Left: Good clean fun for the whole family. Herald

Left: Good clean fun for the whole family. Herald

The Warriors of the Squared Circle

Janus looks at how the great practitioners of wrestling came through Cranbrook

Jim Cameron

Okay, let’s get this “squared circle” thing cleared up at the outset.

The squared circle refers to a ring, as in a boxing or wrestling ring, which isn’t really a ring but rather a square. Many years ago, competitors used to compete in a circle but when ropes were added it was squared up.

Wrestling is the subject here. Not WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) or its precursor WWF (World Wrestling Federation), however. Not even Stampede Wrestling and the Saturday night television voice of Ed Whalen calling the show. We’re talking old-time wrestling which wasn’t all that much different than modern day wrestling. It had choreography and dramatic storylines and larger-than-life characters acting out scenes that vaguely resembled serious sport.

It’s bigger now: the WWE televises about 320 events a years to an audience of 36 million in 150 countries. Wrestling is lucrative.

The earliest local wrestling occurred at Fort Steele, which, by July, 1898, and probably earlier, was chic enough to feature J.C. O’Neill of Kalispell, the champion catch-weight (irregular weight class) of the Northwest taking on W.H. West of Seattle, the champion middle-weight of the Northwest, in a ten-round contest at the opera house (take that, Figaro). Tickets were $1.00 each, about $25 by today’s standards.

The first wrestling in Cranbrook appears to have taken place in July, 1899, during the Dominion (Canada) Day celebrations on Moir Park, one of those former local landmarks that the city council of the day decided we could all do without. The programme featured football, baseball, a bicycle parade and lots of horse racing — including a cigar horse race in which contestants had to saddle their horse, light a cigar, ride 300 yards and pass the post with the cigar lit and the saddle cinched, but that’s not important now — nor was it then as it was cancelled due to a lack of entrants.

On the other hand there was “Indian horseback wrestling” in which single riders attempted to unseat their opponent while remaining on their own horse. It was won by a gentleman named Baptiste who took home $10, which about $300 today. Wrestling was lucrative.

It was 1907 before wrestling appears to have occurred again in the city. Jimmy Ramsey, champion of Manitoba and W. Addison, champion of Minnesota, (there are more champions in wrestling, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy) fought it out to a draw. There was a large crowd in attendance and a $200 purse at stake; a notable sum. It worked out nicely all the way around. Wrestling was lucrative.

Local audiences were becoming more hip to the wrestling scene by 1909, when Harry Buckle, alleged champ of Saskatchewan and Alberta, sparred with M. Matsuda, oddly, champ of nothing in particular, in what the local paper called “one of the worst fakes ever pulled in Cranbrook. The big man from the prairie was evidently a four-flusher [fake] and those who assembled were disgusted in the extreme. It is time this kind of business was cut out in Cranbrook.”

It appears it was. Wrestling seems to have all but disappeared until February, 1925, when George Anton, local entrepreneur and owner of the Victoria Cafe, began promoting a series of matches. The first event took place at the Knights of Pythias Hall when Jack Sampson, middleweight champion of the U.S. Marine Service took on Nick Bozinis, middleweight champion of Canada and the Eastern States. It was advertised as a “clean, fast show” – which is the nice thing about wrestling, the show can be accurately described before it happens. Admission was $1.00, plus a ten percent war tax – which is the nice thing about war taxes, they can continue long after the war is over.

It went over well and the following month Mr. Anton brought in Nelson Moe of Yorkton, Sask., the light-heavyweight champion of Sweden and Norway, to battle Jack Milo, the light-heavyweight champion of everywhere, apparently. This time it was held at the old auditorium on 10th Avenue. Billed as “The Show of the Season,” ringside tickets were now $1.50 (plus tax). A fair-sized crowd watched Moe eventually end the match by picking up Milo, spinning him around three or four times, throwing him flat on his back and then falling on him, a familiar move even by 1925. Bozinis challenged Moe to a match the following week. It led to victory for Bozinis following which he was carried aloft on the shoulders of his supporters amidst much cheering and jubilation. He immediately became a town favourite, more so the following week, when he won, according to out-of-town reports, the title of Canadian middle-weight champ in Spokane. Why the Canadian championship was held in the United States is anybody’s guess. Not really a problem anyway as, according to Bozinis, he was the Canadian champ before he won the Canadian championship.

Sadly, for wrestling fans, Mr. Anton retired from the promotion business soon afterward, which pretty much ended wrestling in Cranbrook until the 1950s, but that is a story for another day.

George Anton continued to run the café, regaining the limelight briefly in 1926, when he served Cranbrook Ed, the rogue elephant, his final meal outside of the Victoria Café (next to the Cosmopolitan Hotel) before Ed lumbered into a boxcar and rode into the sunset.

Cranbrook Ed was executed by firing squad after killing his trainer a few years later. George Anton closed the café in 1932 and faded from view. Wrestling continued to live and is lucrative.