The Royal Canadian Mint have launched (6th March) a new silver coin which marks 180 years of baseball that took place in Ontario, paving the way for one of the most popular sports and pastimes. Travel back in time 180 years ago to Beachville, Ontario, the date was the 4th June 1838, and with an open pasture, a cedar “club” and a ball made of yarn and stitched calfskin seemed to be all that was necessary to stage a match that made sports history. This was one of the most detailed early accounts of a baseball game not only in Canada but also in the United States. On that day, citizens of Beachville and Zorra, both in Oxford County in southwestern Ontario, took part in a friendly match that bears many similarities to today’s game, but with a few notable differences in regards to equipment and gameplay. Baseball did not originate in Canada, but it does have a long history north of the “lower 48.” The proof lies in one of the most detailed published accounts of a game that took place on the 4th June 1838, in Beachville, as recalled by Dr. Adam Ford in the May 5, 1886, issue of Sporting Life. As decreed by the Statues of Upper Canada in 1793, the Militia Muster Day was held every year on the observed date of the King’s birthday — and that particular date happened to be the late king’s 100th birthday.
There are earlier accounts of baseball-type games but generally only as accidental references in diaries, news stories, or municipal ordinances, and with little or no detail about the game’s strategy. Baseball-type activity has been recorded as early as 1803 in Canada, and most significantly in Hamilton, Upper Canada, in 1819 on the same 4th June date — further validating Ford’s account of the game’s place as part of the events surrounding Militia Muster Day and the celebration of King George III’s birthday. It is interesting to note that there is actually a royal connection between what we know today as baseball and King George III, as a letter written in 1748 describes a game of “base-ball” played by Frederick of Hanover and his family — including his eldest son, the future King George III.
References to what was later dubbed “the old-fashioned game” appear in the 18th century in the United States, but even earlier than that in England and Europe. Its institutional formalization with rules close to the contemporary game would not occur until the 1840s, led by its proponents in New York City, while its commercial and organizational modernization was a decade or two later.
Concurrent with its modernization in the United States was the development and growth of the game in Canada, suggesting that citizens of the two countries were partners in every stage of baseball’s ultimate evolution toward mainstream popular appeal. Softer and somewhat smaller than those used today, the baseball was made of twisted yarn covered with a layer of calfskin and sewn by a local shoemaker. The “club,” known today as a bat, was crafted from cedar and hand-hewn — although Ford stated, “a wagon spoke, or any nice straight stick would do.” The playing field itself was square-shaped with five “byes” or four bases plus a home plate, known then as the “knocker’s stone.” In each inning, every team member had his turn as the “knocker” (or batter in today’s description), to whom the “thrower” (pitcher) would toss the ball within easy reach. Baserunning involved moving from “bye” to “bye”, although not necessarily in a straight line. Ford’s account also mentioned the practice of “plugging” (not tagging) a player off base by hitting him with the ball — a play that was common elsewhere but is often associated with “The Canadian Game,” which was played in southwestern Ontario until the 1860s and further west, where settlers brought the game with them.
There is ample evidence that earlier baseball-type sports were played across Canada — including an 1841 Nova Scotian newspaper reference to a ball and bat, and the discovery of early bats and rounders, which is a shorter bat used for a softball-like game in Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia. “The Canadian Game” as it was referenced, typically featured two innings of play between two teams of 11 players. Toward the end of the 1850s, southwestern Ontario had begun adopting the faster New York style of play — nine innings with nine players on each team. The use of a heavier ball made of rubber also replaced the practice of “plugging” with tagging, similar to how it’s done today.
This dome-shaped (convex) coin is designed by artist Steve Hepburn which cleverly combines art and technology to re-create a historic sports moment. Paired with engraved stitch work, the coin’s curvature transforms the reverse side of this coin into a baseball-shaped canvas fit for commemorating the most detailed and earliest documented game played in Canada. The highly detailed, precisely engraved image provides a prime view of the action during that first memorable match in June 1838.
As seen from behind the “knocker’s stone” (or home plate of today), the participants from Beachville and Zorra are all in position as one team stands in the open field, ready to catch the ball. At the feet of the opposing team is the denomination 25 DOLLARS, which is engraved in a vintage-era font. In the arched banner above are the double commemorative dates 1838 and 2018, which flank a rendering of the equipment used in that era — those being two crossed clubs and a yarn ball covered by stitched calfskin.
The obverse side includes the effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II, as designed by Susanna Blunt, and has been included on all Canadian circulation and most commemorative coins since 2003.
|30.7 g||36 mm||Proof||
The coin is encapsulated and presented in a custom branded Royal Canadian Mint maroon colour case and is accompanied by a serialised certificate of authenticity. For additional information on this coin and others available from the Royal Canadian Mint, please visit their website.
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