People who live within sight and sound of the Mount Allison campus can note the passing seasons even without a calendar. The comparative silence of late spring and summer comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of each new freshman class. This event is followed soon after by the first football game of the season, and the next and the next… Was autumn in Sackville always so?
To find out, I spent a fascinating afternoon interviewing Mount Allison’s Mr Football, David MacAulay — the man for whom MacAulay Field is so appropriately named. Following a quick review of last year’s football season and prospects for a possible
crack at the Vanier Cup in 1998, we got down to business.
To be frank, I steered our conversation to football games of seasons past; to the glory days of English Rugby, when Mount Allison teams competed annually for Maritime championships. I was not to be disappointed, as David was happy to reminisce about football experiences dating from his student days as manager of the varsity team.
Since David is a native Cape Bretoner, we started with a memorable exhibition game in Glace Bay between Mount Allison and the renowned Caledonia Rugby team. On the morning of the game Dave made arrangements for the Mounties to tour a coal mine. Little did they realize that the burly miners they met underground would be their opponents on the field that afternoon! David summarized the experience:
The boys learned a lot of football — the score was Caledonia 14, Mt.A 0.
With detail and precision he then went on to recall highlights of the sport at Mount Allison in the early 1930s. I learned, very quickly, that Rugby Football was once a major inter-collegiate sport. Not only was there intense rivalry;
bad blood even, between institutions, special trains were required to take student fans to the
away games in Halifax, Truro, Wolfville, Antigonish and Fredericton.
Rival supporters also arrived in Sackville by special train, and would parade through town to the playing field. Should readers have remembrances associated with these famous football train trips, I would be glad to hear from you. Dave revealed just enough to make me curious. If necessary, confidentiality can be guaranteed!
He also mentioned that by 1933 varsity teams started travelling by automobile. It must be remembered that in the early thirties, paved roads were the exception and secondary roads could become impassible following a heavy rain. Such were the conditions as the Mount Allison team left early on an October Thursday, for a game against UNB.
Enroute to Fredericton, it was unwisely decided to take a shortcut. David recalled:
Somewhere near Salisbury, disaster came upon us. For many
trying hours the cars were literally
stranded in the mud. Local people took pity on the players and they were billeted overnight in nearby farm homes. He concluded:
We enjoyed the hospitality and food; but that was about all.
Although the Saint John newspapers headlined the escapade
LOST — ONE MOUNT ALLISON FOOTBALL TEAM the players did reach Fredericton in time for the game on Saturday afternoon. It resulted in a scoreless tie; which caused the Argosy reporter to write:
If not in the lead, at least we were on even terms with our old rivals.
Redemption came the following week when a second game was played in Sackville; ending in a 9-3 score in favor of Mt. A. With this win, came the New Brunswick championship and a chance to play against the Acadia Axemen, Nova Scotia champions.
The game with Acadia was scheduled for the Halifax Wanderer’s Grounds
in mud and water ankle deep. It also ended in a scoreless tie. A deciding game was played the following day
on neutral snow-covered turf in Truro. David described the conclusion of the game as follows:
With two minutes remaining and the score Acadia 6, Mt A 3; a scrum was called near the Acadia goal posts. Our player, Bob Brodie, booted a drop kick over the bar for four points! We’d won the Maritime championship!
Years later, David met Fred Kelly, Acadia’s legendary rugby coach. Inevitably the conversation turned to November 20th, 1933 and the game just described. As David recalled their meeting:
The always unemotional Coach Kelly was seen to shed a tear. Of such were the football legends of yesterday!