Up the Gatineau! Articles
The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 46.
Baseball Heroes at the Cascades Club
Adrienne Herron and RJ Hughes
In early 2019, Ottawan Bob Jones visited the Gatineau Valley Historical Society (GVHS) Pat Evans Archives to do some family research. While waiting in the Chelsea Library for the archives to open, he made a startling find: there on the wall was a photo of his father, Leo Jones, and his father’s brother, Art Jones, at the ages of 16 and 20—photos he had never seen before. They were in a photographic montage of players and officials from an early 1920s Cascades Club championship baseball team, a recreational club in Chelsea (then known as West Hull).
Bob’s chance encounter with this picture kicked off months of digging into its background with two GVHS members, who contributed the following article. Adrienne Herron is an experienced photo editor and founder of the GVHS Image Bank. RJ Hughes is well-known as the local historian of Cascades.
Much of the history of early baseball at the Cascades Club comes from the recollections of Chelsea resident Ron Grant (1909–2005), whom RJ interviewed in the late 1990s. In his early years, Ron lived in Ottawa and travelled by train to the Cascades area with fellow employees from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of Canada. Many would stay at nearby cottages rented out by enterprising locals, or at the popular four-storey, 30-room Peerless Hotel near the Gatineau River, owned by Samuel and Alice (Cross) Wilson. Some ended up buying their own cottage properties.
The newly established Cascades Club of the early 1920s offered its members an abundance of recreational choices, including tennis, swimming, boating, fishing, and berry-picking on the nearby hills. Baseball was one of its most popular activities. The Cascades Club had two hardball teams, a women’s and a men’s, and interest in the sport likely peaked when the Cascades men’s ball team won the league championship in 1922 and 1923. At that time the league comprised four teams: Alcove, Wakefield, Cascades and Kirk’s Ferry. The Cascades team was awarded two trophies, both shown in the montage. One of those was the Jack Hill trophy, which moved each year to the winning team in the league.
Starting in the 1930s, the softball version of baseball was also played, in the field across from the Tip Top Inn. Following World War II, a new softball diamond was built in front of the clubhouse.
The club must have been proud of its baseball heroes. Certainly, it was proud enough to engage Pittaway’s Photo Studio on Bank Street, one of Ottawa’s finest photographers of the day, to create a huge (30 inches by 40 inches) tribute to the team. The Pittaway studio took the individual photographs of the players and team officials, but likely employed an artist to paint the crest, assemble the images, and draw the lines around each image. It would have taken days, or even weeks, to plan the layout, photograph the individuals, develop the film, print and trim each image, paint the crest, print the names, and glue the pictures to the substrate. The final product was protected with a glass cover and framed in dark-brown solid oak.
When it was ready, the montage travelled by train from Ottawa’s Union Station to be picked up at the Cascades railway station. No doubt there was a grand party to celebrate its arrival at the Cascades clubhouse.
The summer of 1926 was the last summer for the first Cascades clubhouse. In 1927, when its waterfront property was expropriated and subsequently flooded for the Chelsea dam reservoir, the clubhouse was dragged up to higher ground and became the dining hall for the Gatineau Boom Company. The montage, the Spalding trophy, a piano and other club possessions were loaded onto a wagon (or perhaps a sleigh if in winter) for a bumpy trip of a few kilometres to the far end of Cowden Road in the Meech Creek Valley. There, the club possessions were stored in Albert Cowden’s (1870–1948) farm shed.
In 1935, the new Cascades clubhouse was built above its former site, atop a large granite outcrop and across the road from the Wilsons’ Tip Top Inn. The baseball picture and trophy travelled the road back from Cowden’s shed. The montage was hung over a new piano, with the winners’ trophy atop the piano. The old piano had not survived its long storage out in the shed, and perhaps dampness or a leaky roof there may also account for some of the water damage later found on the montage.
In the years following, the baseball montage stood guard over club celebrations, receptions and dances. At that time, the clubhouse was unheated and closed in the winter. When a squash court was added in 1978–79, the building was finally winterized.
We picked up the montage’s tale again in the 1980s. (Unfortunately, sometime during that decade, the trophy disappeared—a mystery that may never be solved.) In 1987, Cathy Grant, the daughter of long-time member Ron Grant, became the club president. At the beginning of her two-year tenure, she requested a cleanup of the club basement. Before everything was put out for garbage pickup, she browsed the various stacks of discards, and recalls her dismay when she spotted the baseball montage in a pile of junk. Its frame had come apart at one corner, it was mouldy, and the glass cover was broken. Luckily, Cathy recognized its historical value to the club and salvaged it. Her father generously absorbed the $250 reframing cost, and it was soon returned to its place of honour in the clubhouse.
It was several decades later, in spring 2019, that family researcher Bob Jones entered the story. Bob was surprised when he saw the montage with his family members in it, because his sports-minded father had never told him about playing baseball in his youth. Bob was also confused. The name written under what was clearly his Uncle Art’s photograph was “J. A. Breen.” Similarly, he observed that the photo of another player (presumably J. A. Breen) bore his uncle’s name. Bob was able to confirm that the players’ photos had been switched by consulting with his cousin, Lawrie Jones, the son of Art Jones.
As we puzzled about this mystery, the story took a new twist. In August that same year, Cathy Grant was at the former Lynx Stadium in Ottawa (now the Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park). Hanging in the stadium lounge was a black and white photographic copy of the very same Cascades Club montage, which she photographed and shared with us. On closer examination, Bob Jones noted a key difference between the copy in the stadium and the original montage at the Cascades Club—in the stadium’s copy the two ball players were correctly identified. In spite of our preliminary reluctance to accept Bob Jones’ assertion about the naming error, we finally accepted that a switch of photos had somehow occurred in the original montage.
A photograph of the interior of the Cascades Club, taken in 1985 at the 50th anniversary of the second clubhouse, shows the montage with the two misidentified players, so we know this switch was made earlier. When and how did this happen? There is evidence that the photos had been lifted, switched and re-glued. The bottom left corners of these two pictures are the only ones that are cracked and curled, indicating they had been lifted by these corners. One has what appears to be dried glue carelessly smeared at the top of the image. Furthermore, both images are slightly askew or crookedly placed, with the outline of the location of the original image visible on one side. Was this switching intended to be a practical joke, or was it simply an error? We’ll never know for sure.
Bob Jones was able to determine that the stadium copy was one of two held by the City of Ottawa Archives, both donated by Mrs. Naomi Nicholson in 1979. She is the daughter of the baseball captain, Cam Johnston, who features prominently at the centre of the work. Both of the City Archives’ copies are black and white (compared with the original, which has hand-painted colour elements, such as the central crest). We speculated that the photographed copies were made to sell to team players and officials before the original was framed and sent by Pittaway’s to the Cascades Club. So far, no other copies have turned up.
Today, the montage shows wear and tear. The cardboard substrate is brittle. It has some discoloration, a broken corner, chipped edges, holes, cracks, tears, and what appears to be water damage at the lower edge. For its digital preservation, we removed the original work from the frame and photographed it, as is. We also scanned the montage in a lengthy process that involved 40 separate scans, because of the limitations of our small archives scanner. We then painstakingly reassembled the scans to create one massive digital image. We refinished the frame, cleaned the glass cover, and put everything back together. The backing of the montage was replaced with an acid-free material, and all was resealed with a protective paper cover glued to the back of the frame.
Our onetime baseball heroes are now hanging again in the clubhouse on River Road in Chelsea, safely back home in time for the Cascades Club’s 100th anniversary celebrations in 2020.
The authors thank Bob Jones for bringing this story to the attention of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, and for his tenacious research and fact checking.
The Cascades Club baseball montage is available for purchase in its newly restored digital format in two versions: the original hanging in the clubhouse or the one with the corrected player placement. Contact Adrienne Herron at email@example.com.