Almonte, Township of Ramsay, County of Lanark in the Province of Ontario

Yesterday Ed Mooney (or “Cigar Guy” as I affectionately call him) from Oak Island (Long Island), New York called to invite me to attend a dinner party devoted to the celebration of today’s Super Bowl. Apart from the coincidence that “Moon” (as he is popularly known to his friends) currently resides on the “island” of Buttonwood Bay Club, his very thoughtful invitation reminded me of the further serendipitous acquaintance I have with the American sport world.

Allow me to explain. This requires more than a bit of elaboration so please forgive the taxing details.

About 45 years ago when visiting Key West, Florida I met Tom Nelson from New York City.  I invited him to visit me in Canada.  However rather than suggesting he visit my hometown of Almonte, Ontario (which was population 4,500 and secluded in the country) I suggested instead that we rally in Montréal, Quebec where I predicted there would be much more of interest. Once there our first stop was Dominion Gallery on Sherbrooke St W. Within minutes of entering the Gallery we spotted a sculpture by Dale Dunning.  I told Tom that Dale Dunning was from Almonte, Ontario where I lived.

We then crossed the street to the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Shortly after entering we saw another sculpture, this time by R. Tait McKenzie (also a native of Ramsay Township where I lived).

Robert Tait McKenzie RCA (sometimes written MacKenzie) RCA (May 26, 1867 – April 28, 1938) was a Canadian physician, educator, sculptor, athlete, soldier and Scouter. Born in Ramsay Township, Lanark County, Ontario, Canada, he attended McGill University in Montreal as an undergraduate and medical student, and was an instructor in its medical school beginning in 1894. In 1904, he moved to the United States to teach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the 1930s, he returned to the county of his birth, retiring to the Mill of Kintail in Almonte.

The University of Pennsylvania (also known as Penn or UPenn) is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia. It is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. While the university dates its founding to 1740, it was created by Benjamin Franklin and other Philadelphia citizens in 1749.

In 1904, McKenzie took a position at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which offered him a permanent faculty position and use of the university’s a new gymnasium, football stadium, running track and other recently constructed facilities. His position as Director of the Physical Education Department came with the opportunity to develop, test and implement his theories on health and athletics.

Edgar Fahs Smith is a monumental statue located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The statue was designed by sculptor R. Tait McKenzie and honours its namesake, a former provost of the university.

The life and work of Dr. McKenzie is showcased at the R. Tait McKenzie Memorial Museum, located at the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area on the Indian River near Almonte, Ontario.  The Mill of Kintail was the summer home of Tait McKenzie and his wife Ethel, and Dr. McKenzie’s sculpture studio.

As a longtime supporter and spectator at the Olympic Games, McKenzie often exhibited works at the competition of fine arts. To commemorate the Olympic Games scheduled for 1912 Stockholm in, the American Olympic Committee commissioned him to create a sports medallion. The result was one of his most famous works, the Joy of Effort medallion.

Making this account even more proximate for my friend Tom Nelson from New York City was that R. Tait McKenzie was friends with James Naismith.

McKenzie was born on May 26, 1867, in the township of Ramsay (now part of the Town of Mississippi Mills), in Ontario’s Lanark County. A childhood friend was James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, with whom he attended McGill University.

James Naismith (NAY-smith; November 6, 1861 – November 28, 1939) was a Canadian-American physical educator, physician, Christian chaplain, and sports coach, best known as the inventor of the game of basketball. After moving to the United States, he wrote the original basketball rule book and founded the University of Kansas basketball program. Naismith lived to see basketball adopted as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904 and as an official event at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, as well as the birth of the National Invitation Tournament (1938) and the NCAA Tournament (1939).

Born and raised on a farm near Almonte, Ontario, Naismith studied and taught physical education at McGill University in Montreal until 1890 before moving to Springfield, Massachusetts, United States later that year, where in 1891 he designed the game of basketball while he was teaching at the International YMCA Training School. Seven years after inventing basketball, Naismith received his medical degree in Denver in 1898. He then arrived at the University of Kansas, later becoming the Kansas Jayhawks’ athletic director and coach. While a coach at Kansas, Naismith coached Phog Allen, who later became the coach at Kansas for 39 seasons, beginning a lengthy and prestigious coaching tree. Allen then went on to coach legends including Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith, among others, who themselves coached many notable players and future coaches.