Markham Rugby Football Club - The Early Years
By Dave Harris
On 6 February a preliminary meeting was called at Markham District High School, Church Street, to find out if there was sufficient interest to start a rugby team in Markham. Several of those attending were members of the Toronto Barbarians RFC who had been driving down to Sunnybrook Park in Toronto for practices, to Fletcher’s Field, Victoria Square for home games, and wanted something closer to home, hence the incentive to have a team in the town. Rugby had been introduced into the high school at MDHS in 1975 and so there was a pool of students and ex-students that had learnt the game.
It was felt that with the existing Barbs. players and some members of the MDHS senior team there were large enough numbers locally to support a team, so an item appeared in the Economist and Sun:
|Rugby team forming
Dave Harris, coach of the Markham District High School Rugby team, hopes to form the Markham Rugby Club this summer.
Harris has already had an organizational meeting with other interested parties and is now looking for prospective players, whether or not they have any prior experience. He also said that the club would welcome anyone interested in becoming a social member, an executive member, a coach or a referee.
Anyone interested in joining the Markham Rugby Club is invited to a meeting, Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Markham Veterans’ Hall on Washington St. at 8 pm.
The meeting took place as advertised, and with 22 people being present the Markham RFC was formally founded and an Executive elected.
Club Captain-Kevin Jones
Social secretary-Roy Vernon
Fixtures secretary-Mike Clare
The agenda outlined plans for the 1980 and 1981 seasons and the dues were set at $15 for a playing member and $10 for a social member. The home ground was at MDHS and the club’s social centre was recorded as “The Duchess of Markham”. This was a result of a conversation between David Harris and the owner of the pub that took place in the winter of 1979-80 before the pub had even opened. The owner’s opinion was that “every pub should have a rugby club” (in fact it was the only pub in Markham at that time), and for years thereafter social events at the Duchess were an important part of the club life.
The club applied for Ontario Rugby Union (ORU) recognition in March and this was granted, as well as approval for the club colours: grey shirt with two thin black hoops, black shorts, grey socks with black tops. This first season was to be played as exhibition games only, with the intention of joining the Toronto Rugby Union (TRU) the following year.
Practices were on Mondays and Thursdays on the grass slope behind MDHS, ample room at the time to accommodate the dozen or so players that attended. The club’s first game was against Stouffville RFC on Sunday 27 April at MDHS. There were 17 MRFC players dressed for the game and Brian Chatland was the referee, Markham winning by 21 to 0. Tries (worth 4 points in those days) were scored by Alan Garbe, Chris van Straten and Andy Stone; Kevin Jones converted all three and kicked a penalty.
The season continued with a series of other exhibition games against established clubs in the Toronto area and the team also entered the Summer League with evening games in July and August. Though successful against mostly 2nd and 3rd teams the summer matches proved tougher as they were open to all levels of player.
At the first AGM upstairs at the Duchess on the afternoon of Saturday 8 November there were 18 members present to hear the report on the last nine months of activity. By the end of the season the club had played 14 games and won 7, and it was announced that the team had been accepted into the TRU 3rd Division for 1981. The treasurer stated that there was $625.70 in the bank, with an inventory of jerseys and shorts worth $276. Indoor winter training was scheduled at MDHS for Thursdays nights. The day ended with a dance in the Penalty Box Lounge at the Markham Centennial Centre at which John Silverthorn was named Player of the Year and the 1981 Club Captain.
Thus the club seemed set for the future, though no-one could foresee how far it would progress.
The New Year began with exhibition games, including one between the MDHS Senior team and a Graduate team of ex-high school players from the club, on Sunday 3 May. The first league game was against Irish 3rd, a loss.
After losing this opening game the club rebounded to a 35 to 6 win over Toronto Scottish, and went on to play a strong league season, finishing tied for first place with York Yeomen with an 11 win, 2 loss, 1 tie record. York was awarded top spot because they held a victory over Markham, so the club entered the playoffs in second place.
In the semi-final game Markham beat Toronto Welsh by 38 to 0, and then went on to win the final against York by a score of 21 to 10 to take the Division championship.
The club had also played in the Summer League, where the results were 2 wins and 2 losses against the usual strong opposition, which contributed to the overall season total, including exhibition games, of 19 wins, 5 losses and 1 tie. The top points’ scorer for the year was Kevin Jones with 147, and the top try scorer was Colin Campbell with 13 tries.
The club had struggled throughout the year to get practice and game space, and to have the fields lined for games. Letters to the Town began an on-going battle for rugby to take its place as a new and growing sport and obtain a share of the facilities that were available. This continued for many years, but by the end of 1981 the club had established itself as a strong contender in the Toronto area and by virtue of the first place finish in the 3rd division had gained promotion into the TRU 2nd Division for 1982.
With the First XV in the TRU 2nd Division, and entered in the Carling Cup, this was going to be a more competitive season than last year. The increased number of players joining the club resulted in the formation of a second team to play in the TRU 3rd Division. As will be seen both teams rose to the challenge and proved that the club had a solid foundation.
Several club ‘firsts’ were recorded for this year, including international games beginning at Easter with a bus trip to Cleveland to plays the CAPS. In July the older club members played the Caribs touring team from Trinidad, having been told they were all over-35. The Carib players were younger than expected but after an exhausting game the club managed to put up 24 points to the visitor’s 48. In August a school team from Banbridge, Northern Ireland was hosted by MDHS and several club players, recently graduated, were co-opted to strengthen the home side which won 13 to 7.
By the mid season point in July the First XV were in second place and had recorded 6 wins and 1 loss, an excellent start in the higher division, while the Second XV with 1 win and 5 losses were playing good but inconsistent rugby. The newly formed Colts team, composed exclusively of players from MDHS, had started strongly into their 6 week season but due to lack of regular players had fallen behind and stood at 1 win, 1 tie and 2 losses.
Two other notable firsts occurred during the summer, the first club player was sent off the field by a referee (for fighting, a one month suspension), and Norm Shaw, a pilot in the Reserve, arrived at the away game in Ottawa by helicopter, an event which greatly impressed his team mates and the opposition.
In August at a special General Meeting the club adopted a constitution thus further formalising the organization to support the playing membership.
By October the First XV had a 12 win, 1 loss record, with the Seconds improved to 5 wins, 7 losses.
Because of their records in the league and in the Cup games the First XV qualified to play in two semi-finals at the end of the year, the TRU and the Old Vienna Cup consolation round of the Carling Cup. As luck would have it they were scheduled on the same day so the club opted to play in the more prestigious OV Cup, losing a hard fought game to the Saracens by 29 to 0.
Thus ended a season that had seen great advances for the club with increased success, more members, more organization, and a solid base on which to build for the future.
The AGM at the end of 1982 was witness to another innovation, the first female club member, when Linda Kiiskinen joined the Executive as Social Secretary. Club members were also getting involved in the TRU Executive, giving us a greater voice in the Union, with Alan Garbe as TRU President, Colin Campbell in charge of Discipline and Kevin Jones as Director of the Rep. Team.
1982 was the first time the Club fielded an Under18 team, first tour outside Canada (Cleveland, Ohio), first hosting of a tour from outside Canada (Caribs RFC, Trinidad)
The first newsletter of the New Year set out the membership fees: $30 to be a playing member, $15 if a student, and advertised the “first annual ladies vs men snow-bowl game” to be played on Saturday 26 February at Springdale Park (in those days this park was in a cornfield reached down a gravel road).Paul Fraser hosted the club members at his house after the game and said “I don’t mind if you dirty the rug as long as the Club makes money!”
Youth rugby was in its infancy (no joke intended, as the youngest were 14), and an information flyer stated that “the use of mouthguards is encouraged.”
The Town of Markham finally permitted us to practice and play on the back field at Markham DHS.
The minutes of the August Executive meeting stated that “beer ups have been providing a steady income.” The rugby wasn’t bad either! Colin Campbell replaced Paul Fraser (who had “disappeared to England”) as club Captain.
The end of the year dance was at the Old Markham Arena, followed the next day by the AGM. The 1st XV ended the year with 11 wins, 3 losses (385 points for and 144 against), plus a narrow 15-16 defeat in post-season McCormick Cup play. The 2nd XV had 5 wins, 8 losses, one tie, and the Colts (mostly under 17s) had 5 wins, one loss, and won the TRU Consolation Cup. Three club members played for the TRU Juniors and helped win a Gold medal at the Ontario games in Sudbury.
The club’s finances moved onto a higher plane with an end of the year balance of $1451.99.
There was some talk of applying to use Springdale Park for practices and games, but in the end the club used the front field at Markham DHS. Pre-season practices were indoors at William Berczy Public School. Playing members still paid $30!
The club Captain wrote his proposals for the new season in the January newsletter including “what would we do on Saturday if there was no rugby?” Markham was a smaller place in those days!
Saturday 25 February – second annual Snowball dance: meet at the Duchess, afternoon game (ladies vs men at Springdale), evening dance (in Box Grove). From the newsletter “if Bart and Bowers dress like Neanderthal men Jones says he will make them listen to Watt sing.” And “the possibility of a yearly budget was mentioned.”!
The 1st XV played in the TRU First Division this year, the 2nd XV in the TRU Third Division. The first game of the season was on April 7. As of September we stood as follows: 1st XV, won 1, lost 6, tied 1, points for 59, against 144; 2nd XV, won 2, lost 4, points for 27, against 58. A tough year for both teams!
There were only 6 high schools playing rugby in York Region. The MDHS Junior team won the York Region and GBSSA tournaments, then went on to become Ontario champions, and provided club players in later years.
The MRFC Colts team tied for second place in their summer season, and several players also came out for the adult team. Mike Clare coached and many long-time club members began their playing career here.
The Markham teams played in the TRU 2nd and 3rd Divisions this year, and finished first and third respectively in their disisions.
Jim Monk was part of the Ontario Junior XV on their Wales tour in March, one of the coaches was Kevin Jones.
A scrum machine was built by club members, who also made touch flags – money was tight!
The club hosted a team from the UK (Tabard RFC in August). Beer was sold for $1.25 or $10 for 9, hard to believe. As of August there were 24 playing (paid up), 11 student and 7 social members in the club. There was a club’s kids Christmas party was on Sunday 8 December; we were a small, close knit group in those days.
Winter training 1985-86, was held at St. Patrick’s Catholic School. Even this long ago the club was looking for land to build a field – Whittamore’s Farms were approached.
There was a Club tour to Rochester, at the executive meeting the comment was “we lost the game but won the party.”
Markham RFC were Club Champions this year – the club that accumulated the most points for wins per team in a season when measured against the size of the club (thus allowing smaller clubs to compete against the larger ones) MRFC 80.25 points, 2nd were the Toronto Barbarians with 75.56 points. This system only lasted briefly and now (2008) no longer exists.
1986 and beyond, needs a writer to continue our history. Please apply.
Grey Hares formed (the over 35 team)