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Baseball in Quebec in the 19th and 20th century

By Pierre Wilson

The origins of baseball in Quebec

It's hard to pinpoint the exact origins of baseball in Quebec. We do know that Montreal's first baseball club was founded in 1871. In the beginning there were no leagues; games were played for fun among friends, between competing company teams, ethnic groups or neighbourhoods.

The intricate history of professional teams in Montreal

In the late 1800s several attempts were made to establish a professional team in Montreal. But the dream didn't come true until proper grandstands were built downtown at Atwater Park. How little things change!

Then, in 1928, prompted by George Stallings (future Royals manager), Louis Athanase David (lawyer and MNA for Terrebonne) and Ernest J. Savard (investment dealer), assembled a group of Montreal investors to purchase the Jersey City franchise in the International League for the tidy sum of $225,000.

Their first major decision was to build a new stadium with seating for 20,142 spectators. Work began in January 1928, and the opening game was played on May 5 of that year.

Important dates

1890: The Buffalo Bisons of the International League started their season in Montreal...before stampeding off to Grand Rapids. Then the Hamilton Blackbirds nested in Montreal for the end of their season...and quickly disappeared.
1897: The Rochester Brownies, of the Eastern League, became the Montreal Jingoes.
1901: The Jingoes were given yet another name - the Royals.
1902: The Royals were dropped from the League at the end of the season to make room for the Baltimore Orioles.
1903: The troubled Worcester franchise was transferred to Montreal.
1912: The Royals changed leagues, joining the International League.
1917: Montreal lost the franchise.
1928: The Royals returned to the International League...until 1960.

From the Montreal Royals to Jackie Robinson

From 1912 to 1917, then from 1928 to 1960, Montreal had an International League (AAA) team, one level down from the major leagues. Many Montrealers still look back with nostalgia to the Royals' heyday at Delorimier Stadium. Many baseball greats of the 1950s and 60s got their start in Montreal. And in 1946 the Royals made history, the first team to break the colour barrier in professional baseball.

The signal event in the history of professional baseball in Montreal was surely the arrival of Jackie Robinson. The famous black player was brought to Montreal by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to put an end to the open racial segregation in organized baseball. Robinson not only led the league in batting, but also inspired the team to win the League Championship, the Governor's Cup and the Junior World Series in 1946.

The story of Jackie Robinson in Montreal is also a love story between an entire city and a remarkable man.

Amateur baseball becomes increasingly popular and organized
In the first half of the 20th century, baseball spread throughout Quebec and became better organized. Stadiums and parks were built, leagues were formed and, during our short summers, people played baseball.

Before the 1970s, structures and organizations in the world of baseball appeared and disappeared as the seasons changed. Clubs and leagues sprouted like mushrooms, but few survived for any length of time.
The number of local semi-pro organizations almost always diminished when a professional team arrived in a city. Local heroes bowed out of the spotlight and made way for the American "stars."

Since 1969, most amateur baseball organizations in Quebec have been governed by the Fédération du baseball amateur du Québec inc., also known as Baseball Québec. The organization promotes player safety, the development of elite players, training for coaches and umpires, and standardized scoring. It draws up schedules, arranges tournaments and tabulates statistics.

The Expos

Expo '67 turned Montreal into an international metropolis. Mayor Jean Drapeau sent Executive Committee member Gerry Snyder to apply for a major league franchise. The National League was thinking about expanding at the time, and of course everyone remembered the International League's Royals and Montreal's role in integrating black players.

On May 27, 1968, at Chicago's Excelsior Hotel, word finally came through that the National League was offering a franchise to a group of Montreal shareholders, led by Charles Bronfman. The team would be called the Montreal Expos.

When the Expos were founded in May 1968, the city of Montreal agreed to build a 30,000-seat stadium, to be ready for the season opener in 1969.
Work on the new stadium continued into the winter, and the 28,000-seat stadium was ready on September 15, 1973. On September 26, 1976, the Expos played their last game at Jarry Park, before moving to the Olympic Stadium for the 1977 season.

Source: "Play-Ball Montreal! A Century of Baseball in Quebec" Exhibition Text, 2000


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