Lawn Bowling Balls
Organization: Westmount Historical Association
Address: P.O. Box 198 Victoria Station Westmount Quebec H3Z 2Y6
Contact: Doreen Lindsay, info(a)westmounthistorical.org
Description: Lawn bowling balls used by the Westmount Lawn Bowling Club.
Year made: circa 1900
Made by: Jaques & Son
Materials/Medium: Lignum vitae and ivory
Colours: Dark brown
Provenance: London, England
Size: 12.7 cm diameter
Photos: Courtesy Westmount Historical Association
Westmount Lawn Bowling Balls
Sandra Stock and Doreen Lindsay
The Westmount Lawn Bowling Club, established in 1902, is the oldest Scottish tradition outdoor bowling organization in Quebec. It is prominently located between Sherbrooke Street West and Côte St. Antoine Road, near Westmount City Hall. This sport is quite indicative of the heritage of the Westmount community, and is represented here by antique balls that have been donated to the Westmount Historical Association.
This club has existed for over 100 years and has always been important to the community. When, by 1996, the original clubhouse had deteriorated beyond repair, the City of Westmount, which had owned it for several years, demolished it and built a replica on the site. This also served to disguise a much needed electrical sub-station installed beneath it. The clubhouse is one storied, vaguely Arts and Crafts in appearance and has a verandah.
The lawn bowling balls measure 12.7 centimetres around the widest circumference and were made to fit easily into a player's hand. These balls were manufactured by Jaques & Son of London (England), a company founded in 1795. The balls were often made for individual players. One of the balls for example has the initials "A F" inset in ivory on one end and the number 3 on the other. The balls were traditionally wooden – made of a durable wood called Lignum vitae – but recently balls have been made of melamine. Contemporary balls still may have individual markings to distinguish them, such as a flower or an animal.
Lawn bowling, as we now call this outdoor sport, has a very ancient provenance, and is one of the oldest recorded global games. The variety found in Westmount, and in English-speaking communities throughout Canada, descends directly from Britain and most likely came to the British Isles during the era of the Roman Empire. Ancient Greeks are recorded as playing outdoor bowls six centuries BCE. The other two well known “cousins” of our British lawn bowls are the Italian bocce, also played in Montreal among Italian Canadians, and pétanque, outdoor bowls originating from the south of France. Among French-speaking local players, lawn bowling is often referred to as boulingrin, perhaps from the English “bowling green!” Pétanque originates from Occitan – the old language of the French Midi in southern France, which is more akin to Catalan than standard French. It translates as “feet anchored” as one stays still when throwing the balls.
By the turn of the 20th century, Montreal's English-speaking merchant and professional class had been moving westward from the old “Golden Square Mile” downtown to the slopes of Mount Royal's smaller peak, Westmount. A change of municipal name from Côte St. Antoine to Westmount in 1895 reflected this influx of English speakers, at that time overwhelmingly of British, mainly Scots, origin. Many immigrants from Britain also came directly to live in Westmount. This is why so many of the cultural and recreational activities are still very British.
When the club was established in 1905, it was exclusively male and a ladies' section was not created until 1935. Women were given separate times to play and even had a separate end of the clubhouse. The men's and women's sections did not merge until 1989. There was a definite dress code for playing lawn bowls in Westmount – quite formal to begin with. Even recently, mainly whites were worn head to toe, and usually straw boaters or at least white summer sunhats. These groups of people in white and hats is what everyone sees who passes along Sherbrooke Street in the summer. As an accessible outdoor sport, lawn bowling is for all ages and most levels of fitness. As president of the Westmount Historical Association Doreen Lindsay says, “This lawn bowling ball symbolizes a sport that develops comradeship, sportsmanship and generous rivalry...Lawn bowling is a long-standing tradition in Westmount.”
The interests and traditions of our countries of ancestral origin often linger on generations after the initial emigration to Canada. This is very apparent with the symbolic bowling balls of Westmount.
Doreen Lindsay, President of the Westmount Historical Association has provided detailed information about the bowling balls and their significance to Westmount's local heritage.
Lawn Bowling, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowls
Sandra Stock is a Montreal writer and researcher. Doreen Lindsay is the president of the Westmount Historical Association. She coordinates an annual lecture series about the City of Westmount and writes and edits the historical association's bi-annual newsletter.