Babe’s excellent Nova Scotia adventures
Baseball icon made numerous visits to province
If for some reason you’re arguing about who is the most famous person to ever visit Nova Scotia, the list has to include (in some order) the king, the queen, Prince, the pope, Muhammad Ali and Babe Ruth.
Now, if you’re also wondering which of those had the most fun while here, it’s a much easier argument. Possibly no one ever had more fun than the Bambino, who on his various visits here played golf, fished, hunted, hit baseballs into crowds and cavorted. Babe was big on cavorting.
Ruth probably first heard about Nova Scotia from Brother Matthias, a huge man originally from Cape Breton who was in charge of discipline at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. The young Ruth, termed incorrigible, was sent to live at St. Mary’s and formed a lasting relationship with Brother Matthias.
Whatever got him here, once Babe started coming to Nova Scotia he returned several times. The first trip we know of was for eight days in 1936, the year after he retired from the New York Yankees.
His July visit was covered exhaustively by reporters, beginning with the first of at least two rounds of golf he played at the Digby Pines over the years, followed by a long dusty drive on dirt roads from Digby to Halifax. There, Ruth went to the Victoria General hospital (yes, the same VG that’s still there) to visit a man who had spent 10 days trapped in a mine in Moose River.
Citing fatigue from the long drive through the Valley, he turned down an invitation to attend a dance put on by the
Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. Ruth did find the energy to fit in a round of golf at the course we now call Old Ashburn, but then was just Ashburn, where he found the greens remarkably fast.
The next day he was scheduled to “motor to Sherbrooke via the Eastern Shore,” according to news reports at the time, to fish for salmon on the St. Mary’s
Later, in Westville, where the local nine was playing host to Liverpool, “a fanfare of automobile horns” signalled Babe’s arrival. Fans from all over the province had come to see the great man, who had agreed to bat a few balls.
As one writer described the scene, “he hefted four of the array of bats laid out in front of the dugout. Selecting the largest warclub in the Westville armoury, he carefully wiped it down with a handkerchief.”
In borrowed spikes, and with Westville’s Dingie Mcleod on the mound, Ruth’s first few swings resulted in lazy fly balls.
“These balls must be made out of doughnuts,” he shouted, to the delight of the crowd, before smashing one high over the right field fence and into the street. For his efforts, he was presented with a “smoking set.”
Still in Pictou County, at the carnival in Pictou he was presented with the event’s “king lobster,” which weighed in at 16 pounds and four ounces, but said he was disappointed to have to cut his trip short before he could go tuna fishing. He told a reporter he would come back to “have a whack at those big boys.”
The next year he was back, this time in the fall for three weeks of hunting in the western end of the province, a trip that was the subject of a featurelength story in Outdoor Life magazine.
Armed with his .401 Winchester, with which he was said to be able to “drill a tomato can at 60 yards,” Babe and his party rose before dawn to start the hunt for moose, deer, bear and birds.
Author Leigh Montville described the scene when Babe arrived back in New York by steamship and drove down the gangplank of the SS New York in his Stutz Bearcat touring car, with a dead deer tied to the front bumper, two more strapped across the front fenders and a black bear stuffed into the rumble seat. A photo also shows a moose on the roof The deer and the bear weren’t all we got,” the Sultan of Swat proclaimed. “We also got some ducks and woodcock.”
One can only imagine the reaction of the doorman at Ruth’s West 88th apartment building when he pulled up in front.
The next visit to Nova Scotia that we know of was in August of 1942, when Ruth arrived by Trans-canada air liner, probably at Shearwater, shortly after finishing filming of Pride of the Yankees, the life story of Lou Gehrig, in Hollywood.
In addition to skipping down to Digby to play the Pines again, this was the trip during which the Babe made an appearance at the Wanderers Grounds for a game between navy baseball teams from Halifax and Toronto, and hit baseballs into the packed stands for kids to catch and then bring to him to autograph.
Wearing snazzy two-toned street shoes, he faced Halifax navy hurler Awkie Titus but failed to hit one out of the park. So any story you’ve heard from an oldtimer that the Babe clouted one so far that night that the ball ended up in the harbour is just a tall tale.
This is not an ad to demonstrate the cargo capacity of the Stutz Bearcat touring car, but a photo showing some of the bounty from a three-week hunting trip Babe Ruth made to Yarmouth County in 1937, where his party harvested deer, moose, bear and game birds. Ruth and the wildlife travelled from Yarmouth back to New York by steamship.
Babe Ruth at Digby Pines in 1936.