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'Cricket in the Klondike': game returns to Dawson City over 100 years later

Cricket returns to Dawson City more than 100 years since it was last played. Now the Sunday afternoon matches bring together players from 12 countries.

Sunday afternoon match draws players from 12 countries

The ball field where people play cricket on Sunday afternoons in Dawson City is one of the same spots the game was played more than 100 years ago. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

It's a breezy, overcast Sunday afternoon in Dawson City. There are about 10 players out on the ball diamond and more in the dugout.

But they're not playing baseball. Wickets are set up for the first outdoor cricket match here since 1904.

Besides the historical significance, this match has brought together players from 12 countries.

"Canada in itself is a multicultural country," said Paul Adams, one of the organizers. "To have 12 countries represented — that's really awesome." 

Paul Adams grew up playing cricket in Australia and admits there were a few broken windows. Playing now in Dawson City is "a little surreal," he said. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Adams said a few cricket enthusiasts got together a couple of months ago and "we thought we'd bring cricket to the Klondike."

Adams is originally from Australia, where he played cricket on the beach in his grandfather's backyard.

"Broke a few windows there," said Adams.

Playing cricket in Dawson City now is "a little surreal" for him.

"Eight months of the year, this thing is covered in snow," said Adams, pointing to the ball field.

But he's not surprised cricket is taking off in the Klondike.

"People are enthusiastic and they're keen to try new things and they're really sporting people," he said.

One of the best players out on the pitch is Mellissa McBean. McBean was the captain of her high school cricket team in Jamaica.

Mellissa McBean was the captain of her high school cricket team in Jamaica. She says her shoulders were a little stiff after not playing for five years. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"It's been five years since I've held a ball in my hand and having cricket in Dawson is pretty much exciting for me," said McBean.

She was impressed by the diversity of countries represented at the matches.

"I've met some friends from India. They know a lot about cricket," she said. "In cricket, there are certain ethics and there are certain slangs that they understand and it makes it really exciting."

Playing cricket is also a chance for people to get out and meet each other if they don't play other popular sports in Dawson City like hockey or baseball.

Long-time Dawson City resident Bonnie Duffee describes the Sunday afternoon matches as "kind of cricket for dummies."

Bonnie Duffee is one of the cricket newcomers. She says she has always wanted to understand the sport, but never thought she'd get the chance to play. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"This is my second game of my life and they're still explaining the rules," she said.

But Duffee has a grasp of the basics already. When you're bowling, you're trying to get the wickets down, she said.

The wicket is three sticks, or stumps, standing up out of the ground. Two bails, or small pieces of wood, balance on top of the stumps, and the batsman stands in front of the wicket.

"Those wickets are yours to protect forever, at all costs," said Duffee. "You can throw your body in the way, or your bat, as long as you don't step out of that little ring."

Duffee said it's lovely to spend time with people from her community and see their faces light up when they get on the cricket pitch.

One person who is beaming is Rabi Shukla. 

Rabi Shukla moved to Dawson City just weeks ago, but he's happy to be playing cricket for the first time since he left India four years ago. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Shukla moved to Dawson City six weeks ago after studying in Toronto for three years. The 21-year-old is originally from India, where "cricket is a religion."

"This is the first time I'm playing cricket since I've come to Canada," said Shukla.

Cricket was Canada's first official sport — a fact Shukla takes some pride in.

Cricket in August 1901

Around the same time cricket was being revitalized in town, Dawson City Museum staff were scanning photos from a newly acquired album created by mountie Edward Telford.

One photo shows a match being played on "the administration field," which is still the site of the ball field today.

Maj. Edward Telford snapped this photo of a cricket match in Dawson City. (Maj. Edward Telford/Dawson City Museum)

Alex Somerville, the museum's executive director and one of the new cricket players, said that according to the book Yukon Sport, by John Firth, cricket was played in the territory from 1901 to 1904. 

In Dawson City, Somerville said, matches were played against neighbouring Grand Forks, which had a population of about 5,000, but is now a ghost town.

Matches were also played between the civil service and the Bank of British North America staff.

But the most interesting game might be one Somerville found in an old newspaper clipping from the Klondike Nugget in August 1901.

Part of the headline reads: "Men played left-handed in a contest against the ladies, was a lively match."

This photo is from an album created by Maj. Edward Telford, a mountie in Dawson City. (Maj. Edward Telford/Dawson City Museum Collection)

To make the match more even, men played with their wrong hand and used a broom handle or pick handle as a bat.

The reporter was impressed by the women's performance, writing: "Though it was their first offense, many of the ladies allowed an unusual knowledge of the game."

It was also noted the women would have performed better if they had worn their cycling or golf skirts.

"I think it's nifty," said Somerville. "In 2018, I'm playing cricket on the same diamond where, over a hundred years ago, people like me who would've come to Dawson to find work and to work had played cricket recreationally.

"There's something neat about that continuity."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Sponagle is the Current Affairs producer for CBC Yukon based in Whitehorse. Jane started her CBC career with The World This Hour in Toronto before heading to the North. After a few months in Yellowknife, Jane moved to Iqaluit where she spent six years reporting on politics, food security and housing. She has also reported with CBC in Halifax.

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