The Start Of The PBL

Posted March 8, 2019


The Start Of The PBL

When did the Powerline Baseball League start? It was a question that I wanted to try and answer with a level of certainty that would be able to better show that the league is one of the oldest leagues in the province of Alberta. So much of PBL history has been left to stories and estimates. No piece of history was as big as when the start of the PBL actual was. The PBL was originally thought to have started during the rural electrification of Alberta post World War 2. But it turns out that the PBL is a little older than that, starting in the spring of 1933. 

Before the Powerline Baseball League

Baseball in the area had been played since the turn of the 20th century with teams in Daysland, Bruce, Bardo and Holden already established from 1907-1909. The fellas at Alberta Dugout Stories (check out their site and podcast for some great Alberta baseball info) mentioned that the first documented baseball in Alberta that they found was in 1875 in Fort McLeod. The game of baseball grew across western Canada as the railroad was being established and towns began to pop up and grow. The start of the PBL and baseball in the area has stories of rail workers and coal miners walking to the nearest town after a day’s work to play baseball with the primary player pool being that of farmers. This is evident by the amount of school districts that had teams that would play exhibition games against one another at local picnics and gatherings, sometimes at large farm yards. In 1907 Daysland had a men’s baseball team called the Baseball Nine as mentioned in the Daysland history book. They defeated a team out of Hardisty by a score of 10-6 with the following line up;

Dinning – 1st Base

McCloy – 2nd Base

Holbrook – 3rd Base

Latornell – Rt. Field

Effinger – Left Field

Bigley – Centre field

Smith – Shortstop

Nelson – Pitcher

Henry – Catcher

Umpire – Eddie Taylor

Bruce baseball team take between 1908-1913. Unknown man holds the Bruce Challenge Cup. Standing L to R: Walter Middleton, Dick Sizer, Unknown, Dick Davis, Unknown. Seated L to R: Odin Solstad, Unknown, Unknown, Ed Solstad.

History books in Bruce, Daysland, Holden, Round Hill and Ryley all talk about organized baseball being played as far back as 1907. The hamlet of Bruce, yes the same Bruce that is famous for it’s steak dinner at the local hotel, was host to the Bruce Challenge Cup starting in 1908. In 1910, Viking would be awarded the silver cup which was given annually to the best team out of Bruce, Holden, Ryley and Viking perhaps through a tournament as there was no mention of a league yet. Unfortunately it is unclear when the Bruce Challenge Cup ended. The Bruce Challenge Cup was donated to the baseball team by the town.  

In many cases baseball teams were from areas that have long been lost or not associated with having the capacity for baseball. Some of these locations are remembered by a school district plaque or perhaps an old community hall or building. In 1915 the authors of the Round Hill history book listed the following places were baseball was played; “Round Hill, Lake de May, Bardo, Salt Lake, Meldal, Dinant, Ryley, Dodds, Ohaton, Earling, Miquelon Lake, Avonroy, Tofield, Camrose, Hamption, and possibly others”. The baseball at this time appeared to be either tournaments or exhibitions as opposed to an organized league. In some photos of early 20th century games in the area, there were no fences and bleachers. Some teams even played games at a family farm during a picnic or social event. On July 4 1911 there was supposed to be a baseball game at the Salt Lake Annual Picnic between Round Hill and Earling. However due to rain the game was cancelled. In August 1915, Medal’s baseball team played Dodds’ baseball team at Andrew Foss’ farm located somewhere near Round Hill. 

 

 

1910 Holden Baseball Team
Back Row: Unknown, Arch Appleby, Geo McVittie
Centre Row: Unknown, Unknown, Jack Appleby
Front Row: Frank Mohs, Unknown, Myron Appleby

The 1920’s saw more tournaments happen in the area. In May 1921, Round Hill travelled to Likeness and beat the host as well as Ohaton. In July 1921 Round Hill hosted a successful tournament with Camrose, Ryley and Tofield participating. Ryley would win the 1921 tournament, defeating the host Round Hill team 9-4 to win the tournament final. The championship cup was donated by Geo P Smith and if a team was able to win the tournament three consecutive years, the team would be able to take the cup home with them. It is not known if any team had actually accomplished this feat. Game scores for the Round Hill Tournament were reported as;

Round Hill defeats Camrose 13-2

Ryley defeats Tofield 8-6

Ryley defeats Round Hill 9-4

 

 

Camrose was host to some larger tournaments throughout the 1920’s and into the 1930’s. In July 1924 Camrose hosted a tournament featured Viking, Ryley, Tofield, Vegreville, Macklin (Saskatchewan), Mirror and Sedgewick. The eight teams battled for a $330 total prize pot, which translates to about $4,800 worth of prize money in 2019. 

Ryley defeated Tofield 11-1

Viking defeated Mirror 8-4

Macklin defeated Vegreville 9-3

Sedgewick defeated Camrose 6-5

Macklin defeated Sedgewick 9-8 / Semi-Final

Viking defeated Ryley 13-0 / Semi-Final

Viking defeated Macklin 4-2 / Final

It was noted that a Macklin pitcher, Moore, would strike out 28 hitters over two complete games he would pitch in the tournament. 

The tournament ran on two days and then on the third day of the tournament the winner of the Camrose Tournament (Viking) took on the winner of a Red Deer Tournament (Mirror). Mirror, despite losing to Viking in the Camrose Tournament earlier, dominated Viking with a 7-0 win that included a 13 strikeout no-hitter from Cliff Turner.  Only three Viking base runners reaching, all via errors. The game winning run cam on a first inning home run by Frenchy Adams. At the time Mirror was a powerhouse on the ball field. With the win over Viking it gave Mirror a 23-3 record that summer with 11 wins being of the shut out variety. 

The 1928 Camrose Tournament (July 26-28) Results, which don’t look like they are complete results for the tournament. 

New Norway defeated Tofield 9-5

Camrose defeated Botha 10-2

Camrose defeated New Norway 9-3

Hardisty defeated Red Deer 5-4

Sedgewick defeated Viking 6-0

Blackie defeated Ponoka 12-0

Hardisty defeated Camrose 5-2 / Semi-Final

Blackie defeated Sedgewick 14-0 / Semi-Final

Blackie defeated Hardisty 17-1 / Final

The trend of local tournaments and exhibition games in the area continued into the early 1930’s. The second annual Round Hill Sports Day in June 1932 had Ryley winning the $10 first prize and Bardo settling for the second place $5 prize. During this time period teams were running basket socials and dances to try to raise money for the baseball teams in the area. Places like Round Hill and Tofield would often have a high school or junior team to fund as well as the senior team. 

The PBL Is Formed…As Are Other Leagues

The earliest mention that I can find for the Powerline Baseball League is in the May 31, 1933 edition of the Tofield Mercury. Back then the Mercury would publish news from the surrounding areas and school districts such as Lindbrook, Ketchamoot, Bardo and Kingman with supplied writing. I think a resident of Lindbrook for example would gather news, which was often simply a local resident travelling somewhere or hosting guests who travelled from somewhere. Examples from June 24, 1933 include “A number of Tofielders attended the dances held at Lakeview on Wednesday and Ryley on Friday” or “Word has been received that Joseph Rogers who is enjoying a reunion of friends in Old Ontario, that he is quite well and having a grand time”. Large gaps without any columns from these areas appeared to mean that there was nothing worthwhile to bring into town or the person in the community was either on vacation or busy working on the farm to bring something in that week. 

Round Hill Baseball Team circa 1933. Back Row L to R: John Scabar, Nick Homeniuk, Louie Scabar, Silver Hadodie, Chris Sherbaniuk, Jack Boychuk. Front Row L to R: Joe Strilchuk, Louie Orcheski, Paul Boychuk and Tom Mizera.

But in this particular edition of the Mercury, there was a simple sentence under the Ketchamoot News column that unceremoniously announced the start of what was called the Powerline Baseball League. 

Bardo, Round Hill, Kingman and Ketchamoot have formed a league for the summer. 

Wednesday May 31, 1933 edition of the Tofield Mercury under the Ketchamoot news column

That’s it. That is the start of the PBL right there. This was further clarified in the Round Hill History book, which was written decades after the actual formation of the league. The history book read “In May, 1933 Round Hill, Kingman, Bardo and Ketchamoot and later Dodds organized a baseball league called the Power Line League. Albin Anderson was President and Julius Lerbeckmo was Secy.-Treas.”

Details about the Powerline League in 1933 were limited but the first games documented that season were Sunday May 21st when Ketchamoot played Tofield in an exhibition game with Ketchamoot winning. The first, or one of the first, potential Powerline League games may have been on Tuesday May 23, 1933 with Ketchamoot defeating Kingman 3-1 in Ketchamoot. The two teams appeared to have played a home and home that week with Ketchamoot travelling to Kingman for a 11-2 win on the road. The Ketchamoot team consisted of Angus Mitchell as the manager and A. Schultz as the secretary-treasurer. Player names listed were Angus Mitchell, Herold Schultz, Alven Schultz, Jimmie Ingram, Julius Lerbekmo, Torvel Nomeland, Wendall Wiley and “the three Sears brothers”.

On June 6, 1933 Bardo travelled to Round Hill to play a league game with Bardo winning 13-8 and on June 8, 1933 Ketchamoot won a home game against Bardo 11-10. Monday June 26, 1933 Ketchamoot defeated Kingman 5-4 in Ketchamoot with the two teams playing again on Tuesday June 27, 1933 in Kingman. Kingman would give Ketchamoot their first loss of the season with a 19-12 win. At some point during this week (probably on the weekend of June 24-25) a league game between Ketchamoot and Round Hill was featured at the Round Hill town picnic. That is it for information about the first Powerline League season unfortunately. 

But the Powerline League was not the only league to start in 1933, the area also saw the Gas Line Baseball League start. The Gas Line League would feature Tofield, Ryley, Holden and Viking in that first year and would get a large amount of coverage in the Tofield Mercury compared to the Powerline League. The Gas Line League was often featured on the front page of the news paper or in more prominent article in the paper while the Powerline League relied on locals, often from Ketchamoot, to send in the few scores and league updates that were in the paper. While details of the Powerline League were scarce, the Gas Line League had enough coverage that we can see some historical dates for baseball in the area. On Monday May 8, 1933 the local Tofield baseball club held an annual meeting with most of the discussion centring on the formation of a baseball league. The result of the meeting was a commitment to communicate with the other towns in the area and to do what was needed to be done to get a league up and running. Fast forward to May 22, 1933 and after a meeting in Holden with representatives from each of the four towns, the Gas Line Baseball League was formed. On May 29, 1933 the first Gas Line Baseball League game was played with Tofield winning 5-3 against Holden in Tofield. The league was off and running with Tofield winning the first ever league championship on August 24, 1933 as they would defeat Viking 6-5 and win the best of five championship series 3-1. 

Gas Line League Standings (as of August 9, 1933), Tofield had clinched one of the two championship series spots with during the previous week setting up the best of five matchup against Viking. 

  1. Viking 11-5 (.687)
  2. Tofield 9-8 (.529)
  3. Ryley 7-8 (.466)
  4. Holden 7-11 (.388)

A little further west, the Breezy League was also formed in 1933 (based on the league trophy engravings) and featured the Armena Owls, Dinant West, Sulitjelma and Hay Lakes. Dinant appears to have won the league in 1933 and 1934 before the Armena Owls went back to back to back from 1935-1937. Armena and the coal mining area of Dinant seem to be the driving forces of the league, at least from the Armena history book “Footprints along the Stoney: A history of Armena and Baldenstein areas”. Armena had formed the Armena Athletic Association, which still runs today, in “about 1920”. 

Baseball trophy donated by Nu-Way Store Ltd., Hay Lakes

Trophy for baseball 1935 to 1937, Breezy League. League consisted of: Armena Owls, Dinant West, Sulitjelma, Lay Lakes.

Armena Owls Cupholders, 1935. Back Row L to R: Orvil Pedersen, Ed Jasman, Tiny Mittlestadt, Andy Erickson. Centre Row L to R: Herman Erickson, Bob Wylie, Frank Olson. Front Row L to R: Evald Sodestrom, Johnny Kaiser, Art Jasman, Walter Olson.

At some point in history, a 1934 Gas Line Baseball League meeting minutes book was found tucked away in the old Bruce Hardware store apparently left by former Bruce baseball secretary Frank Ratke. The book listed players from Bruce, Holden, Ryley and Tofield from 1934, 1935 and 1936. Researching through the Tofield Mercury in 1934 there appears to be a change in language around the Gas Line Baseball League. Numerous times it is referred to as a new intermediate league along the gas line and now features a team from Bruce with the 1933 Viking team no longer in the picture. The President and secretary of the league were Mr. Herger and Bob Ratke, respectively, both from Bruce. The team representatives who attended the June 7, 1934 meeting were Mr. Stambaugh (Bruce), Mr. Hopkins (Holden), Mr. Krause (Ryley) and Mr. Calvert (Tofield). The league schedule posted was set to run from June 12, 1934 to July 13, 1934 with teams playing twice a week. This was also the time that it appears, at least from the news reported in the paper, that the Tofield Sports Day tournament was becoming a big part of the town’s celebrations. A full page ad for the Tofield’s Big Sports Day showcased a baseball tournament with $70 (about $1,000 in 2019) worth of prize money as well as ladies’ softball, basketball, foot races, horse shoe tournament and refreshments. 

July 19, 1933 Tofield Mercury ad

Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of detailed information about either the Powerline League or Gas Line League in the 1934 or 1935 papers. This may have been due to a change in staff from 1933, where almost the entire season was covered in the Gas Line League, to 1934 where the information tapered off quite a bit as the summer rolled on. The Powerline League started the spring off with back to back editions of the paper under a “Power Line Baseball League” section but it did not reappear after the June 6, 1934 edition. In the May 30, 1934 Mercury it was reported that Ketchamoot lost the first game of the Powerline League season to Kingman by a score of 4-3. The paragraph also confirmed that the four teams in the league for 1934 was once again Round Hill, Bardo, Kingman and Ketchamoot. On June 6, 1934 Ketchmoot found itself atop the Powerline League standings by going on a two game winning streak defeating Round Hill 13-7 and Bardo 15-4 on June 5, 1934. 

Powerline League teams in 1934: Round Hill, Bardo, Kingman and Ketchamoot

Gas Line League teams in 1934: Bruce, Holden, Ryley, Tofield

1934 Bruce Baseball Team: Walter Kortzman, Lyall Stambaugh, Karl Johnson, Ed Dorin, Ward Ratke, Unknown, Guz Lentz, Walt Ratke, Don McLeod, Elmer Davis and Jack McArthur.

Other than exhibition games and tournament games, the only other baseball cross over between the Powerline League area and the Gas Line League area in the first couple of seasons appeared to be a youth baseball community league. The four team league would run from the end of June, when school was out, to the end of July for what I am assuming is for younger players and featured teams in Logan, Bardo, Ketchamoot and Tofield playing once a week. In the May 9, 1934 Tofield Mercury a story was written about Mr. A.B. Clutterham from Tofield was looking at starting a community league for younger players who were not playing full time with the senior Tofield baseball team. This league may have gotten off the ground for the summer. 

Over July 11-12, 1934 (Wednesday and Thursday) the Bardo community came together to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the area being settled in 1894. Baseball was of course at the centre of the event with junior baseball being played by Bardo and Solberg (another small school district in the area) with Solberg coming out with the win. Later on the Bardo Intermediates and Tofield Intermediates hit the field with Bardo winning infront of what was described as a “monster picnic” with people travelling back to the area all the way from Bellingham, Washington. On Thursday the Bardo men’s team took on the Northfield team with Northfield winning 7-3 with the help of a former Ryley pitcher, Helmar Johnson. Viking Sports Day was also a mid-week affair in 1934 (Wednesday July 11) where Holden and Tofield joined Viking for a baseball tournament. Tofield would finish second, losing the championship to Viking 6-5 as Lance Umphrey from Tofield and Dr. Richardson from Viking both hit big home runs. 

In 1935 the Gas Line League almost expanded with the addition of Haight. However a week later Haight was out and the Gas Line League was back to Bruce, Holden, Ryley and Tofield. In 1936 the league was back to being referred to as the Gas Line League in the news. There was only a couple of stories about the Gas Line League in 1935, the second coming on August 1, 1935 where the Tofield Mercury would write “Due in part to irregular games and in part to poor reporting, baseball has not been featured very heavily this season”. So a combination of poor weather and small town reporting logistics hurt the coverage of both the Gas Line League and the Powerline League. As a result there was next to no game scores, schedule changes or tournament updates provided. The winner of each league was never reported.  

The Powerline League expanded their reach in 1936 with the addition of Dodds to the league but it came at the expense of the Ketchamoot team. This is unfortunate for the historical record because most of the information about the Powerline League in 1933-1934 was coming out of Ketchamoot. The 1936 Powerline League was scheduled to be a nine game season beginning on May 28, 1936 and culminating with a championship cup given to the winners, the first time a trophy/cup had been mentioned with regards to the league. This according to the Bardo section of the May 28, 1936 edition of the Tofield Mercury. 

Undate Dodds Baseball Team Photo.
Front Row L to R: Pat Burns, Arnold Chappel, Leo Gudmundson, Elmer Anderson and Buddy Steen.
Back Row L to R: Glen Olson, Bert Appleby, Albert Bruce, Eddy Chappel, Gus Nelson, Gordon Sjulstad and Harold Hjelter.

Tofield would pick up a win the season opener of the 1936 Gas Line League against rival Ryley before winning the Holden Sports Day tournament a couple of weeks later. Tofield would also win the Tofield Sports Day tournament finishing ahead of Dodds, Ryley, Holden, Ross Creek and Kingman. The theme of the season reporting appears to have been tournaments versus league play as a lengthy article in the Tofield Mercury on July 3, 1936 highlighted Tofield’s play in the Ryley Sports Days tournament, the Ketchamoot picnic tournament and a Camrose tournament. That was the end of the coverage for the 1936 season unfortunately. 

The 1937 coverage was even less thorough for local baseball. It started on May 27 1937 with a story of Tofield winning the Ryley Annual Sports Tournament, beating Holden 10-4 and Dodds 11-9 in the final. Tofield did not participate in the Gas Line League and was only playing exhibition games it seems during the 1937 spring/summer season. The last mention of baseball in the paper for 1937 was the Ketchamoot picnic which hosted Tofield and Bardo along with a Ketchamoot team. The only other mention of baseball in 1937 was the successful Tofield July 1st sports day (the name of the tournament has varied year to year it seems);

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