Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pokiok's Claim to Fame : A McCormick Family Encore


Hugh McCormick , North American speed skating champion from 1885 to 1891 and World Speed Skating Champion from 1890 until 1892.

Axel Paulsen (1855-1938) was a Norwegian figure skater and speed skater. He is the inventor of the figure skating Axel jump.
Paulsen first publicly executed the Axel jump in 1882 at the World Championships in Vienna while wearing speed skates. At the Vienna World Championships Paulsen won both the speed skating and fancy (figure) skating events becoming the World Champion.
In the winter of 1883 Paulsen went to North America to participate in a series of skating events. On February 8, 1883 a race was held at the open air rink in Washington Park, Brooklyn, New York. Paulsen defeated 17 picked skaters, the fastest from Norway, Canada, England and the United States and set the following records at the race:
1 mile: 3 minutes, 34 3/5 seconds
5 miles: 19 minutes, 10 seconds
10 miles: 39 minutes, 7 3/5 seconds
Paulsen was a professional skater competing in races and meets that offered the winners prize purses and metals; he was the World Professional Speed Skating Champion from 1882 to 1889. He lost the title on February 1, 1890 to Canadian professional speed skating champion Hugh J. McCormick at a 3-race meet in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Hugh McCormick 
Held the NB Pro speed skating title from 1885-91 and the Maritime title from 1885-94
Held the North American title from 1885-91 and set world record times for distances of 1, 2,
3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14 miles
Won 1890 world speed skating title by defeating Axel Paulsen of Norway two-out-of-three
races in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1982

Please click on the link below for a more detailed insight into Hugh McCormick's outstanding accomplishments as a world-class speedskater........ written by Andrew Gillen.,%202010rev).pdf

                                AND NOW FOR POKIOK'S BRUSH WITH FAME

During the latter quarter of the 19th century speedskating was undoubtedly every bit as popular in Saint John , New Brunswick as hockey is today. Over 4000 wild sports enthusiasts jam-packed the old La Tour Arena in 1885 to cheer on Hugh McCormick as he won the Maritime Championship  ... beating William H. Whelpley by one full lap ! Six years later in 1890 Hugh won the World Championship by defeating Axel Paulsen of Norway.
Now while all Saint Johners were singing "Hughie's" praises , none was singing any louder than his oldest brother , Samuel , as well as the latter's family ... Hugh's nephews and nieces .... who lived and worked in Pokiok . The federal census of 1891 shows Samuel and his wife , Laetitia , living on Spar Cove Road with five of their six children .... Samuel 19 listed as lath sawyer, Charles 17 listed as theology student ( I spoke of Father Charles McCormick , C.Ss.R. in my previous post ) , John 15 as a sawmill labourer as well as Loretta 13 and Hugh 9. The oldest son , Ralph , had married shortly before the census was taken and lived nearby on Spar Cove Road. All four men worked at the Stetson & Cutler Mill in Pokiok.
Given Hugh's renown on the local , national and world levels I can only imagine what the over-the-fence , backyard chitter-chatter in the neighbourhood  was like back then ...... or  how proud  their fellow workers must have felt to pile deal , saw laths .... or burn lime .. alongside the brother and nephews of the World Champion .

Upon much closer scrutiny of historical documents we can now place Samuel McCormick ... alias Samuel McCormack in 1881 census .... as living on Spar Cove Road in Pokiok and classed as "labourer" much earlier than first thought .... so the McCormicks are of very old Pokiok vintage ! The Saint John City Directory for 1881 confirms this as well as the 1881 federal census where he appears as Samuel McCormack ( census taker's spelling probably ) along with wife , Laetitia ..... and children , Ralph (16) who is still living at home and listed as "labourer" , Samuel (11) who would become the father and grandfather to the McCormicks of my youth , Charles (9) the future Redemptorist priest , John (7) and Loretta (4) . Hugh was born a year later in 1882.


  1. hi doctor!

    are you aware of the Old North End tale of how Hughie McCormick encountered "Old Nick" early one winter morning as the champion was diligently practicing his craft on the river?

    I'm sure you can imagine how this story took on a life of its own in the highly-superstitious Irish community of that era.

    of course, there was a moral or lesson involved!



  2. Gerry Mac An UltaighSeptember 15, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    Yo Dick ,

    Sounds like a tale from Long Reach , Dick , and I hope you'll share more details with me after your upcoming trip to Gort Féilim , beloved land of our dear forebears. Old Scratch used to roam the Burnt Hills in Pokiok likewise ..... even burning his palm print into a hunk of limestone not too far from our old homestead ... or so the story goes ! And what's wrong with a little dose of superstition enhanced and spiced by a wee shooter of uisce beatha ?

    Go n-éirí an bóthar leat! May the road rise to meet you ! Irish for farewell ,,, have a great trip !
    Gerry Mac An Ultaigh

  3. thanks gerry for your quick response re Hughie.

    when I return, I'll provide the details as passed down to me.

    the "old timers" had a special knack in storytelling that has remained alive - certainly in these parts!



  4. hi gerry,

    'while you're at it, how about "taking on" a few other legends of the more recent past?

    I'm thinking of men like: Quip Moore, Johnny Lifford, Fred J. Joyce, Oakie O'Connor, Matt Cavanaugh, and possibly even Eddie Butler?

    there are still many, many old timers who would love to receive updates on some of the above ... and you are the one who can do it!

    what say you, doctor?



  5. Dear Dickie ,

    Thanks for the ego boost but I can't see myself doing justice to such legendary characters ... maybe Fred Joyce , Matt who was Josie's dentist and Oakie ... even your Uncle Eddie who was so kind as to let us run the basepaths at Saint Pete's after we had chalked out the infield diamond for him ... and how many times did I stay with him after skating hours on Saturdays to flood the rink...
    Maybe we could undertake such a thread or venture with others ... I take Kenny Porter !!! Anyways , old friend , we'll discuss this at Tim's one of these days...
    Introibo ad altare Dei....