Sunday, 30 June 2013

My Wyatt Ancestry

Photo: William Wyatt III, 1798-1867
I was given one of my best birthday gifts ever on January 21, 2012 (my 60th birthday) when my wife and two kids purchased my own 90-day subscription to Here’s what I found out about my ancestry through the site, plus information that my mother and other family members uncovered through conversations and letter writing etc. over the years…

I actually traced my Wyatt line back more than 300 years to Philip Wyatt (1692-1721) and Joan Wyatt (1697-1748). Both were born and raised in Buckland St Mary, Somerset County, England and married there in 1718. They lived and died there.  They were my great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents. Now, let’s move ahead to their great-grandson and my great-great grandfather, William Wyatt III (1798-1867), a lawyer by trade, who had married twice and had 13 kids total. Whew! Big families back then. Up until the mid-1800s, the Wyatts had remained in that same part of England. But William’s kids soon changed everything. It was this generation that was bitten by the adventurous bug because most left Buckland St Mary for North America, never to return. My great-grandfather Arthur Percy Wyatt (1850-1938), born to William and his second wife, Grace, was the one who started my line of Wyatts.

Arthur, it turned out, first came to Canada in his late teens with his brother Charles  (who eventually settled in Ontario to stay), a couple years after the American Civil War ended in 1865. They both found work, but Arthur had to return to England several months later when his father had died. It seems, Arthur was the executor of the will. It apparently took years to settle all the legal matters. I’m reading in between the lines here… it may have taken a long time to iron things out because the older half-brothers and half-sisters were probably displeased with this younger whipper-snapper sibling being the executor. Just a thought. Anyway, Arthur stayed in England and from what I acquired from family sources, he took to “lawyering.”  Sort of. He settled down, married Fannie Trump and had three kids, Charles, Mabel and Percy, my grandfather. Arthur supposedly didn’t like desk work, taking to gardening and turning the soil instead. With a new, determined spirit in him, he returned to Canada in 1884 with his young family, worked in Ontario for a year, then headed West—Go West Young Man—to the Territories as they were called then, to where the present town of Broadview, Saskatchewan is today to become a wheat farmer. Six more kids came along, then Fanny died in 1895 giving birth to their last. Twelve years later, in 1907, a woman named Florence Ball came over from England to marry Arthur.

Now here’s our skeleton in the family. I’m sure every family has their own rough spots. From what I’ve heard, Arthur and Florence weren’t exactly the best natured people. In fact, my father told my mother on more than one occasion that he and his five siblings did not have a good relationship with their grandparents, especially Florence. Both were grumpy, miserable individuals. Too bad, because I grew up loving my three grandparents. (My grandpa Wyatt died before I was born).  Without going into any details, it seems that Florence was a real capital B. She didn’t like the climate or the people. When Arthur died in 1938, she returned to England shortly after. I bet the Wyatt family couldn’t get to the train fast enough to wave Bon Voyage

Within a few short weeks of accessing the website, I came across distant cousins (descendants of Arthur’s siblings) throughout  Canada, the US and Australia. Most of us stay in touch, too. They call my line the Saskatchewan Wyatts. During my ancestry research I also came across something interesting. There are stories out there handed down through the generations that the Wyatts of England are descendants of Admiral Adam Guyot, the man whom William the Conqueror hand-picked to lead his fleet of ships across the English Channel during the Norman-French invasion of England in 1066. Marrying one of William’s daughters and residing in England after the defeat of the British, as these stories go,  Guyot changed his name to Wyot. Over the years, the family name then became Wiot, Wiat, Wiatt and finally Wyatt.

In support of this, I found a book in the local library entitled English Surnames  by Charles Wareing Bardsley, published by Charles E Tuttle Co Publishers, Rutland, Vermont, USA, 1968. On page 36 is the following…

‘Guy’ or “Guyon” dates from the ‘Round Table,’ but it was reserved for the Norman to make his name so familiar to English lips. The best proof of this is that the surnames which it has left us are all but entirely formed from the Norman-French diminutive ‘Guyot,’ which in England became, of course, ‘Wyot.’ …The descendants of these, I need scarcely say, are our ‘Wyatts.’

Well. Who knows?
It’s speculative.

In the last year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that the English are excellent record keepers. As for my mother’s ancestry, it doesn’t go back as far as the Wyatts because her roots are from mainland Europe. My mother’s maiden name is Oancia. Her father was Romanian, her mother was Austrian. Like Arthur Wyatt, my mother’s family took to wheat farming. Their part of the province was near Stonehenge, Saskatchewan. Her side can only be traced back to the early 1800s. Having to deal with all the wars and the communist Iron Curtain, many European birth and marriage records had been destroyed. And that’s a shame.

Nevertheless, her side is quite noteworthy. Two brothers in particular, Steve and David Oancia, both born and raised in the Stonehenge district (second cousins to my mother), are famous to a certain degree. Steve was a World War II bomb-aimer with RAF 617 Squadron , more commonly known as the Dambusters. Numerous books, movies and articles on those brave boys. The younger David was an overseas newspaper correspondent. While residing in China and working for the Toronto Globe & Mail, David was the first Western journalist to be allowed an in-depth interview with China’s communist leader Mao Tse-Tung some years after he had taken office. My mother told me once that in their prairie country school, while she and the other kids would spend recess outdoors, the non-athletic David used to stay inside and read, sometimes the dictionary. He didn’t like sports at all. He wasn’t very good at it, either, according to my mother. “But look where it got him,” she added, grinning.

Who says history is boring? I am proud of my Western roots. Good, hard-working people came before me to set excellent examples. Farmers. Tough men and women who put up with a lot over the years. Dust, drought, crop failures, freezing cold, two World Wars. Those who moved to the city, as my parents did, fought for better working conditions and wages for them and my Baby Boomer generation to come. My parents didn’t tolerate lazy kids. If we didn’t  have work, then we were to go out and find it. The government didn’t owe the Wyatts a living. Something my wife and I live by today, and so do our two kids. My dad once said, “Wyatts never give up.” In general, we Baby Boomers and the next generations to follow are reaping the benefits of the past generation’s examples.

History is all around us. We just have to go looking for it. For example, just this year I discovered another side note to the Wyatt family from some family memoirs that my mother put together in the 1980s. My grandma Wyatt, born Bessie Deeley in 1889, came to this country in 1910 from England with her parents and a sister to settle in Broadview. A year later, she married my grandfather Percy. The ship they had sailed on was the ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland. On May 29, 1914, this same passenger ship--owned and operated by Canadian Pacific Steamships and on her 96th run between Liverpool and Quebec --was struck by the  SS Storstad, a Norwegian collier while steaming down the St Lawrence River. The Empress sank in only 14 minutes, killing 1,012 persons of the 1,477 aboard. The sinking is still the largest Canadian Maritime accident in peacetime. But the story doesn’t end there. When I found out that my grandmother sailed on this ship, I called my dentist, Steve Brooks, here in Burlington, Ontario. Steve is a scuba diver and for years now has had artifacts from the Empress of Ireland placed under glass in his business waiting area…artifacts that he was given permission to remove from the site. On the phone I started out by saying, “Hey, Steve, guess what? My grandmother came to Canada…”

And that’s as far as I got. Interrupting, he answered, “On the Empress of Ireland. No kidding?” He then informed me that I was the only patient in his almost 40 years of practice whose family member had sailed on the historic ship.

I urge everyone to research their own family background. It’s good to know where we came from. Why we are the way we are, and what happened within our families decades and centuries before us. Why? Because so much of the past has led to shaping our lives in the present day.  Check out your ancestry. What’s waiting to be discovered in your family tree?

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Broadview Buffaloes

1937 Broadview Buffaloes taken in front of the Broadview CPR station, 1937.
Back row (left to right): Buck Eaton, John Isaacson (both pitchers from Winnipeg), Chris Edwards, Dick Webb, Gene Bremer, Mack Sinclair.
Front row:
Lionel Decuir, Red Boguille, Roy Scheppert, Kitchie Bates, Ronnie Bates (manager). (Photo by Thora Anderson, Broadview) 

Where’s Broadview? Who are the Buffaloes? Little did I know that a casual conversation with my father in 1975 would lead to huge fact-finding undertaking on my part. 
At that time, my wife Bonnie and I were newly-married a few months and living in Regina, Saskatchewan. That September I went cross-town to visit my father. We were sitting at the kitchen table over a beer, and somehow got on the conversation of integration in the major leagues, and Jackie Robinson, when out of the blue my father said, “Did you know Broadview had an integrated ball team back in the 1930sThey were pretty good, too.”

Broadview was
 my birth place, as was my father’s. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Broadview is a town of less than 1,000 people ninety miles east of Regina on the southern CPR line. But Broadview, how could they have fielded an integrated baseball team? It turned out, my father knew one of the locals named Chris Edwards who had played third base for the Buffaloes.  

Later that day, I found Edwards
’ phone number through informationMy wife and I drove to Broadview a week later, met Edwards, and friend of his named Bus Conn, who had also played on the team.  Thanks to Edwards, I got in touch with an elderly woman, Edie Maynard, a few days later. She, along with husband Frank, ran a Broadview hotel on the CPR line and helped to bankroll the team during the 1930s. 

At her house in Regina, Mrs. Maynard showed us the books she
 had kept for the team as its treasurer. One interesting expense was a $1,000 bond that the team had to pay at the international border to bring up the black players each year to play in Canada. It was then refundable upon return of the same players at season’s end.  

what I had discovered then and many years later, leading up to 2013, the Broadview Buffaloes were probably not only the first fully-integrated baseball team in Canada, but a powerhouse on the prairies, a good decade before Jackie Robinson appeared on the scene. Pre-1930, there were many documented cases of imported African-American ringers who came to Canada from the US to play here. In those cases, it was pitchers only, such as the legendary lefty John Donaldson, who had thrown for semi-pro teams in the Saskatchewan centers of Moose Jaw and RadvilleOne black pitcher, the rest were white seemed to be common.

Thanks to the many contacts over the past few years 
who have helped me in acquiring information, I never would have been able to put this article together.  My father, Chris Edwards, Edie Maynard, Bus Conn and others were very accommodatingThe icing on the cake was Jay-Dell Mah’s outstanding website dedicated to baseball on the western provinces. Many of his accounts are from local newspaper archives. Try it at Warning to all baseball historians…it contains a pile of interesting reading that could take you hours. And the site keeps getting larger by the week.

o start off, the Buffaloes were a semi-pro squad, meaning the black imports were paid, while most of the local amateurs (who were still good ball players in their own right) weren’t. Competition on  Western Canada ball fields was tough back then. Every town and city wanted to win. And, from what I heard, side bets were very common. Broadview senior ball dates back to 1934 and 1935, when the town fielded an all-white team called the Red Sox. Independent of any league, they played the lucrative tournament circuit, as lucrative as prairie ball during the Great Depression could be

By 1936
, still as independents, they took aboard twenty-one-year old, right-handed pitcher Gene Bremer and his catcher Lionel Decuir, two Negro League players who had come up with their Shreveport Acme Giants teammates to Winnipeg in 1935 for an exhibition series against future-Hall-of-Famer pitching great Satchel Paige and his Bismarck Churchills, a fully-integrated team across the border in Bismarck, North Dakota

Between 1936
-1938, the Broadview roster saw Decuir, Bremer and other blacks from the Negro Leagues, including pitchers Jimmy Miller and George Alexander, power-hitting Sonny Harris, and the versatile Red Boguille.  (According to Edie Maynard’s records, Bremer was paid $45 a month plus housing expenses his first year in Broadview). Some of the white locals who played good decent ball, besides Edwards and Conn, were Roy ScheppertKitchie Bates, Harold Horeak, Mack Sinclair, and Dick Webb. I know these aren’t household names today, but they were well-known players in the area.  

In 1936, the Red Sox won three 
major tournaments with their beefed-up lineup. On June 11, they took the Broadview Annual Sportsday Tournament beating the Moose Jaw Athletics 5-0. July 1, they won the Moosomin Dominion Day Tournament by defeating Virden, Manitoba 9-3. July 22, they took the four-team Yorktown tournament, beating the host team 8-4. Then, on July 31, the Buffaloes, with Jimmy Miller on the mound, made a real name for themselves by downing the famous House of David, the bearded white barnstormers from Benton Harbor, Michigan, in an exhibition game at Indian Head by a score of 8-5. 

In 1937, the 
Red Sox changed their name to the Buffaloes and joined the elite Saskatchewan Southern League, with the Weyburn Beavers, Notre Dame Hounds and the Moose Jaw Athletics as competition. The Broadview crew were runaway pennant winners with a 8-1 record, not to mention four tournament wins to their credit in La Fleche, Grenfell, Lemberg, and Regina where they whipped the local Regina Pilsners 17-1. Do you think they were named after the beer? Eight days before, Broadview split the prize money with the Northgate (North Dakota) Yankees after the two teams had to settle on a 7-7 tie in Broadview due to darkness. 

The league did not have in-house playoffs that year, electing 
instead to compete in the provincials with the northern teams. But, out of the blue, Broadview was denied any post-season competition when someone ratted them out. One of their players had supposedly played professional the year before. Ironic, because there were pro ringers all over the prairies in any given year. Results of a further  allegation revealed that the Buffaloes had been playing touring American teams without the proper SABA (Saskatchewan Amateur Baseball Association) permits.

By 1938, t
he Broadview Buffaloes were now making a name outside Saskatchewan. A July 13, 1938 Winnipeg Free Press article reported, “A baseball classic of note is scheduled for Moosomin ball park…when the cream of western senior ball teams meet in the $300 tournament…Broadview Buffaloes, with colored players from the Southern States, are a mighty machine that is tops in the Saskatchewan Senior League right now.”  The Buffaloes didn’t win that tournament, finishing third. But they did win a number of other tournaments and important exhibition games, including another Broadview Sports Day Tournament on June 16 by thumping the Northgate Yankees  12-4

Eight days later, they won a 16-team tournament in Watson, Saskatchewan by defeating the hometown team 2-0. Then they won the Dominion Day tournament in 
nearby NorquayThat summer, the Buffaloes beat the powerful Grover Cleveland Alexander House of David team twice. And the minor-league San Antonio Missions and the colored House of David squads once each.  By this time, a strange thing was beginning to materialize. Broadview became too good of a team and the fans stopped coming out. 

 the 4-team Southern League play finished on July 31, the Buffaloes won another pennant finishing 16-5, while the closest team to them was the Regina Senators at 9-9. After the bad blood from the year before, Broadview decided to bow out of the 1938 playoff picture and continued on the tournament and exhibition route into August, before calling it a seasonAfter three impressive years, two of those in the Southern league, the Broadview Buffaloes disbanded. Their run was over.

Several of the white 
players left to join other prairie teams. Most of the blacks returned to the Negro Leagues. Lionel Decuir caught for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1939-40, where Satchel Paige was a teammate.  In 1942, Sonny Harris found his way to the Cincinnati Buckeyes, which moved mid-season to ClevelandHis teammate, Gene Bremerwas the most successful of the Buffaloes imports. Born in 1915 in New Orleans, Bremer was not a big man at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, but he could throw hard, using a zero windup and a fastball that may have hit the low 90s

Then tragedy struck 
Bremer in late-1942, when he suffered a fractured skull in a car accident that killed two of his Cleveland Buckeyes teammates. Taking a year off from baseball in 1943 to recover, Bremer came back and still pitched wellHe was a 4-time Negro League All-Star in the years 1940, 1942, 1944, and 1945, which meant he appeared in 4 East-West All-Star Games, the black equivalent to the Major League All-Star Game. The games were held in Chicago, usually before big crowds that 50,000 enthusiastic fans on more than one occasion. Bremer was talented enough to play with and against such mega stars in these games as Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, Roy Campanella, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Sam Jethroe, Ray Dandridge and Double Duty Radcliffe. 

As part of 
what may have been the first fully-integrated team in Canada in the mid-1930s, he was set to perform the feat again a decade later when a war-time rumor was making the rounds…Bremer and two teammates, Parnell Woods and Sam Jethroe, were going to sign with the American League Cleveland Indians. Butit never happened. Otherwise, Bremer might have been a two-time trail blazer on both sides of the border, an accomplishment beyond anyone’s comprehension. Bremer retired as a Buckeye in 1948. He died  in 1971 at the age of 54, while a Cleveland resident

My father sparked something insi
de me that day in 1975. Ever since, I’ve been hooked on the Broadview Buffaloes.  Were they really the first fully-integrated baseball team in Canada? Many people, including myself, seem to think so. But I do have an open mind. I’d like to hear from anybody who has information otherwise.