Sports personalities, traditions and key events

The story

When rower Ned Hanlan returned to Toronto in July 1879 after his victory at the English sculling championships, his steamer was greeted by a flotilla of adoring fans, with thousands more waiting to receive him at the dock. Hanlan was one of Ontario’s first international sports heroes. The emergence of professional sport at the turn of the 20th century gave rise to sports stars who were promoted in the media and followed by an eager public in Ontario and around the world.

With the development of sports associations and high-profile awards, sponsors and team owners began to scout and enlist skilled players who could deliver championships and fill stadiums with cheering spectators. The hiring of “ringers” led to rapid salary inflation, which continued to increase throughout the century. Hockey player Frederick “Cyclone” Taylor, for example, was paid $5,250 in 1910 to play for the Renfrew Creamery Kings – a significant amount of money at the time.

Newspapers provided vivid accounts of athletes and events, with the telegraph offering near-instant results. With the development of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s and the mass introduction of television in the 1950s, new sports idols were introduced and brought into the nation’s living rooms. These athletes were promoted as heroes and representatives of their teams, fans, communities and nations. Many of the athletes brought with them stories of overcoming racial and ethnic prejudice, economic hardships and other obstacles to become sports stars. As the century progressed, women began to challenge the dominant role of men in sport. The profile of minorities began to increase.