By Sean Kelly & Kevin Adshade
NEW GLASGOW - As Canadian athletes do their best in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics, it was a century ago that Pictou County celebrated when a local man captured Olympic silver in a track and field event.
It was the 1908 Olympic Games in London, and New Glasgow dentist Dr. Garfield McDonald captured the silver in the Hop, Skip and Jump (now known as the Triple Jump). McDonald was originally from Port Hastings, but moved here to to open a dental practice, which was located in the Maritime building.
"He was a tremendous athlete - he did phenomenally well. He's in the Pictou County sports hall of fame as well as the Nova Scotia Hall of Fame. McDonald was also a great tennis player, winning the Maritime championship a few times. He was also a good broad jumper and high jumper. He held a few Maritime track and field records in his heyday," said John Ashton, who is researching local sports history for the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.
The modern Olympic games are directly descended form the Scottish Highland games and English track meets, according to the book History of Scottish Heavy Events (Charles Black, University of California, 1987).
Considering the county's deep Scottish roots, it's little surprise that some of the foremost athletes of the day would come from this area.
The Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century, with its shorter workdays - coupled with the advent of steady?railaway transportation - brought renewed interest in competitive sports.
In Pictou County, the Caledonia Games (The Highland Games'?North?American?counterpart), peaked in the mid?1880s and began to dwindle away about a decade later. In 1883, At the age of 17, John A. MacDougall placed second in the Charlottetown?Caledonia Games.
In 1886, the Blue Mountain man participated in the Boston Caledonia Games and came in second.
The next year he won the whole thing. The feat gained him some notoriety and attracted the attention of then-world record holder, Duncan C. Ross, who MacDougall defeated.
Ross challenged MacDougall to another contest, which took place before thousands of spectators?in New Glasgow.
The event was billed as a meeting of "The Giants" in the Eastern?Chronicle - two?champions facing off against each?other in the hammer throw. MacDougall fouled out three times on the 20-lb hammer throw, but handily defeated Ross in the other two categories,?cementing his status as the best in the world.
Then there was F.P. Meikle of Thorburn. In 1891, he won the Putting Light Stone event at the Charlottetown?Caledonia Games.
Six years later, with an 80-foot toss, he established a new world record in the 20-lb hammer throw in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Salt Lake City?Herald at the time, commented: "If signs count for anything, then F.P. Meikle of Nova Scotia, Canada has a great future before him and a perfect specimen of humanity. He threw the 20-lb. hammer 80 feet breaking Duncan C. Ross' world record performance by several feet."
Meikle's grandson, Dave Wilkinson of Lower Plymouth, said?Meikle went on to be a municipal councillor - a Prohibitionist - and later the chief of police in Pictou.
And he was afraid of no one - especially the bootleggers, who would no doubt be at odds with Meikle over his stance on?alcohol.
Ashton said in his research, he's come across letters from church?groups, praising him for his actions to that effect. So as the sun sets on the latest installment of our modern day?Olympics, remember that?at one time, Pictou?County was right up there with the best of them.
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By Sean Kelly & Kevin Adshade