In Home and Away Part One I described some of the rabbit holes I’ve gone down while looking into the history of British and Irish pointing breeds. In this post, I’d like to share a few articles I’ve discovered about field trials in Manitoba, a nearly-forgotten chapter in the rich history of my home province.
One of the most powerful tools now available to us is the ability to comb through the online archives of newspapers and magazines. One of the greatest archives in the world has been online for years, but it seems that even more treasure troves like it are popping up online all the time. Recently, as I’ve been looking into the history of field trials, I’ve been spending way too much time digging through the online archives of various North American newspapers and sporting journals.
I was actually quite surprised by the number of articles published in local papers such as The Winnipeg Tribune, The Brandon Daily Sun, The Winnipeg Evening Tribune and The Morning Telegram. The American Sporting press also featured regular reports from field trials held in Manitoba. Here is one from Forest and Stream, published in 1898 about a field trial held “…in the vicinity of Silver Heights…” which is now a suburb of Winnipeg and right next door to the neighbourhood that I grew up in.
The Northwestern Club's Champion Stake. Winnipeg, Sept. 13 1898.
Birds were scarce, and consequently impaired the fall success of the champion stake of the Northwestern Field Trials Club, inasmuch as there was a great deal of searching done which was with out the results due to diligence, and there also was not the thorough definition on the competition that there is when birds are in sufficient numbers.
The trials were run yesterday near this city, in the vicinity of Silver Heights and Little Stony Mountain. There are large sections of prairie about Winnipeg which admit of riding across country in carriages, and this permitted making the trials a spectacular event. A great number of carriages followed the work, many of them the most fashionable turnouts of the city.
Among the spectators were three ladies on bicycles… The judging was done by Messrs. C. E. Buckle and Frank Richards, both well-known handlers and experienced men in the office of judge. Mr. Thomas Johnson's famous pointer Alberta Joe proved to be the winner. The trophy, commemorating the win, was a cup of rare value and workmanship, presented by the patron of the club, Mr. Edward Dexter, of Boston. The weather was pleasant and very favorable for good work. The quality of the work, however, was of a low grade for championship performance.
Following is a list of the competitors: Mira-Mote Kennels' b. b. setter dog Lock (Locks- ley — Liddesdale), A. Bennett, handler, with Thos. John son's 1. and w. pointer dog Alberta Joe (Ightfield Upton — Ightfield BIythe), owner, handler. E. J. Bennett's b. and w. pointer bitch Tannis (Rector — Miama), owner, handler, with E. Hamber's b. and w. pointer dog Mac Hamber (Croxteth's Ned — Miama), owner, handler. Chimo Kennels' b. and w. setter bitch Ortolan (Orlando — Atalanta), Charles Archibald, handler, with Jubilee Kennels' b., w. and t. setter bitch Dodo III. (Orlando — Atalanta), Geo. Borrowdale. handler. A. C. Reid's b. and t. setter bitch Schwab (Manitoba Toss — Pitti Sing), owner, handler, with Mira-Monte Kennels' b., w. and t. setter dog Dash Antonio (Antonio — Lady Lucifer), A. Bennett, handler.
Lock and Alberta Joe ran about forty-two minutes, beginning at 7:36. They displayed moderate range. Joe found and pointed a bevy nicely. Lock behaved badly to the flush as he chased. Neither covered the ground with the thoroughness which was desirable. Tannis and MacHamber were started at 8:23 and ran till 8:58. The work opened with a point on bevy for Tannis to which her competitor made a prompt back. On marked birds Mac made some very slobbery work. Ortolan and Dodo III., started at 8:59. Dodo seemed to be unfortunate, for she made game where some birds were, but failed to secure a point, and again she was about to locate when the birds flushed ahead. Ortolan secured two good points on scattered birds. They ran forty-one minutes. Dodo's range was moderate as com pared to that of Ortolan. Schwab and Dash Antonio began at 9:41, and ran till 10:26. No birds were found during the heat.
Second Round: Schwab and Dash Antonio were started after lunch at 3:53 and ran thirty-two minutes. This was a test of ranging only, as but little work was done on birds. Dash had much the best of the heat on what qualities were tested. Dash made a point on a single bird, which was all the bird work done in the heat; Schwab backed. Alberta Joe and Ortolan ran about forty-three minutes. Ortolan pointed a bevy and both afterward pointed at the same time; Joe on a bevy. Ortolan had much the better speed and range. Joe worked very honestly to the gun, but was lacking in uniform range and speed. The final heat was between Dash Antonio and Alberta Joe; lasted about twenty minutes. Both dogs were running on narrower ranges. Both made a point; nothing found. When the heat ended, the judges announced that Alberta Joe was the winner.
Another article from Forest and Stream, this one dated Aug 20, 1898, illustrates just how quickly the sport of field trialing was developing on the Canadian prairies.
Manitoba Field Trial Matters. The subjoined clipping from the Free Press shows a most pleasing improvement in Northwest field trial matters. It treats of the matter as follows: "The interest in field trials now displayed by the general public is most gratifying to the different clubs of the Province. Possibly never before have the entries for the different events in September been as large. A glance over the list published recently by the Free Press of the Manitoba club tells the tale of how local fanciers are awakening to the fact that they can produce as good and as successful stock as their neighbours across the line, their entries this time far outnumbering those of the latter.
True, the Americans have shown indomitable pluck in coming so many hundred miles the past years to do battle with the pick of Manitoba dogs, but have often too proved the victors. However, Manitoba dogs have been steadily improving and without doubt this year a different tale will be told, last year the championship only being wrested from us after a hard fight. Sept. 5 (Labor Day) the Western Canada Kennel Club start their third annual amateur trials, and from present indications it promises to surpass its predecessors.
Their trials are strictly amateur, competing dogs having to be owned and handled by amateurs solely. Wednesday, Sept. 7, begins the Manitoba club's twelfth annual international trials, extending the balance of the week. American handlers now have their charges in active training at different points in the Province, Manitoba handlers being located nearer Winnipeg, where the birds are reported just as plentiful as in the outlying districts. As a fitting finale the Northwestern Club will hold the competition for the handsome championship cup, now on exhibition in Messrs. Robinson & Co.'s store window, in as close proximity to Winnipeg as the sufficiency of the necessary game will allow, thus giving the citizens an opportunity of witnessing how this grand sport is conducted. As only first and second prize dogs of the continent are allowed to compete, the merit of competitors should be of a very high order.
An article in the October 8, 1898 issue of Forest and Stream mentions, once again, the famous Winnipeg-base field trialer, Thomas Johnson. It is about a field trial held “near the city” that was watched by many locals, including “ladies on bicycles” !
The New Era of Field Trials.
In a very pleasant letter of recent date, the well-known sportsman, Mr. Thomas Johnson, writes concerning field trials as follows: "As you know, we have tried to raise their prestige by using every legitimate, honourable means we know. Our first work was to eliminate the kickers and those who thought only of the dollars and cents. I give most credit to our amateur organization, the Western Canada Kennel Club. They first held strictly amateur trials. The sweets of victory encourage them to bigger efforts, and in consequence the winners usually go to the open trials. The result is that Manitoba can hold successful trials without outside entries, but with these coming in also it is doubly interesting.
This year we held our championship stake near the city, and I can safely say that we had the best attendance ever known. Of course, our flat, open prairies, where you can drive everywhere, give us unusual advantages. These were recognized by a concourse of visitors in every kind of vehicle, from the family brougham to ladies on bicycles. A conception previously hold by lots of people of a field trial was that a race opened the proceedings, the dogs chasing after birds, and when one of the dogs caught the bird it wound up with a dog fight for its possession. This fallacy has now been removed in Manitoba, and next year our best people will encourage their sons to interest themselves in field trials as one of the cleanest and healthiest sports we have.
We always lacked in Manitoba the interest of the press. Now, however, as you will note from the editorial clipping I enclose from our leading paper, the Manitoba Free Press, we are getting every encouragement in that direction. Manitoba, as you know, is 100 per cent, in every kind of legitimate sport, and it is very pleasing to me to note that one in which I have been identified through all kinds of weather is now recognized as equal to any, and as I have always contended superior to most.
The clipping mentioned is as follows: "The field trials of '98 have been run, and brought to a satisfactory termination, and the sportsmen of Manitoba extend a hearty invitation to their visiting brothers from less favored regions to come another year and bring the best their kennels hold. For nothing tends more to the advancement of true sport with the gun than the cooperation of man's best friend, the dog Wildfowl shooting 'tis true is most glorious sport, and the man who can drop unerringly his couple of mallard by a neat right and left, or pull down a full-grown honker by a well-directed shot, is no mean disciple of the trigger, but take it all in all the acme of sport is reached when a clean kill results from a staunch point. He who has a well-broken pointer or setter is hardly likely to sink to the level of a mere pot-hunter. He knows there is a deeper, truer joy in following the almost human indications of his humble companion, and the weight of the bag then becomes but a poor index of the pleasures of a day in the field. The more broken dogs we have, and the more the younger generation see of their marvelous intelligence, the better for the future of the feathered game of the prairie.” — Thos. Johnson
Below is a selection of some of the more interesting clippings I’ve come across from local newspapers.
Stay tuned for Home and Away Part Three where I share what I learned watching field trials for Pointers and Setters on the moors in the north of England.