Babe’s ex­cel­lent Nova Sco­tia ad­ven­tures

Base­ball icon made nu­mer­ous vis­its to province

South Shore Breaker - - Wheels - BILL SPURR editor@southshore­breaker.ca

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

River.

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.

Yar­mouth County Mu­seum and Archives

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.

Digby Pines

Babe Ruth at Digby Pines in 1936.

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