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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

THOMAS F. RYAN

Inducted in 1971

Member Details

Date of Birth: Ontario, 1872
Place of Birth: Guelph, Ontario
Date of Passing: November 19, 1961
Sport: Bowling
Member Category: Builder

Career Highlights

1905

Opened Canada's first 10-pin bowling alley

1909

Invents 5-pin bowling

Honoured Member THOMAS F. RYAN
Inspire

Story

There are few uniquely Canadian sports and, of those, five-pin bowling is among the most popular. The game's inventor, Thomas F. (Tommy) Ryan was a character on the Toronto sports scene for over 50 years, as distinctive as the game he created. Born in Guelph, Ontario, he was an accomplished baseball player who once turned down an offer to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern International League. When he was 18, Ryan moved to Toronto to make it big. He dabbled in many ventures and in 1905 opened the first ten-pin bowling alley in Canada. The Toronto Bowling Club was an exclusive establishment, located in downtown Toronto at the intersection of Yonge and Temperance Streets above Ryrie's Jewellers, complete with potted palms and a string orchestra. Bowling at the time was a "gentleman's" game—no women were allowed in Ryan's establishment—and among his regular bowlers he counted John Eaton, several of the department store's executives, and Mayor Sam McBride. One story has it that the gentlemen who took to bowling over their lunch hour complained that the 10-pin game took too long to complete and that lifting the 16-pound ball left them fatigued for their afternoon's labours. In response, Ryan experimented with other bowling games, such as duck pins and candle pins, which he adapted for his own purposes. His father shaved down five of the tenpins on a lathe, while Ryan secured a 2-1/2 pound ball and created a new scoring system. When it turned out that the lighter pins would fly around the alley creating quite a din, Ryan installed protective screens on each alley and wrapped a rubber band around each pin to reduce the noise they made when they were knocked down. By 1908, Ryan had established five-pin bowling. However, he never patented his invention and thus never profited from it. In 1909, Charles R. Gibson opened a series of five-pin alleys from Toronto to Victoria, and a Canadian institution was born. Ryan was an entrepreneur interested in many different forms of public amusement. He also owned a billiard hall, also on Yonge Street, and operated a hotel, whose operation was rendered unprofitable by prohibition in the 1920s. Following that venture, he purchased the former home of the Massey family on Jarvis Street and turned it into an antique gallery and auction house. Ryan, who was a fixture on the Toronto sports scene throughout the first half of the 20th century, was also interested in boxing and horse racing. In 1950, he chaired the city's Sunday Afternoon Sports Committee, which recommended overturning sabbatarian regulations and allowing Sunday sports to return to Toronto after an absence of 85 years.


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