Our History
The History of the TSRFC

The Toronto Scottish Rugby Football Club has a proud and rich tradition. Established in 1953, the TSRFC currently fields 3 senior men’s teams, 2 senior women’s teams, junior rugby and minis.

The Scottish had an influx of talent in the early 2000’s, largely due to the commitment from Peter “Kiwi” Leathley to re-establish a Jr’s program.

Kiwi coached a top-notch class of Athletes at Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in 2002, a feat that resulted in the infamous Under-21 Championship of 2003. Many from that group would go on to be first team regulars throughout the rest of the decade (Dan “VC” Visentin, Reid McGregor, Andrew Mason, Creag “The Professional” Johnston, Shea Johnson, Jamie Orr and Caleb Remmington come to mind).

The influx of talented youth, along with the indispensible leadership of Peter Leathley, Mark Greenbank, and Alan “Mingo” Freeman would see the club graduate from the TRU into the Keenan division. Finally, in 2008 the Club re-entered the top league in the province, the Marshall Premiership.

In 2008, Dan “Kiwi Dan” Gordon was selected to play for Canada “A” in a game against Gloucester RFC, then represented Canada on their Fall tour to Europe.

In 2010, Cheryl Philips and Olympian Heather Moyse represented Canada at the World Cup of Rugby.

Under the guidance of Robert Jenkins, the Club prospered on the field, finally winning promotion back to the Ontario Senior “A” League in 1992 by winning the Ontario Senior “B” League in 1991 under the captaincy of Rob Lloyd.

Rob was ably assisted by Alan Wilson, Gerry Murray, Kevin Joyce to name a few. Tim Gibson, Rob Lloyd and Geoff Grist represented Ontario during this time. The 1st XV continued in Senior “A” until 1995. As history often goes, a large number of our senior players retired and the Club was unable to sustain the level of play.

The 1st XV now plays in the Toronto Rugby Union “A1” Division. In the last few years, the 1st XV has had stalwart support from Mike Alexander, Peter “Kiwi” Leathley, Geoff Stratton, Dave Spargo, Mike Gorman, Jerry Marriott, Jamie Mistry, James Mead, Mark Greenbank, Matt Freeman, Gil Quesnelle and Craig Hamilton.

Over the years the Club has toured all over North America to Montreal, Maimi, San Francisco, Alburquerque, Chicago, Vancouver, Washington, Pittsburg, Cincinatti, Calgary, Vancouver just to name a few. In addition to touring in North America, the Club has also toured to England in 1981 and, again, in 1985. We have also hosted a large number of touring Clubs: Gloucester, London Scottish, Moseley, Worthing, Heriots, Anti-Assassins, Meralomas, Calgary Irish, Hutcheson/Aloysius, Portobello, Ayr, Bermuda Police and Bermuda.

In 1997, the Club went to Scotland for the first time. Our first game on Scottish soil was against Iain Greig’s, Ronald Donaldson’s and Norm Donaldson’s old club, Dalziel R.F.C. It was a delight to have Ronald Donaldson present for the game!!! This was also the first time that our Women played overseas with games against Worthing R.F.C., Wasps, West of Scotland.

1991 would be the last year when the Club would only have one 1st XV. The Club – under Tony Cunningham’s presidency and with the direction of Bill Fritz, Rob Thompson and Alan Geddis – started a women’s section in1992.

Alan Hawes took over the coaching reins of the women’s section in 1997. In the years that he has coached the Club, our Women have won the Ontario League Championship in 1998, 1999 and 2001; the Ontario Cup Championship in 1999 and 2000 and we have represented Ontario in the Vanbots Cup {a thank you to Keith Gillam} – a match inaugurated in 1998 between the winners of the Ontario League and the Quebec League – in each of its’ first four years. The Club won the Cup in 1998 and 1999.

In the 90’s the Club had a number of international honours:

  • 1993 – Bob McArthur becomes the first Club member to referee a rugby international – Wales vs USA

The following women represented Canada at various age levels:

  • Canada U19 – Leigh Nevermann {captain}, Dallas Sambolec, Tracy Eisses and Joan Hazel
  • Canada U23 – Dallas Sambolec, Leigh Nevermann and Joan Hazel;
  • Canada – Maureen MacMahon – the most capped player in the Club with 16 caps todate, Moira Shiels, Heather Hunt – one of the “Original 8”, Anne Marie Fleming, Araba “Roo”Chintoh.

The Club is also proud of two of its’ players who went on to play for Scotland and the British Lions, David Sole (1978) and Gordon Bulloch (1994).

In the mid-1980s, Alan Adam, who had been left behind from Mosely’s tour to Toronto in 1980, picked up the challenge of revitalizing the club and getting it back to winning ways.

The call went out for players to join Adam’s version of fitness and fun, and young Canadian talent responded: Mike Salb, George Boire, Tim Hayes, Anatol Van Hahn, Dave Williams, John Mirabelli, Dave Hopper, Ken Nimmo, Doug Edmonds, Brian Lawson, Mike Redding, Bill Nankivell, Gerry Murray, Frank Harrop, Dave Nelson and Juri Parnoja. From Montreal came Bill Coleman, Malcolm Cox, Jon Outridge, Phil Wilmer and Quebec provincial players Mark Richardson and Mike Homer. From B.C. came Brian Mawhinney, Kevin Joyce and Ron Vandenbrink (later a Canadian National 2nd Row).

There was a rumour that whenever Adam was short of players, he would call long distance and have a player flown over from Moseley: On loan came Adam Williamson, Chris Burgess and Geoff Grist, followed by Doug Payne (England Trial Winger), Len Deeley and George Sey. Later would come Steve Lloyd and Neil Lyman, both of whom returned to play professionally in England.

Loch Harrison and Kenny Draper, two ex-wrestlers at University, also added to the fun, although their frequent compulsion to engage in that ageless sport tended to restrict the number of hostelries the club frequented.

Bill Greenhalgh found ways of filling the roster of the 2nd team even if it meant hunting down guys like John Heinbecker in a basement in Hamilton Ont. on Friday night. Howie Hoag and Tim Bryant rebuilt the third team with a variety of men with young aspirations and old dreams.

The club trained at the Argonaut Rowing Club and Alan Adam introduced a rowing fitness program during the winter at the club. The boys entered a few fun races and won the “Zingy Dingy” boat race at Harbourfront in the summer of 1987, where the craft was constructed primarily of milk cartons. The crew, all dressed in kilts, got great coverage on four different TV channels (preceded by a piper and a sword dance). The Club also entered the Ross-on-Wye- regatta while on the “Enfants Terrible” tour of 1985.

The overall result of a new influx of young bucks was that a tremendous spirit evolved within the club and success followed. The First XV won all of their league games and then won three ‘Round Robin’ matches to take the playoff to be worthily promoted back to the Ontario Senior League. The Second VX was third in their league and the 3rd’s won all of their games. The club won five trophies that year.

In 1987, the club consolidated its position in the Ontario League and expanded to a fourth team run by Merv Jones and Bill Pittaway which encouraged other veterans to come out of retirement. This consolidation continued over successive seasons assisted by Cec Moody’s youngsters from Lawrence Park Collegiate.

In 1989, the Golden Oldies Festival was played in Toronto and the “Old Blue” were front and centre running one of the grounds, Eglinton Flats – home of the “Hard Ruck Cafe”, for the Festival. The members of the “Old Blue” played clubs from Singapore, Japan and Australia as well as guesting on numerous others. As usual, old friendships were rekindled and new ones cemented.

In 1961 the club first attempted to acquire its own grounds and in 1963 joined with four other clubs from Toronto (Irish Canadians, Toronto Wanderers, Toronto Nomads and Toronto Saracens) under the tutelage of the Ontario Rugby Union to purchase 20 acres of land at Victoria Square, north of the city for this purpose.

By 1965, the grounds and facilities were in use. In the years since, many improvements have been made and the complex ranks as one of the finest centres of rugby in North America. Fletcher’s Fields, as it is now called, has been run by a number of Club Members including Mike McCreight, Tony Moscrop and John Mead who is the current president.

The next generation of Toronto Scots was more international in flavour. The club welcomed Ian Rugeroni and Charlie Drever from Uruguay, and Peter Bauman from South Africa. After the dazzling 1950s and early 1960s, the boys had leaner times on the field and had difficulty consistently fielding two teams. This changed when Bob Downie joined the Club. Bob was an immigration officer who screened newly arrived immigrants.

When Bob broke his teeth, his teammates passed the hat and paid for a new set of choppers. Ian Rugeroni took over the reins of the club and he set up a membership campaign headed by Tom Smiley, recently transplanted from Australia. In gratitude, Bob steered many fine looking specimens from South Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to the Scottish. It was also thanks to Tom’s organization that home-grown athletes came and, in only a few years, club membership at least tripled in size and there was competition for positions in three teams in league play.

In the late sixties and seventies, Toronto Scottish attracted outstanding athletes who enjoyed great success and many earned representative honours with Toronto, Ontario and Canada select sides: Tom Ross, Doug Crawford, Alan Geddis, Alan Douglas, Rod Eastwood, John Griffin, Martin Sullivan, Iain McKay, Ken Scott, George Semple, Richard Brightling, Cec Moody, Paul Emmett, Geoff Curry, Bill Fritz, Bill Holmes, Chris Scottford, Robert Jenkins, Ken McCarnan, Roger Swinburn, Robbie Thompson, Mike Williams, Peter Mason and Phil Dowd.

It was in this era that Rugeroni lured Hal Rowan away from the Nomads, where he had distinguished himself as a player, to become coach of the Scottish. Under his direction, the First XV was League Champions four times, Carling Cup winners, and Eastern Canada Club Champions twice, with the second triumph coming in 1978, our Silver Jubilee year.

It was also during these heady times that Donald Sinclair was president for several years. Donald, Tony Cunningham and Ian Wright were in the Sentry Box – a well known bar in the Lord Simcoe Hotel – lamenting that there was not a good Burns Supper in Toronto and so was started the annual Burns Supper and set the standard for these events with the colossal success of the first big dinner at the Science Centre in 1972. It continues to this day on or about January 25 in the Great Hall at Hart House of the University of Toronto.

It takes luck as well as good management to develop a successful club and Toronto Scottish has had its share of both good and bad. When it came time to put up the initial payment for Fletcher’s Fields, Charlie Drever and Ian Rugeroni convinced some South American friends who were local chefs to prepare an Assado Gaucho – a South American lamb barbeque – as a fund-raising event. Norm Donaldson arranged for a farmer’s field to be available for the event; it was well publicized and everything looked like it would be a success – if the weather behaved.

On the day prior to the event, the weather was very wet and it threatened to wash out the whole thing. But the organizers trusted the weatherman who predicted a break in the storm for the following afternoon. As luck would have it, for a change, he was right. The Assado Gaucho was a smashing success, and with the money it made the Scottish paid their way into the heart of Ontario rugby.

Weather played another role in good fortune for the club. In 1978, the First VX and supporters took the train to Montreal to play the Montreal Wanderers for the Eastern Canada Club Championship. The team’s formidable challenge was to handle a tough, experienced pack and a very quick set of three-quarters who ran circles around their opponents all year. If the ball got out to their backs often enough, we were in big trouble.

On game day, a storm howled with a driving rain and temperatures barely above freezing. The Wanderers tried to call the game off, but Phil (One-Man-Crowd) Dowd insisted that ‘real men’ could tame the weather as well as the opposition and the referee allowed the titanic battle to begin.

Hal Rowan selected Stewy Taylor, still in high school and playing his first game for the First VX, as scrum half. He was instructed to not pass the ball out to the backs until he was told (or physical harm would result). Risk of hypothermia was real as the two packs slugged it out for most of the game until the Scottish won possession in a loose ruck from a lineout about 20 meters from the Wanderers’ try line. Roger Swinburn told Stewy to let the ball out — and a few successful passes later Michael McCreight went in for the score.

The game ended with Scottish up 4-0, proud and worthy champions once again.

Bad luck comes in many forms, the worst kind being when friends suddenly die. Geoff Curry, Scottish captain and centre for Ontario and Canada died in a car accident. Tom Ross – London Scottish, Toronto Scottish, Ontario and the XL’s succumbed to cancer. Duncan Taylor, the man who brought the Burns Supper to Hart House and who was by far the best to address the Haggis, was lost at sea in the Indian Ocean. And most recently, Howie Hoag, Club stalwart and Burns organizer, lost to cancer as well. Their spirit of competitiveness, pursuit of excellence and contribution to the overall cause of the Scottish and rugby in general is the living legacy passed on to us by our absent friends.

Sometimes bad luck comes as the result of bad management. Toronto Scottish parlayed $1,500 in the bank into the purchase of two adjoining houses on Marlborough Avenue in 1969. Three years later they were sold leaving a profit of $30,000 in the club’s coffers. In 1976, a property on Nelson Street (downtown in the theatre district) miraculously fell into our hands. The $500,000-plus location was a bargain – the ultimate dream, a downtown club headquarters.

But bad luck hit again when the old man who agreed to sell us the property died and his estate put pressure on the club to settle before we had completed all of the financial arrangements.

An oversight in the wording of a financial agreement cost us the whole thing. It can be argued that the club was in over its head in this project. So much effort went into the project that its ultimate failure took the wind out the Scottish. Eventually, the hangover from that sordid experience, the skid in morale, revised immigration restrictions that reversed the trend of the late 1960s and 1970s and the retirement of the old heroes, took its toll on the field and we dropped out of Senior League competition.

There were three events within the British Empire of world importance in 1953: Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne, Edmund Hillary became the first man to scale Mount Everest, and a group of expatriate Scots got together in Toronto to show the locals how to play rugby.

In fact, there are reports of a side going under the name of the “Toronto Scottish” as far back as the final years of the Victorian era, but it was only in Coronation year, following the formal organization of rugby in the Toronto area, that a club was formed to field sides on a regular basis.

Just as Scottish talent played such a part in building Canada, so the Toronto Scottish were lucky to gain the services of a number of exceptionally gifted transplants, many of whom had played representative rugby back home. Indeed, for a number of seasons, the Scottish were so strong that they effectively dropped out of local competition in Ontario, and played only touring sides.

The team won the Quebec Sevens Trophy outright following three successive victories in the 1956/7/8, and contributed a third of the Eastern Canada squad that played the visiting Barbarians in 1957. The Carling Cup was presented by Carling Breweries Ltd. in 1958 for annual competition between East and West and in 1959 the Eastern Canada Beavers started nine Scottish stars: Ian Nicol (Capt); Norm Lee; A. Whytock; John Allen; Dick Geater, Peter Morris, Kenny Talbot, Iain Greig and Norman Donaldson.

Off the field in the 1950s, Scottish members played a leading role in organizing the Ontario Rugby Union, most notably Canon Guy Marshall and Doug Robertson, who ran the Union for years. The commitment to supporting rugby administration continued through the 1960s and 1970s with John Brown, president of the union for many years, and Ian Hawkins who shepherded the fledgling Toronto Rugby Union through its growing pains.