Monday, May 9, 2022

Dr. Ronald J. MacDonald

Marathoner – World Record Holder – Physician

Ronald J. MacDonald was born on September 19, 1874 in Frasers Grant, Antigonish County, NS, the son of Lauchlin “Drover” and Elizabeth MacDonald. Lauchlin earned the nickname “Drover” by driving cattle and transporting them via schooner to Newfoundland, during which he would supervise the trip., On one such occasion in 1888, the schooner Mary Ellen was lost during a vicious storm, and all hands were lost. Elizabeth MacDonald, with five children in tow, moved to Massachusetts after her husband’s death.

Ronald MacDonald was 14 years old at that time of the family’s move to Massachusetts. Eventually, he became a linesman with the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. On his time off, he began running at a local gym. It seems he was a natural. An interesting story circulated around Antigonish during his summer visits to his old home. There, he got plenty of experience running after the cattle on the family farm. People would remark, “What a great doctor he will be. He would just grab his bad and set off on the run. He would be hallway there before a horse could be hitched up.”

Ronnie certainly had a gift. When he was 18 years old and still living in Boston, he ran against an American runner who held the United States mile record. Ronnie beat him.

After that race, Ronnie began to train seriously, both on the track and in the gym. In 1897, at the age of 23, he won the seven mile United States Cross Country Championship. In 1898, he set a new World Record for the eleven mile cross country race. He then set his sights on the Boston Marathon.

At that time, the Boston marathon was in an embryonic stage. The story of the Greeks defeating the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC and the legendary 40 km trek made by Philippides had inspired the inclusion of a marathon in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, and people Boston became interested in establishing a tradition there.

With a new World Record to his credit, Ronnie MacDonald signed up for the second running of the Boston Marathon in 1898. During the race, he was behind eight runners by 2.5 miles, with 10 miles left in the race. He surged past all eight of them and won the race, shaving 13 minutes off the first marathon time, a new World Record. The Boston Globe proclaimed Ronnie to be “The champion Marathon Road Racer of the world.”

In the Antigonish Highland Games of 1899, MacDonald ran a two mile exhibition run, in which he ran against a fresh runner every quarter of a mile, or 440 yards. The poster advertising the event proclaimed, “All patriotic Nova Scotians would avail themselves of the only change of witnessing the performance of the world's strongest and fastest runner.” Not surprisingly, Ronnie won, fresh runners notwithstanding.

In the fall of 1899, Ronnie enrolled in pre-medical studies at Boston College, though he continued to run. In 1900, he once again signed up for the Boston Marathon, but there would be no first-place finish for him this time around. At that time, betting on races was permitted, and large amounts of money would sometimes change hands. Ronnie was running very well until a passerby handed him a sponge to help him cool off and rehydrate. Though he was leading the race, he eventually had to stop, and was unable to finish the race. It turned out that the sponge was laced with chloroform. Betting can make people to terrible things.

That same year, MacDonald was selected as a member of the US Team for the Paris Olympics. He therefore became the first Nova Scotian ever to compete in the Olympic Games. On a blistering hot day, he was comfortably in the lead near the finish line when he stumbled across four French racers, looking fresh as daisies. Apparently some patriotic Parisian taxi driver had picked them up and drove through the back streets before dropping them off near the finishing line. Once again, MacDonald was beaten by monsters; betting had robbed him of his victory.

In 1901, Ronnie returned to Antigonish and continued his pre-med studies at St. FX College. In the summer of 1902, he set a Canadian record in the five mile race at the Antigonish Highland Games. In the next two years, he broke the Canadian two and five miles records, and set a new World Record for the mile run.

Ronald J. MacDonald graduated from StFX in 1907 and was accepted to Tufts University in Boston. He did postgraduate work at Harvard and became a Physician, before moving to Newfoundland to become a rural doctor in St. Georges. He practiced there for 27 years.

Always a Nova Scotian at heart, MacDonald returned every summer to Antigonish and competed in the Highland Games. In 1938, he finally came home, establishing a practice in Heatherton. His last public appearance was as a starter at the track meet at the Highland Games. 

Once proclaimed the champion road racer of the world, MacDonald died on September 3, 1947. He is buried in the Immaculate Conception cemetery in Heatherton.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Bernie Chisholm: Cross Country Coach 1969 - 2018

January 29, 1948 was a special day for Archie and Josie (Decoffe) Chisholm as they welcomed their son Bernard St John Chisholm into the world. He, his two sisters Liz and Bernice and his brother Archie were raised on the family farm nestled on South River Road, Antigonish. 

Bernie was born to run and spent his youth road racing the country roads of Antigonish County where his accomplishments were soon noticed by The one and only, Frank McGibbon. Bernie began to work with Frank and spent many mornings, afternoons and weekends honing and perfecting his skills which inevitably led him to coach Frank's beloved running club in 1969. Here, he remained until 1973.

Hundreds of track meets, dozens of venues, thousands of athletes and fans ultimately led to a chance encounter with a young Highland dancer named Brenda McAdam. Sparks flew,  the relationship soon turned into marriage and they set about creating their own cross country team consisting of four boys                                                                 Mark, David, Brent and Doug. 

Having graduated from Antigonish High School and obtaining his BA and BED at St. FX, Bernie joined the coaching staff at Dr. John Hugh Gillis school where he led the cross country teams to 49 provincial titles between 1973 and 2004. In 1986, while still coaching at the high school level, Bernie began coaching both the men’s and women’s cross country teams at St. FX where he remained until handing the reins to one of his greatest protégés, Eric Gillis in 2018.

Bernie's tenure at St FX garnered many accolades as the teams were elevated from club to varsity status and subsequently produced 17 AUS Banners, eight women’s team titles and nine men's titles. All tolled, athletes under his leadership have won over 70 AUS gold medals, 15 AUS titles and  numerous Academic All Canadian accolades. All these accomplishments before we even begin to  mention his coaching of Olympian Eric Gillis, Commonwealth games runner Robyn Meagher, CIS champion Lavinia Gough, All Canadians Michelle Chisholm and Leanne MacLean and two time Canada Games runner, John MacLellan.

Bernie's contribution over the years is undeniable and is further demonstrated by his induction into both The Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and The St. FX Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

                                                                            Photo:  Lavinia (Gough) Carrieau, Bernie Chisholm, Eric Gillis

Submitted by Bill Kiely

Friday, February 28, 2020

Ronnie "Miller" MacDonald: Mr Softball

If you ask anyone in Antigonish involved in softball down through the years about, "Who was the most significant person in that sport?", you will probably always get the response, "Ronnie Miller".

That response is based on a lot of factual information starting in 1935 when Ronald Angus MacDonald was born.  His parents Stephen and Marcella MacDonald lived on MacDonald Road in Doctor's Brook and raised a family of eight boys and three girls.  These were the days when Ronnie and his siblings walked about three miles to Malignant Cove to a one room schoolhouse where the teacher was responsible for grades one to eleven.

The MacDonald family was known then and still now as the "millers" because an ancestor had at one time operated a grist mill in the community.  It also identified the family from the other MacDonald families in the area.

Ronnie's first softball team was the Arisaig Fencebusters.  He played many positions on the team, but his real love was pitching.  In those days only the catcher and the first baseman wore gloves.  It was also a time when games were nine innings, not the seven now played.  Many small communities in Antigonish County had teams and built ball fields to watch the local boys play.  Arisaig was playing in the County League, which also included teams from Lismore, North Grant, St Andrews, Heatherton, Georgeville and James River.

Ronnie was a left handed conventional pitcher, which meant he did not use the whip windup which became the dominant style by pitchers in later years.  He stayed with that style during his career and while he did't generate as much speed, he felt it gave him more control.  Many teams from Antigonish and Guysborough Counties had difficulty with that pitch for many years.

Ronnie's first significant award was when in 1958 he pitched for the Antigonish Red Raiders which won the Maritime Intermediate A championship.  That same team came back in 1963 to repeat the same title.

Ronnie continued playing until 1977 when he turned his skills to coaching young men of midget and junior age.  In 1984 as coach of the Robertson Midgets and with the help of Hughie Smith, his longtime catcher as assistant coach they made a decision to play in the AGR league against senior men.  That decision helped them prepare for and win the Nova Scotia Midget championship tournament played in Halifax against eight teams from across the country.  Robertson's Midgets played Quebec in the final game of the tournament and won 4 to 2 behind the solid pitching of Ronnie's son David who was named the Most Valuable player of the tournament.  Truly a proud moment for the "Miller" family.

In 2005 Ronnie and his Robertson's Midgets were inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame along with assistant coach Hughie Smith and team manager Donald R MacDonald.

After his success with the midget team, Ronnie then moved up to coach many of the same players as juniors and in 1987 his Central Supplies Juniors as Nova Scotia champions represented the Province at the Canadian National Junior Championship in British Columbia.  They made the playoffs but not the finals.

In addition to playing and coaching, Ronnie was also involved as a softball umpire.  He did that for many years in Antigonish and Guysborough Counties as well as working senior games in other parts of the province.  He also took up TV broadcasting when he hosted a show called Cavalcade of Sports on the local cable station.  He interviewed sports personalities from the local area.

Ronnie worked for many years at the Antigonish 5 to $1.00 store and later for the Department of Transportation.  He married Joan DeCoste and they raised their two children David and Colleen.

In 2004 Ronnie was recognized for his contribution to softball in Nova Scotia when he was inducted into the Softball Nova Scotia Hall of Fame.

When he looks back on his career as a player, coach and umpire Ronnie can point to many highlights but he says that his best recollection is the National win at the head of Robertson's Midgets.  He and Hughie Smith took a team from the small community of Antigonish and beat the best midget teams in Canada.

Ronnie's contribution to softball in Antigonish down through the years should easily earn him the title of "Mr Softball".

1958 Antigonish Red Raiders.  Members of the team include Back L -R:  Colin MacDonald (Coach, James River), Dave Fleiger, (New Brunswick);  Ronnie Miller Macdonald,(Doctor's Brook); Hugh Smith (McArra's Brook), Bill "Co-Op" MacPherson (Antigonish), Tommy Rogers (Heatherton).   Front L - R:  Sandy Murphy (Ohio); Geno Scattalon, (Dominion CB &St FX); Curtis DeCoste, (Mulgrave);  Alan Murphy (Ohio); Ricky MacDonald (Malignant Cove).   Batboy:  Duncan Chisholm. Missing from photo:  Billy Gillis, (Lanark),  Donnie MacDonald (Heatherton, Ag. Rep).

Submitted by Douglas L. MacLellan                                                                                                         

Friday, February 14, 2020

Gail MacDougall: A True Builder

Gail MacDougall has been a life-long resident of “The Heights” in Antigonish.  The daughter of John James and Mary (Duggan) MacDougall, she grew up in a large family of six sisters and one brother.  Highland dance and braids were part of the routine in the MacDougall household. Her life-long love of sports stems from watching hockey, especially the Maple Leafs, with her father.

Below:  MacDougall sisters  Patricia, Gail and Rita Lynn at 1967 Highland Games

This love of “watching the game” propelled her into a 40-year career with The Casket, as the “Voice of Sporting News” in Eastern Nova Scotia.  Everyone knew her, sitting on the sidelines, the accomplished journalist and sports photographer was a consummate supporter.  She delighted in the wins and lamented the losses.

Gail played softball with Kell’s Angels, but influences would take her sports career in a different direction. She had a great appreciation and respect for "Ray Mac" MacDonald, coach of the Kell's Angels.  Gail decided she would like to try coaching basketball, she felt she would like to concentrate on that particular game.  Her mentors over the years were Steve Konchalski, Anne McGrath, Tilly Walsh, Mabel Arsenault and Donna MacEachern, who encouraged her involvement, and love for basketball.

Gail’s career as Head Coach spanned 38 years of girls’ basketball with Dr. John Hugh Gillis High School. Three Provincial titles were achieved in 1984, 1986 and 1990; with an impressive record of 905 wins, 440 losses.  Besides coaching at the provincial level, Gail twice coached the Nova Scotia Canada Games team.   As a registered softball umpire, she has received numerous awards for her contribution to this discipline.  Not to be overlooked, has been her ongoing support of all sports at St F X University.  In 2017  Gail MacDougall was inducted into the St F X Sports Hall of Fame for her backing and publicity provided to University sports teams.

As a coach and mentor, she instilled respect and integrity in her players.  Seeing the girls stick with the program, play hard and enjoy representing their school provided a source of pride.  Gail would like to be remembered for "working hard at the game".  She recalls  "Often it was not easy, but I have great memories of wonderful student athletes who represented our school, and our community and always gave everything they had; and left it all on the court.”

Wendy Langley,  former high school player for Gail stated, 'It is fair to say, that when Gail MacDougall steps into the gym, players, opponents, coaches and officials know to bring their A- game; she would accept no less from any of them.  It is this type of respect that has elevated the game of basketball in Antigonish, and in the province of Nova Scotia.  If only every community and every sport were so lucky to have a “GAIL”in their midst!  Gail MacDougall a true builder.

* Sport Nova Scotia Service Award – outstanding volunteer effort (1991)
* Antigonish Junior Bulldogs – A Better Place to Live Award (1991)
* Nova Scotia School Athletic Association Outstanding Service Award (1991)
* Town of Antigonish Certificate of Appreciation (2001)
* Dr J H Gillis Development of Female Athletes Award (2005)
* Frank Baldwin Winner – Basketball Nova Scotia (2005)
* Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation Media Award (1991)
* AUS Media Award (2011/12), nominee for CIS Fred Sgambati Media Award
* St FX Athletics X-ceptional Award (2012)
* Dorothy Walker Distinguished Service Award (2009)
* Nova Scotia Women’s Trendsetter Media Award (2017)
* St FX Sports Hall of Fame (2017)

Submitted by Liz Chisholm

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Frank McGibbon, The Man for All Seasons

Frank was raised in Cloverville, the son of John and Laura McGibbon.  It is there, in the open fields and upon the frozen lakes that he developed a lifelong love of athletics and the great outdoors.  As a teenager, Frank quickly mastered any sport he attempted garnering him local fame and recognition as a great natural athlete.  Hockey, baseball, English rugby, softball and bowling came as naturally to him as breathing but, his first love and greatest contribution was to track and field.

It is most befitting that we should start this series with a man of great foresight and vision.  A man who saw the potential in an overgrown hayfield along the banks of the river at the east end of town.  Today this area is known as Columbus Field.  Complete with tennis courts, ball diamonds, walking trails and home to the annual Antigonish Highland Games.  This venue likely would not exist today if not for the contributions of Frank McGibbon.  As testament to this, the lane way adjacent to the field has been named in his honour.

Frank came back to Antigonish in 1947 to become the town's first ever Recreation Director and set the standard for those who followed.  He came to be known as 'Mr Antigonish Sports' for his dedication to the development of our youth, athletics in general and his beloved Columbus Field.  Throughout the 1950s through 1978 Frank was a fixture at Columbus Field where he could be found tending to the track, coaching the kids or reading up on the latest techniques for developing athletes.  He was the first in the area to study footage of world class athletes and employ this as a coaching tool for his many young proteges.  He also developed and implemented year round training for athletes to better prepare them for the world stage.  Common practice today but, way ahead of times in his era.

Although Frank never had children of his own, generations of people throughout the county looked up to him as a father figure in their lives.  Honest, steadfast and with a strong moral compass, Frank aspired to lead these young minds, molding them into the strong adults and citizens of today.  He was known to patrol Main Street after dark to ensure his young athletes were not breaking curfew the night before games and track events.  He believed strongly in athletics as a tool to sculpt self discipline and control.  He wanted to harness the potential from each and every young person he met.  Strong mind, strong will, strong body was his mantra.

The development and maintenance of Columbus Field in the early days was not an easy feat.  There were no ride on mowers, John Deere tractors or fleet of service personnel.  There was Frank and there were his students!  Under his tutelage, these teenagers spent many Saturday mornings raking, digging, scraping and mowing that would come to be known as the best track and field venue and the envy  of athletes and coaches alike throughout the Maritimes.  He never shared his secret formula for keeping the track in such a state of perfection but, some of his former students might know.  What they do know for certain was that Frank was a great man who has had a positive and lasting impact on their lives.

Left: Alex MacAdam Right: Frank McGibbon at Columbus Field

Frank was a humble man who was not in it for the fame or accolades.  He was in it for the kids and his love of sports.  This of course did not stop the awards from coming as he was inducted into The Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame  in 1980 and presented with a special award from the Nova Scotia Track and Field Association for his thirty plus years of contributions.

by Karen Brow