The Pictou County sports scene recently lost another of its best athletes of the past with the death of Gladys (Gladdie) Morrison.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Gladdie was one of the premier candlepin bowlers in Nova Scotia. She bowled in so many provincial championship tournaments that, when she and I reminisced about her career a number of years ago, she couldn’t even guess how many times she was in the event.
“It was a lot,” she said back then.
Not only that, she was always at the top, or near the top, of the leading averages in most women’s leagues in the county and provincially.
If you don’t recall, candlepin bowling was an extremely popular sport in those days and, in New Glasgow, the focal point was the old Vee-Eight Bowling Lanes that were located above an automobile dealership on Archimedes Street.
Every year Gladdie bowled in several leagues – women’s and mixed – and it was not uncommon to see her name among the sport’s finest hereabouts.
Bowling was a big thing in her life. Her husband Jimmy was a long-time star on the men’s side and for quite a few years he was assistant manager of the Heather Lanes on New Glasgow’s west side when the game shifted from Vee-Eight to the new facility.
The Nova Scotia women’s championship was one of the biggest sporting attractions each spring and several times the tournament was staged in New Glasgow. Gladdie and her mates were contenders every time they were in the event.
For many years she bowled for the Thorburn Vale-ettes, a team that was a constant contender at the provincial level. On most occasions Barb MacDougall, Rie Cameron, Francis Day and Elise Campbell were her teammates.
But from what I used to see watching them in action, Gladdie Morrison was the pin-spilling leader.
She was so good that the late Charlie Stevens, a sports reporter and editor in the county for a long time, used to call her “The Queen of Local Bowling.”
And, yes, she was that.
I can remember when we chatted a decade or so ago that Gladdie was her humble self when I reminded her of the Stevens description. She didn’t consider herself a queen of anything, just a bowler successful enough to score high marks.
The truth was, she was good. She was good because she loved the game, she put everything into it, and the pins fell, not by luck, but because she had the ability to score higher than most.
My own bowling path crossed with hers in the mid-1960s when a mixed event called Scotch Doubles was established at Heather Lanes. It was a competition in which two bowlers – a male and a female – teamed against other pairs from across the county.
Gladdie partnered with Gib Hiscott, Jimmy teamed with Etta Forrestall, and I had Janet Watters as a partner. Janet and I won the event the first time it was held, but Gladdie and Gib soon took command. It was just another example of Gladdie’s abilities on the lanes.
When Gladdie and the others formed the Vale-ettes, it made an interesting story. To have enough money to enter the provincial championships, the gals used to take up a collection at the entrance to the old coal mine in Thorburn. Without the miners’ solid support the team probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the years they did.
And, yes, the Vale-ettes did win the Nova Scotia title. That happened when the provincials were at the Heather Lanes, a feel-good highlight in the team’s fine history.
Gladdie was still the former Gladys MacDonald when she started bowling. It was the war years and she was working at the old post office in Thorburn. Her brother, Don “Boley” MacDonald, was already into bowling and that probably influenced her to get involved.
There used to be bowling lanes at the Catholic Church in Thorburn and that’s where it all began for Gladdie and some of the other female bowlers.
Contrary to some suggestions, Gladdie and Jimmy didn’t meet at the alleys. They had gotten to know each other when she was at the post office and he worked for the railway at the old Thorburn station. Their paths kept crossing and they chatted often. In 1956, Jimmy posed the big question and they married.
So who was the better bowler, Jimmy or Gladdie? I asked that question of Gladdie in the conversation we had, and she was quick with an answer. “I was” — with no ifs, ands or buts.
This is how she put it: “I could beat Jimmy. We bowled on the same mixed team in the Commercial League at the Vee-Eight and I used to beat him. And I hated it as much as he did, because they used to tease him about it. It wasn’t very nice because Jimmy was a good bowler and he knew how to play those pins.”
Gladdie wasn’t unique for her time. There were a lot of talented bowlers in the county in those days and, on the women’s side, she got competition from such keglers as Etta Forrestall, Rita MacDonald, Janet Watters, Mary Sloan, Betty McCallum, Alva Roy and Marie Smith.
Gladdie and Jimmy, or Jimmy and Gladdie; either way they were a great team, on the bowling lanes, and in life.
Their partnership ended in 1993 when Jimmy died. Now Gladdie is gone.
Want to know something? I met and got to know a lot of wonderful people in Pictou County in my sports days there. None were finer than Gladdie and Jimmy.
I was visiting in Toronto last month when I learned Gladdie had died at the age of 90. In her obituary it said she would be fondly remembered for her “carefree and cheerful manner.”
That describes perfectly the Gladdie I knew.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached at 204 – 435 Portland Hills Drive, Dartmouth B2W 0A8.