I’ve really come to believe, when reflecting on a lifetime of memories, that the most lasting impressions are the ones experienced at an early age.
That thought came to mind again recently when I received an email from a reader asking if there was a sports team that I enjoyed watching more than any other in my years around Pictou County.
I had no trouble providing an answer.
That’s because it’s a question I’ve been asked a number of times through the years and, each time the subject arises, I go back to my teenage years, to the early 1950s and the baseball team that, perhaps more than anything else, convinced me that I’d spend my life in the sports world.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Stellarton Albions who made history in the Halifax and District Baseball League, the legendary circuit whose rosters were loaded with American imports, a league that was probably the very best ever in our province.
The Albions, for the record, entered the league in 1950, joining the Truro Bearcats, Halifax Capitals, Dartmouth Arrows, Kentville Wildcats and Liverpool Larrupers.
I was 12 at the time and almost immediately became a devout follower. Stellarton was one of only two teams in the league without lights – Liverpool was the other – but watching that great action in the early-evening sunshine was like heaven to a young fan.
It was a busy league, each team playing three home games and three away games each week. They never played on Sundays in those days.
That 1950 season quickly made fans out of young people like me. The Albions were mostly from North Carolina, but we had locals to cheer for, players like Westville’s Sid Roy and Stellarton’s Harry Reekie. The next year Cape Breton-born John (Brother) MacDonald came aboard.
The Albions, under coach Johnny Watterman, were competitive in their debut, but the team didn’t win the championship. The Dartmouth Arrows did – for a second straight year.
It was in 1951, when Bill Brooks was brought in to handle the club, that Stellarton began having a great three-year-run. They succeeded Dartmouth as champions and, as most Pictonians know, the Als repeated as winners in 1952 and 1953. They were the only franchise to capture back-to-back-to-back titles, a tremendous achievement in such a strong and competitive circuit.
In saying I enjoyed those Albions clubs more than any other Pictou County team, I should add that there were certainly other franchises that caught my close attention as the years went on.
Hockey clubs, understandably, were front and centre. The Stellarton Royals and Pictou Maripacs took turns winning the old APC Senior Hockey League championship and, mark my words, the APC loop was a popular product in those times. Later, the New Glasgow Rangers iced championship teams that won Nova Scotia and Maritime league titles.
Nobody can look back and not consider the great softball teams that we had locally. The Trenton Scotias were a tremendously talented outfit in the late 1950s and early 1960s, winning Nova Scotia and Maritime senior honours while drawing huge audiences to the steeltown. And softball can’t be mentioned without throwing in the name Thorburn Mohawks, who had great senior teams, followed by the superb junior squads that won three consecutive titles in the 1960s.
No, the baseball Albions certainly don’t stand alone among my favourites. But as I said at the outset, they’re the guys who left me with my best memories.
Those Albions stand tallest, part of the reason being that I was a very young fan then. But the team’s strong lineups, and those three straight titles, obviously played a huge part too.
I don’t need to check old books or old records for the names of the imports to flow. They come quickly to mind: Brooks himself, Billy Werber, Kent (Baby) Rogers, Gair Allie, Huck Keany, Leroy Sires, Joe Fulgham, Art Hoch, Don Woodliefd, Preacher Mustain, Ed Morris, Rudy Williams, Monk Raines, Cecil Heath, Jack Turney, Bob Stewart. The list could go on.
If those names don’t sound familiar, you couldn’t have been around the county in that era.
The best of the Albions’ three championship teams? I’d have to say the first one. That summer the club dominated the league from Victoria Day to Labour Day, compiling fabulous statistics. They had an impressive 45-16 record and a 12-game lead on runners-up Halifax. Fulgham was the batting champion, Allie was the home run king, followed by Sires, who also led the league in runs batted in. It was all Stellarton in the statistics.
It meant the 1952 club had a tough act to follow, especially since stars Allie, Hoch, Keany, Sires and others did not return. But there were capable replacements, particularly the addition of Werber. The team had a decent 38-25 record to finish third, then played their best ball of the year in the playoffs to grab the second title.
In 1953, with more of their previous leaders gone, the Albions struggled enough that, at mid-season, they were in last place.
They rallied in the second half and, despite only a 27-33 record, sneaked into the fourth and final playoff spot on the last night of the schedule. Like the 1952 club, they came through when it counted the most to get their third championship in only their fourth season.
Yes, the Albions of 1951-52-53 were an impressionable bunch, thanks to their three championships and very talented players that included future major leaguers Gair Allie and Billy Werber.
Stellarton didn’t win another title, the franchise folded after the 1958 campaign, and a year later the league itself was gone forever.
Those of us who experienced that baseball era from the stands were left with only memories – memories lasting a lifetime.
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