Ranil Mendis was doing some research for a grant application when he came across a little known fact: Canada’s first official sport wasn’t lacrosse or hockey but cricket, proclaimed by no less than Prime Minister John A. Macdonald in 1867.
Not only that, but Anglicans were among the best cricketers of the time. Two clergymen in particular stood out. In 1889, the Rev. F. W. Terry, playing for Canada against the United States, set an individual score of 111, a record that stood until 1963. There is also the story of the Rev. T. D. Phillips, who captained the Canadian team during a tour of England in 1880. He replaced the original captain, who was arrested for being a British Army deserter.
The earliest recorded match between Anglican churches in the diocese involved St. James Cathedral and St. Matthias, Bellwoods, held in Toronto on July 20, 1889. The cathedral team won by 21 runs.
Mr. Mendis, a member of St. Thomas a Becket, Erin Mills South, Mississauga, says that while cricket lost its prominence in Canada soon after Confederation, it never really died out. In fact, he says, the sport is making a comeback due to generations of immigrants who played it in their native country, often in the former British Empire.
Even cricket among Anglican churches in the diocese is experiencing a resurgence. Last summer, Mr. Mendis and a handful of other enthusiasts organized weekly cricket practices at the church and a one-day event dubbed the “Mississauga Church Cricket Day.” Despite the threat of rain and thunderstorms, about 30 people turned out, setting up wickets and playing a friendly match.
It was so successful that the organizers are planning a similar event on July 22 in Mississauga. So far, teams from four Anglican churches have signed up to play – St. Thomas a Beckett, St. Peter, Erindale, Christ Church, Brampton and Holy Family, Heart Lake, Brampton. Mr. Mendis says that anyone can play, even people who have never tried the sport. “It’s a great way to have fun and bring our congregations together,” he says.
Mr. Mendis, who came from Sri Lanka when he was 30 and lives in Brampton, devotes much of his free time to promoting cricket in high schools in the Greater Toronto Area. He’s a volunteer with CIMA, a charitable organization that provides school boards with funds, equipment and training for teachers.
This summer, the group plans to bring students from across Ontario to Brampton for five days of cricket matches and cultural celebrations. “It’s a way of celebrating the culture of Canada – cricket’s relevance to the past and also to the present and future,” he says.
He says the school boards have been very receptive to CIMA’s support. “You find that most of the kids who want to play cricket are either new to Canada or they’ve played somewhere else, and they’ve never had the chance to get involved here in the game they love.”
CIMA sends 12 high school cricketers from Ontario overseas every year for a two-week tour. Last year, a team went to Sri Lanka. This year, a group will be going to Trinidad.
For Mr. Mendis, a life-long cricketer, it’s very rewarding to help young people play the sport. “As I get closer to my retirement, I thought it was time to give something back to the community and do something that the kids would enjoy,” he says.