by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
After easily defeating J.F. Fitzgerald, Alfred “the Little Wonder” Shrubb’s next race was against 24-year-old Paul Acoose, an Ojibway runner from the Sakiway First Nation in the Qu’Appelle Valley of Saskatchewan. Again, the race was scheduled for Happyland, but this time over the longer distance of 12 miles. Although a routed victim of Shrubb in the earlier race, Fitzgerald was also scheduled to participate.
Acoose gained prominence after running in the 1908 Winnipeg Labour Day five-mile race, which he won in a time of 27:34:4.
“Acoose is flat-footed creating at times the impression of a shuffle,” wrote a Vancouver Saturday Sunset reporter following the race. “His gait is ungainly, but deceptive, as he travels very casually. Acoose was scarcely winded after running his five miles at a fair clip and against a strong wind so that the power of his endurance should not be questioned. He is a sort of rough an ready runner. The Indian is blessed with a spirit of absolute calm and dogged determination.”
The Ojibway runner, who turned professional in 1909, was quite familiar with the Happyland track, and also the temperament of Winnipeg spectators. In a prelude to the August 9 riot, Acoose was on hand to witness the displeasure expressed by the crowd when it was announced that a June 26 15-mile race between the Ojibway runner, Fred Meadows of Guelph and Percy Sellen of Toronto would be postponed. A downpour the previous evening was cited as the reason for the race’s postponement as the track was judged to be unfit for running.
The Free Press wondered why the the race had not been postponed earlier in the day.
According to a June 28 article in the newspaper, “... it was very apparent to anyone who knows anything about the old field (baseball) diamond that it would be in no condition to run on, however, it was telephoned to the Free Press, on Saturday morning that the downpour of rain the previous night had done no damage whatsoever, and that the race would be pulled off.”
When the paying customers arrived, what they saw was a track of heavy mud “covered with manure.” At the time, horses were still the most common personal conveyance.
The runners inspected the track and “were by no means anxious to run, though quite willing to do so if called upon.”
A half hour after the scheduled start, Sellen took a practice run and floundered in the mud. Acoose followed with the same result.
Marshall Van Alstyne and James Bell, the promoters of the race, decided the conditions were too difficult for the runners and announced the postponement, which was followed by jeers and booing from the “dissatisfied and disgruntled” spectators, who had earlier in the day been assured that the race would take place. With this promise, they had trekked to Happyland fully expecting to witness a race between the three professional runners.
Meadows came to the rescue of the race promoters and Happyland manager Ernest S. Harrison by proposing an exhibition five-mile run. The test was won by Acoose, who wore a jersey bearing the name Grenfell, the town near Sakiway. The 15-mile race was postponed to another day and the paying spectators could either receive a refund or exchange tickets for the rescheduled race.
The rescheduling of the race was a muddle. It was announced that it would be held on Monday, June 28, but the race wasn’t pulled off until the following day. In fact, the promoters seem to have forgotten to tell the racers that the race originally announced for Monday evening wasn’t to be held until Tuesday night. All three runners were at the Happyland track on Monday, but there neither promoters nor spectators were in attendance.
When the 15-mile race was run, Meadows emerged as the surprise winner. But controversy didn’t end with his victory, as rumours circulated that all three races were to be arrested for breach of contract. The promoters had actually ordered the runners not to race due to a dispute with Harrison over gate receipts. As a result, the Happyland management organized the completion of the postponed race on their own initiative.
As it turned out, only Sellen was arrested immediately after the Tuesday night race and sent to the police station, allegedly for obtaining a $100 advance for expenses from James Bell under false pretenses.
“I signed a contract with Bell,” Sellen told the Free Press, “to run a race at Happyland ... I would not come west until he sent me $100 for my expenses, and I certainly received the money.”
Sellen then went through the events leading to the Tuesday race. “Last night (June 29), I signed a contract with Mr. Harrison for another race, which was run this evening. Bell came to my room twice this afternoon and told me he would not let me run, and I understand he applied for an injunction to prevent me from running, but could not get it. I then offered to return him the $100 he had advanced me if he would release me from the contract, but he would not accept my check. He was ready to take cash, but I hadn’t that much in my clothes.
“I have no intention of beating Bell out of his money, and I am still ready to run a race for him on the conditions of the contract.”
Long-distance racing drew big crowds, big money and big bets, so everyone involved wanted their own slice of the proceeds at whatever cost.
The frustration of the fiasco was still fresh in the minds of the spectators just over a month later, and when the August 9 race looked like it would also be postponed, the result was the riot at Happyland.
It was also the memory of the threats uttered against him in June that prompted Harrison to flee to the safety of his Deer Lodge farm just as the August melee erupted.
The race between Acoose, Shrubb and Fitzgerald was delayed as the Ojibway runner unexpectedly announced that he was getting married. After Acoose married Madeline O’Soup in Saskatchewan, he returned to Winnipeg as promised.
In Winnipeg, Shrubb expressed his confidence that he would prevail. The two challengers seemed to have accepted Shrubb’s victory as inevitable, since their managers made a side wager on which of the two would end up in second place behind the English runner (Free Press, August 16).
As in New York months earlier, Shrubb set a blistering pace and just as at the Garden, he suffered the consequences.
Only three miles into the race, 6,000 spectators saw that Shrubb was limping badly and “was forced to retire in the sixth mile owing to an old trouble with the tendons of his right leg” (Free Free, August 17, 1909).
“Meanwhile, the wily Indian had noted Shrubb’s distress and quickly shot away from Fitzgerald ... Acoose was running easily and gradually increased his lead,” ending the race as the victor with a time of 1:8:10.
Due to his injury, Shrubb was forced to cancel scheduled races between Winnipeg and the Pacific Coast, including engagements in Vancouver and Seattle. The English runner expressed his disappointment at being unable to finish the 12-mile race, adding that he would stay in Winnipeg until his injury healed.
“It looks to be a case of that $25,000 pair of legs having been overworked in the last six to eight months” (Brandon Sun, August 17).
Following his injury, Shrubb told the media he was contemplating ending his running career to again take up the position of coaching the Harvard track team. The announcement was greeted with skepticism as Shrubb had frequently claimed he was retiring from racing. As events would unfold, there was good reason to doubt the runner’s commitment to leaving the track.
From Winnipeg, Shrubb went to Vancouver Island on a hunting trip. When the press caught up with him, Shrubb announced that before his retirement, he would run a few races in the towns en route to Winnipeg. Arriving in Winnipeg, Shrubb said he intended to again race Acoose and any other challengers.
If the race couldn’t be run outdoors due to cold weather, Shrubb said arrangements were being made to run indoors at the “Horse Show” Arena at the corner of Broadway and Fort Street.
While racing at Spokane, Washington, John D. Marsh, a Winnipeg professional runner, read about Shrubb’s plans to challenge him in the Manitoba Free Press. In a letter to the Winnipeg newspaper, Marsh wrote: “A notice in the Free Press that Alfred Shrubb is again to visit Winnipeg and he is anxious to run me 12 and 15 miles. I wish to say that I expect to arrive home early next month, when I will accommodate him on a winner and loser’s end of the purse. I am pleased to say that I have had a very successful tour through the Pacific coast country.”
Marsh had already won and lost to Shrubb in two successive 15-mile races in 1907. Marsh claimed the first race, but the Englishman, despite having to limp to the finish line due to an injury, claimed the second contest. The latter race on November 13 was described as the “best matched” 15-mile run ever held in Canada. It was said that Marsh lost the race when he changed his shoes and Shrubb gained a two lap advantage. Still, the two runners were less than 40 yards apart when Shrubb crossed the finish line in first place.
On May 1, 1909, Marsh won the Canadian marathon title in front of 9,000 spectators at Hanlon’s Island, Toronto, setting a new world record of 2:39:47 in the process, beating the mark earlier established by famed French racer Henri St. Yves.
“Marsh ran with splendid judgement” according to the May 3 Free Press, “and the experts, such as Shrubb, early picked him as the ultimate winner.”
Shortly after his marathon victory, Marsh raced St. Yves at the Happyland track on June 4 in Winnipeg, which the Frenchman won in what was described as a “waltz.” Although, St. Yves had won by three laps, Marsh latter proved he was able to keep pace and defeat the Frenchman. In a memorable April 22, 1910, 15-mile race in Brandon, Marsh defeated St. Yves by just a few feet.
Marsh gained local attention in 1906 when he won the annual 20-mile Winnipeg Telegram Road Race.
The massive popularity of Telegram road racing was demonstrated time and time again by strong attendance figures. At the starting line in front of the newspaper’s office on the corner of Albert Street and McDermot Avenue, hundreds prepared to cheer on the racers. Boys clung to telegraph poles to catch a glimpse of the runners, others perched on ledges of nearby buildings and still more people peaked out of office building windows along the first leg of the race.
Dozens of automobiles, hundreds on bicycles and people in carriages and on horseback followed the runners around the course, the route of which was south on Albert to Notre Dame, east on Notre Dame to Portage Avenue, west on Portage to the turning point near Sturgeon Creek on Portage and east on Portage to Sherbrook, north along Sherbrook to Nena (a portion of Sherbrook today) to reach McDermot and then the finish line at Albert and McDermot.
Shrubb arrived in Winnipeg on November 17, 1909, but Marsh was in Vancouver again racing against St. Yves.
Marsh wired home that he was unable to race in Winnipeg due to a commitment worked out by promoter Tim McGrath to run in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
While Marsh was not to be Shrubb’s opponent, Tom Longboat declared his intention to take part in the “big race” in Winnipeg as long as details about fees and distance could be worked out. By this time, Longboat, the aboriginal runner from the Six Nations near Brantford, Ontario, was adopted by Canadians as the great hope of the nation to conquer the best racers in the world.
“I think there must be a mistake somewhere, for as far as I am aware,”Shrubb told reporters, “Longboat has not left Toronto. The latest wire I have from him is to the effect that he will not leave there until $1,000 has been posted as his payment for an appearance in a race here.
“It is understood that the local management are willing to pay the $1,000 in advance, but they want Longboat to sign an agreement that he will run the entire fifteen miles and that he will do it in a specified time — one hour and twenty-six minutes.”
Longboat knew that Shrubb was virtually unbeatable at 15 miles, so he pressed for a longer race. Shrubb’s record showed that he was not in the same class as a long-distance runner, especially in the marathon, as Longboat. Eventually, what was decided was to run a compromise distance of 16 miles, the first such race at that distance between the two runners.
“Of the four previous encounters they have each won two,” reported the November 23 Free Press, “the Indian triumphing at the full marathon distance and (at) 20 miles, while the Briton won at the shorter distances of 13 and 15 miles.”
(Next week: part 3)