From 1907 to 1911, teams from Pictou County mining communities dominated the Nova Scotia Cricket League, prompting a Westville newspaper correspondent to describe the county as “the home of cricket.” Westville won the championship from 1907 to 1909, and then Stellarton in 1910 and 1911, overshadowing the efforts of teams from such centres as Halifax, Windsor, and Sydney. Many years later, cricket is not widely remembered as the major sport that it was in Nova Scotia prior to the First World War. But it was played in Halifax at least from the 1780s onwards and was a common pastime of settler communities the length and breadth of the province. It was not exclusively a sport of the upper class, and its players were much more likely to be multi-generational Nova Scotia families than recent English immigrants.
Nowhere was cricket more deeply rooted than in Pictou County, where it was initially strongest in Pictou Town and New Glasgow as well as in smaller centres such as River John, and by the 1860s it had emerged as the favoured sport of miners and other workers on the county’s coalfield. From that time onwards, Stellarton and Westville were strong cricketing towns, although at first they had no shortage of competition. Even within the same town or village there could be multiple cricket teams. While the tiny community of Asphalt supported just one team, the club at Lourdes (between Stellarton and New Glasgow) at one point during the 1890s had at least two. As for Thorburn, a newspaper report in July 1885 noted that “cricket is all the rage here, there being 4 or 5 different clubs in the town,” and in the following year the community’s Vale Colliery Cricket Club had the distinction of defeating both Westville and Stellarton. Substantial crowds attended the games, and a match between Albion Mines and Westville in 1897 reportedly attracted “over six hundred people.” By this time, the Pictou and New Glasgow clubs had weakened. New Glasgow did join with Albion Mines, Stellarton, Thorburn, and Westville in initiating the Pictou County Cricket League (also in 1897), but it was clear now that the real quality was found in the mining communities – and, increasingly, in Stellarton and Westville.
In both towns, miners predominated among the players, along with other pit workers, although there was also room for a few others who had different occupations such as local clergy and retail merchants. These were, simultaneously, working-class teams and community teams. They were also keen rivals. When Stellarton won the county championship by defeating Westville in the deciding game of the 1905 season, a local newspaper reported, “pandemonium was let loose in Stellarton. Crowds of the young element armed with tin horns and everything that could make a noise paraded the streets shouting themselves hoarse.” When, a year later, Westville prevailed and decided provocatively to parade the cup through the streets of Stellarton, for their troubles they were “treated to some stale eggs and some rocks.”
Ultimately, however, it was the performance of the Pictou clubs in the Nova Scotia Cricket League that was emblematic of the quality of cricket in the county. The league began in 1906, with the highly-reputed Halifax Wanderers winning the title. Westville then entered in 1907 and for three seasons easily swept aside every other team. Stellarton entered in 1908 and eventually won two championships before yielding to Sydney in 1912. Even the Halifax media were generous with their praise, the Morning Chronicle greeting Westville’s 1908 championship by noting that “they excel the other teams in the League in every way; they field better, their bowling is much superior, and their batting is far ahead of any other of their opponents.” When the Wanderers did finally manage to prevail over Stellarton in a league match in July 1912, the reporter for the Halifax Evening Mail delivered an equally sincere if backhanded compliment in rejoicing that “at last Stellarton cricketers have met a Waterloo.” That Pictou County was “the home of cricket” had proved to be no idle boast.