A spirit of competition

In the 19th century, increased settlement and urbanization brought new opportunities for competition in Toronto, along with the introduction of sporting venues and growing numbers of eager spectators.

The advent of the railway and the steamboat enabled teams and spectators to travel more readily, which led to intercity and international competitions. Canada's first unified Olympic team competed in 1908.

Organizations in Toronto also hosted many amateur competitive games for athletes of all ages. Track and field, or "athletic games" as they were called at the time, were common at social picnics, special events, and holidays.


Start of the Six Day Walking Contest

The Start of the Six Day Walking Contest
Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1846-1923
Toronto: Hunter & Co.
Albumen print, 1879

The Six Day Walking Contest became a standard distance for competition in the 1870s and was a popular form of entertainment for thousands of spectators. The race pictured here was held at the Toronto Curling And Skating Rink, near present day Adelaide St. W. and Widmer St.

Collegiate Institute Athletic Sports

Collegiate Institute Athletic Sports
Friday, October 7, 1881

Track and field, also called “athletic games,” were prestigious events that attracted thousands of spectators. The Collegiate Institute, the oldest High School in Toronto, was renamed the Jarvis Collegiate Institute in 1890.

Military Athletic Sports

Military Athletic Sports
Active Militia of Canada, September 10, 1881

Along with academic institutions, the military was responsible for organizing many of these early sporting competitions. At this event, active militia competed for prizes for winning a variety of events, including the amusing sounding “Donkey Race (In Costume).”

The gathering

The Gathering
Toronto Athletic Games, Toronto, September 11, 1840

Caer Howell, the site of the Toronto Athletic Games in 1840, was a large country home designed by William Dummer Powell. In the late 1830s it became an elaborate club, with bowling greens and racket courts. Demolished in 1915, it is now the site of Mount Sinai Hospital.

Upper Canada College Athletics Sports, Friday, May 19, 1882

Upper Canada College Athletic Sports
Toronto: Mail Printing Co., May 19, 1882

The back of this programme for Upper Canada College’s track and field competition decries that “No Competitor is allowed to carry off more than three first and two second prizes, Exclusive of the Championship Cup.” The school was founded in 1829.

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Toronto semi-centennial souvenir

Toronto Semi-Centennial Souvenir
Toronto: Alexander, Clare & Cable, 1884

A variety of sporting competitions were held in 1884 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Toronto being incorporated as a city in 1834.

Reception by the City of Toronto of his Excellency the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada and H.R.H The Princess Louise

Reception by the City of Toronto of his Excellency the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada and H.R.H. the Princess Louise
Toronto: Rolph, Smith & Co., 1879

Lacrosse was often featured as an event at celebrations and special events such as this reception honouring the 1879 royal visit to Toronto. This reception also featured other exciting competitive events including a regatta organized by the Toronto Rowing Club.

Toronto: The Caledonian Games

Toronto: The Caledonian Games on the 22nd July
Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1846-1923
From the Canadian Illustrated News, Vol. XII, No. 6. Page 85, 1875

In some parts of the country, especially rural Ontario, “Caledonian” or “Highland” games were held for recent Scottish immigrants to preserve connections to the culture and traditions of the Old World.