The University of Windsor’s Christian Trudeau, our resident expert on Quebec baseball, and the Quebec Provincial League in particular, was interviewed by Radio-Canada in early November of 2022, just before the Canadian Baseball History Conference at which the new Journal of Canadian Baseball was officially launched. An English transcript of his interview follows; to listen to the original French broadcast, click here.
This weekend the annual conference of the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research or, if you prefer, le Centre de recherche de baseball au Canada, will take place at the University of Windsor. On this occasion, the inaugural edition of the Journal of Canadian Baseball/ Revue de baseball canadien, an open access journal that publishes popular and scholarly research in French or English on baseball in Canada, will be launched. The journal is a joint initiative of the Centre and the University of Windsor, and I’ll discuss it with one of the editors of this inaugural edition, co-author of one of the articles, known to us as a great baseball fan, Christian Trudeau. Christian is also a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Windsor. Hello Christian.
Christian, the article that you co-authored has to do with the French-Canadian personality Leo Dandurand. Who is he?
Leo Dandurand is particularly known as having been the owner of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club in the twenties. It is really he who gave an identity to French-Canadians at the time, through a hockey club for Francophones and by Francophones. In the article, we explore his contribution to baseball, specifically in 1924. There was a professional league in Quebec and he set out to reproduce the model of his hockey club in baseball, so he created the Montreal Canadiens baseball club. His goal was to create a 100% French-Canadian club. He looked for Francophones, not only Quebecers, but also Franco-Americans for his team. He equipped his baseball club with a uniform like that of his hockey team, with the tricolor sleeves and so on. And the goal was really to replicate the success of the team in ’24. Fresh off their Stanley Cup win in hockey, Dandurand launched his baseball club two weeks later.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big success, but it’s a story that’s interesting and little known, so the article’s aim was to draw out the history, to showcase the efforts made. It was an important step in providing baseball opportunity for Francophones at that time, something of a counterweight to the Montreal Royals, a club at a somewhat higher level. And so, it was a way to advance Francophones and especially the few Francophone players on the Montreal Royals.
Do we know why the baseball club was not a success?
Mainly, there was very little time to assemble the team. As I mentioned, it was late spring, and he was caught up in the hockey series with Les Canadiens. He had to pivot to baseball quite quickly, and he tried to recruit Francophones from English communities. In particular, he placed ads in Boston newspapers, but he lacked time. The Francophones had moved on to other things. And he mixed up the hockey and baseball operations; hockey players could play on his baseball team.
There was another obstacle to building a successful team at the time in Montreal, a somewhat familiar story. There was no convenient and suitable stadium for baseball. The stadium was on the English-speaking side of the city and it was difficult to attract the Francophones who were key to his aims. So, it wasn’t a success either on the field or at the box office.
Another question about the conference: It takes place on Saturday and Sunday, this weekend, at the University of Windsor. How can the public access your journal article?
Well, the article, all the articles, may be accessed free of charge. The journal is on the University of Windsor website. The address is not very obvious; a web search for Revue de baseball canadien/Journal of Canadian Baseball will find the link fairly quickly. [Click here: https://ojs.uwindsor.ca/index.php/jcb ]
What other topics can be found in this journal?
They are pretty wide-ranging. There’s a very interesting article by Stephen Dame about military baseball, played in England during the world wars. He focuses on the contribution of Black soldiers who played baseball with whites in the Canadian Army Corps. That’s one of the topics. There are two other articles about baseball in England, in which Canadians also feature prominently. There is an article that talks about Stodgell Park in Windsor, and a photographic essay about a baseball team in Saskatoon in 1914. So, it’s quite comprehensive, with contributors from across Canada in English and in French.
Christian, you’ve said that Black American players in Canada will feature in the course of the conference. What role did these players have in baseball history in Canada?
It’s obviously a complex and somewhat tragic story in which Canada played a part.
We all know about the story of Jackie Robinson who came to play in Montreal before going on to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was in Montreal in 1946 and then in Brooklyn through 1956. The conference will explore the contribution of a little-known African-American league that existed just before Robinson’s retirement, in 1955 and ‘56, that tried to get established in Canada.
It was called the United States Negro League. Its original goal was to compete against other more established leagues in the United States. But there wasn’t a big enough market for them in the States, and the league realized pretty quickly that it could set up games in Canada, notably in Quebec, where they played dozens of games… in Montreal and Quebec, in Trois-Rivieres, Sherbrooke, all over the place, as far as Jonquiere. And in Ontario, there were games in Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton. For Windsor, it’s not quite clear. There were some good teams who came here, but there was a team in Detroit in the early years and they came to Windsor. It was an opportunity to see good baseball. These players put on a good show. There was also a link between them and leagues in Quebec and Western Canada.
When Jackie Robinson broke into the majors, the Black players’ league lost some of its importance and it seemed there was no longer a need for it. But the Black players still found good places to play in Quebec and Western Canada. They were welcomed and treated the same as white players. It was a chance for them to show their skills and move up to the major leagues, so lots of players went from Canada to the major leagues; this is one of the topics to be explored at the conference on the weekend.
What need does this new journal fill? Is there a demand for university-level research for us to know a little more about baseball? Is it that?
It’s that and a few other things. There is a largely American organization devoted to baseball research, the Society for American Baseball Research, that skews American. Most of us are members. There were no publications, though, with a distinctly Canadian accent for members to publish. And there was a community of Quebecois researchers for whom it was sometimes difficult to publish in English, whether because the subject was of more interest to Francophones or because the authors didn’t have the ability or desire to write in English. The journal offers them the chance to create in French, something that didn’t exist before, and is an opportunity both for serious research and more popular stories.
In closing, is this conference open to the public?
Yes. There is a registration fee and details may be found on the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research website baseballresearch.ca if you want to spend the weekend talking baseball.
Christian Trudeau, baseball fan, frequent guest and professor of Economics at the University of Windsor. Merci, Christian!