Living history of 5-pin bowling - Metro US

Living history of 5-pin bowling

It may not be an anni­versary on the top of most people’s minds, but it’s definitely one that goes down in Toronto’s history books: the 100th anniversary of five-pin bowling, an amateur sport invented right here in our fair city.

And to commemorate the occasion, Shamrock Bowl, a bowling alley with deep roots in the Coxwell and Gerrard community for half-a-century, is celebrating it’s grand reopening after two-and-a-half years of renovations to restore it to it’s 1950s glory.

The story of five-pin bowling goes as such:

It was in 1909 that a local businessman by the name of Thomas Ryan, who owned a bowling alley near Yonge and Richmond streets, developed five-pin bowling after receiving complaints from patrons that the balls for ten-pin bowling — an amateur sport that was gaining popularity with North America’s elite class at the time — were too heavy and the game too slow.

So Ryan devised a modified game with smaller balls, only five pins and a different scoring system. A short while later, he added rubber rings to the pins because they were bouncing out the window onto the street below. And the rest, as they say, is history. The game took off and five-pin bowling leagues formed.

“It’s a game of the masses,” says Walter Heeney, president of the Master Bowlers’ Association and a champion five-pin bowler with encyclopedic knowledge of the game, recognized as one of Canada’s four heritage sports along with basketball, ringette and lacrosse. “Even at my age, you’re able to still play somewhat competitively in a sport,” explains Heeney of why he loves bowling.

Although Heeney admits that there are fewer people joining bowling leagues these days because it doesn’t provide the “instant action” that he feels our society now craves, he’s pleased to see the Shamrock Bowl preserved in the heart of Toronto, as is Fraser Hambly, a retired Toronto teacher, who was named the top male bowler of the 20th century in 2000 and recently came out to lend support to Shamrock’s opening.

Although Shamrock Bowl will only be open as an event space for private parties and corporate events, it offers people a step back in time to a by-gone era in this city’s intriguing past.

To find out more about Shamrock Bowl, visit ­shamrockbowl.ca.

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