Since the 1940’s the sport of softball has been striving and has since grown into decades of history across the Northwest Territories.
The early miners and community residents sought out sport to help quell the boredom of isolation and in the summer ball action was the primary sport activity and competition of choice.
Ball teams sponsored by the mines and town business’s started in the 1940’s and the first Men’s Territorial Fastball Championships were held in 1963 in Uranium City. Molson’s breweries were the primary sponsor in the early years but Labatt’s also came on to the scene as well in the 80’s. There were strong rivalries amongst men’s and ladies teams representing Ft. Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Pine Point, Uranium City and Yellowknife throughout the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and 90’s. The communities of Aklavik and Ft. Simpson were also represented by players on local teams or playing for other communities on occasion since the 80’s. The ladies leagues dissolved in the late 90’s as the players moved over to the ladies or mixed slo-pitch. There have been a few ladies that have played with Yellowknife men’s teams as well.
In recent years the men’s competition has been limited to teams from Hay River, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson and Inuvik. Hay River built a brand new second diamond and not only hosted the Western Canadian Master Men’s Masters fastball championships in 2016 but also won the gold!
The NWT was first represented at a national softball competition in 1969 when an NWT Sr Men’s team (on the left) competed in the first Canada Summer Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The NWT participated in softball at every Canada Summer Games since 1969, represented by either a Men’s or Ladies team up to and including the 1997 games.
The NWT was required to play in a best of three competition against the Yukon champs in 1970 and 1971 in order to decide who would represent the north at the Canadian Sr. Men’s Nationals. The NWT Champion Hay River team won the play downs against the Yukon in each of those years and finished in fourth place at the nationals in 1970 behind the strong pitching of Wally Dick (Tourney MVP) and slick defensive skills of players like Bob Beaulieu at short stop.
The NWT and Yukon were each awarded direct entry to the National Championships starting in 1972 with the Hay River team representing the NWT for a third straight year. The NWT has been represented and competed in every Sr. Men’s national championship from 1970 until the 1985 championship held in Kitchener, Ontario.
In the early 70’s during early July, Yellowknife hosted one of the largest prize money men’s fastball invitational tournaments in Western Canada. Big name teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC along with NWT teams would compete for up to $5,000 in prize money.
In 1974, the Yellowknife Junior’s became the first ever Canadian Junior under 21 Men’s softball champions after winning the inaugural Softball Canada competition in Ottawa, Ontario.
In 1979, the Yellowknife Junior Merchants reached the Gold medal game of the national championships but walked away with the silver medal after an extra inning loss to team Ontario in Richmond, BC.
The NWT also had very competitive senior ladies fastball during the 60’s and in to the mid 90’s with teams representing Ft. Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Pine Point, Uranium City and Yellowknife. The NWT ladies attended the Softball Canada National championships as well as various Western Canadian Championships up until the early 90’s.
The Tommy Forrest Ball diamond that hosted those early Men’s and Ladies tournaments finally has a grass outfield as of 2016 thanks to a great group of volunteers as well community and local government support.
The NWT first started to see mixed slo-pitch come on the scene across the north in the early 70’s. We now see large numbers of slo-pitch players registered across the north playing in women’s, men’s and mixed leagues, as well as invitational and territorial championship tournaments. These participants make up almost 70% of the registered membership in NWT Softball. Slo-pitch teams have competed in Softball Canada and SPN National Slo-pitch Championships as well.