BATTLEFORD — Dave Shury loved history; that was a fact. He was an author, historian and lawyer, but Shury also had an undeniable passion for baseball. He loved it. Shury spent decades of his life engaged in baseball-centred research, all for free.
Saskatchewan’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum owes its creation primarily to Dave Shury. And his wife, Jane’s, continuance of its operations is rooted in a passion for the sport.
“It didn’t matter if it was here, or Timbuktu, or New York, baseball, that was it,” Jane Shury said, speaking on her late husband’s passion for the museum that he founded.
Saskatchewan is a hotbed for baseball, and it’s been that way for over 100 years, Shury says. The Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 1983 to preserve the history of baseball in the province while also exploring its depth and richness in the Battlefords.
“The purpose is to collect memorabilia of our very, very rich baseball history,” Shury said, adding that “the second reason is to honour those who provided history. That’s why we have the induction.”
Shury added that people come to see their uncle, grandpa or great-grandpa.
Saskatchewan’s love of baseball began in the 1800s when Battleford was the capital of the North-West Territories. The first recorded baseball game in Western Canada was played in Battleford on the grounds of Fort Battleford on May 31, 1879. The game took place between the North West Mounted Police and the townspeople. The winner of that infamous game is still unknown.
In 2004, when Battleford celebrated its 100th year, the town of Battleford hosted a replay with original costumes and rules from over 140 years ago.
When asked about the game, Shury said she’d never forget it.
“When I went back to my car, there was something stuck on my aerial. It was a little angel, and it had a baseball. To this day, I’ve never found out who put it there. It’s hanging in my car.”
Saskatchewan’s love of baseball continued into the 1900s, with easy accessibility as the main reason for its prevalence.
“Baseball was something anyone could play. It didn’t cost money to make a diamond, whether it was in a town, city or a farmyard,” Shury said, adding that everyone could participate in a baseball game at any time.
In the 1950s, the sport became significantly more organized with the creation of Canadian and Saskatchewan baseball associations.
“Little by little, towns started playing together — sports days, tournaments, and the fair in Saskatoon. At the fair, the biggest thing for decades was what? The baseball tournament. This brought in all kinds of teams and people,” Shury said.
Soon, barnstorming began. Barnstorming is described as teams gathering together and travelling to neighbouring towns seeking a game over the course of days.
“Back in those days, they wouldn’t have the transportation or the communication.”
Shury recalls a time when Satchel Paige and several other African-American baseball players came to Saskatchewan on tour and barnstormed up to North Battleford.
“It was a Sunday afternoon, and we’d had a regular game at the park in North Battleford. Satchel Paige and his all-stars came, and they wanted to find some baseball players for a game. So, they were put into the hotels, and they were put into the restaurants to eat. Everything was free. That was very dramatic.
“Lots of people came to the game, and the ball club gave all the profits to the team. They also arranged a game at Unity the next afternoon. Unity also gave them all the profits, so they had enough money to return to the States.”
Later, a baseball player from Southern Saskatchewan wanted to go with the African-American players back into the United States. He wasn’t allowed due partly to the segregation laws at the time.
“That’s back decades, a lot has developed since then.”
Satchel Paige was given an honorary induction in 1991.
“Then came the semi-pro baseball years. And that was great baseball. It was the highlight … you’d have thousands of people in a little place,” Shury said, thinking back.
In the 1970s, the Canadian National Beaver Baseball Championship was held in the Battlefords, where Wayne Gretzky’s childhood baseball team from Ontario won.
“He was a good pitcher, and he was as good a baseball player as he was a hockey player, though his dad convinced him hockey would be better in the end.”
Today, baseball in Saskatchewan is changing. There are more major league players and more kids in minor league baseball.
The museum has started digital preservation initiatives, starting with digitizing the Sask. Historical Baseball Review books started by Dave Shury in 1984.
“There are stories for everything. That’s what we’re trying to do with our digital preservation,” Shury said, adding that it would take hours to explain all the stories in the building.
Shury added that the museum does a lot for the community, saying, “We bring a lot of people into town. In 2019, we had 500 people at our induction; 99 per cent of them are from out of town or province.”
The oldest historical society in Saskatchewan is also in Battleford. Battlefords North West Historical Society is currently undertaking a fundraising initiative to create a Sask. Legacy Hospital Trail with 10 kilometres of bricks saved from the Saskatchewan Hospital brick chimney. The committee, chaired by Shury, will host their inaugural event in November.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the year, closed weekends and holidays. For more information, visit their website, email them at email@example.com or call 306-446-1983.