of the Bowling Club, and they all lived in a house at 11 Grosvenor Street. 
The game of Duckpins had already been experimented with in Toronto, as a less physical alternative to 10-pin, ideally to be played in the warmer weather with the lack of air-conditioning. Many bowling alleys simply closed up in the summer. In the spring of 1909 the Brunswick Alleys up on Queen Street West were going to launch an 8-week duckpin spring league after the 10-pin season was over in April. Other novelty games such as ‘back-row’, which was actually also called ‘five-pin’ (using the 5,7,8,9, and 10 pins), and cocked-hat (the 1, 7 and 10) were also reportedly tried by Tommy, all done with a smaller ball. So, these different combinations involving fewer pins may have been the catalyst for Tommy Ryan to try something unique.

In November of 1909 he brought the newly done pins from the lathe out for the first time, and it was at the end of this 1909-10 season that Tommy Ryan placed 5 little 7-inch pins (the scribes used to call them ' little wooden men') on the decks at the Toronto Bowling Club, and his idea of having a faster, less demanding game with that same lighter duckpin-sized ball, was born. Supposedly 7 pins went through the windows out on to Yonge Street the first day they were played. In October 1912, the rubber bands were added by Tommy to prevent balls from passing between pins for no count, and to increase overall scores as few people averaged over 130. The new game spread to other Toronto houses like the new Athenaeum on Shuter Street in the spring of 1912, and then to the other bowling cities like Hamilton soon after at places like the Iron Duke on King.  

Tommy Ryan sold the Toronto Bowling Club in 1913 to Jacob Saunders (renamed Saunders Bowling Academy) when he could not renew his lease. Jacob was a billiard hall owner at 96 Yonge Street just 5 doors down from Ryan’s place that he sold in 1911. Jacob passed away in 1917, and the business was later taken over by Karry’s in 1924 and then Acorn Central who had in until it closed at the end of the War. It had 22 lanes on 2 floors when it closed.
Tommy moved the Toronto Bowling Club Businessmen’s League to the College Bowling Academy (College/Bathurst) for the 1914 season, and then bought the Turtle Hall Hotel at 36 Church Street for $55,000 (renamed Hotel Ryan). He opened a new Toronto Bowling Club in September of 1915 in the Bond Building, at 66-68 Temperance Street (at Sheppard) on the 5th floor. By 1918 there were 6 bowling clubs in Toronto, and fuel rationing had kept the clubs closed on Monday nights towards the end of the war, by order of the City. The end of the war in 1918 brought the first boom to the game, as over 500 new lanes were built in Toronto over the next 6 years. By 1921 though, Tommy Ryan had moved on to managing the family furniture business at 422 Yonge Street, after the loss of his hotel business due to prohibition. 
Some early pictures can be seen at my ‘History of 5-Pin Bowling in Toronto’ Facebook group.

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