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Leisure, Our History

The Intercounty Baseball League: Bridging rural-urban divides for over 100 years

Curated by Philip Rich

November 8, 2021

Amateur and minor league baseball is unique in its ability to connect urban and rural lived experiences. While major league baseball teams play in big cities like Toronto, New York, and Chicago, minor league teams that are operated by the major league teams play in small – often rural – towns across North America. Professional players who will go on to play in the major leagues might make stops in towns like Salisbury, Maryland (Delmarva Shorebirds) or Kinston, North Carolina (Down East Wood Ducks) on their way to the MLB. Minor league baseball was also essential to the development of the local economies in small towns in North America throughout the 20th century and continues to be important today. As recently as 2020, politicians, activists, and baseball players argued against an MLB plan to restructure the minor league system (which included eliminating teams) because of the negative effects it would have on players and localities across North America.

In Canada, the Intercounty Baseball League is the oldest amateur baseball league in the country that continues to operate. Its historical roots are largely rural – the league began operating in 1919 with teams in Stratford, Galt, Guelph, and Kitchener, and quickly doubled in size to include teams in London, Brantford, Preston, and St. Thomas, Ontario. Teams have also played in rural communities like Listowel, Strathroy, and Welland. However, most of the current teams in the league play in metropolitan areas.

The following photo essay of IBL ballparks and stadiums explores baseball’s rural-urban connections by capturing a uniquely Ontarian experience. The goal of this project is to illustrate these connections through historical photos of rural IBL ballparks and recent photos of urban, modern, ballparks. If we want to facilitate communication between rural and urban experiences in Ontario, documenting amateur baseball is a good place to start.

Thank you to the local teams, archives, and individuals who contributed photos for the project.

A 1930s baseball game at Emslie Field in Pinafore Park, St. Thomas, Ontario. St. Thomas has fielded several different teams at different points of the IBL’s history including the St. Thomas Legion, St. Thomas Elgins, and St. Thomas Storm. Emslie Field is one of Canada’s oldest baseball diamonds but has changed considerably since it was established. Credit: Ken Verrell Collection, Elgin County Archives

The Guelph Maple Leafs at the Alma Street Ball Park at Exhibition Park in Guelph, Ontario. When participating in a summer IBL season, the Guelph Royals continue to play at the Exhibition Park stadium, now named for David E. Hastings. The original grandstand where fans can watch a game was replaced in the 1980s. Credit: Guelph Museums

An afternoon game Sunday, July 18, 2021 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and London Majors at Dominico Field in Christie Pits Park. Toronto won 5-4. Dominico Field has historically been the most urban of IBL ballparks. Located in downtown Toronto with a view of the CN Tower, Maple Leafs games have a free admission for spectators. Credit: Philip Rich

Semi-final baseball game between Galt and St Thomas on September 13, 1924, at Dickson Park in Galt, Ontario (now a part of the City of Cambridge). Credit: Galt Centennial and Old Home Week, Galt, Ontario, Canada, June 29-July 4th, 1927. York University - University of Toronto Libraries

A Thursday evening game between the Barrie Baycats and the Hamilton Cardinals at Coates Stadium in Barrie, Ontario during the summer of 2021. The Baycats defeated the Cardinals 8-3. The Baycats have won the last six league championships from 2014-2019. The 2020 championship was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Edwin Butterworth

Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Lockington (#18) awaits a pitch in a 1949 game at Agricultural Park in Brantford, Ontario. Now named Arnold Anderson Stadium, the Red Sox are one of the league’s most successful teams. Early Brantford teams would have traveled to play in rural communities like Stratford, Guelph, and St. Thomas. Credit: Brantford Red Sox

A 1947 ball game at National Stadium in Stratford, Ontario. A historically agricultural town, Stratford first fielded an IBL team in the 1930s. Stratford teams have won the IBL championship as both the Stratford Nationals and the Stratford Hillers. Credit: Stratford-Perth Archives

Aerial View of National Stadium in Stratford. Credit: Stratford-Perth Archives
Welland Stadium in Welland, Ontario. The Welland Jackfish are the newest team to play in the IBL but are the only team that plays in a smaller community today. Credit: Anonymous (with permission)

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