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  • The Québec Provincial LeagueA Memoir
  • George Gmelch (bio)

In mid-June, 1967, as a third-year minor leaguer, I was released by the Detroit Tigers. I was devastated. Just the season before I had been a "prospect," putting up good numbers and awarded with bat, and glove and shoe contracts. Now what? In the faint hope that I could get my baseball career back on track, I accepted an offer to play for a top independent league: The Quebec Provincial League (QPL). Soon I was on a train headed for Montreal. Going to Canada, I figured, would also enable me to avoid the shame of going home to California as just another pro ball reject. Plus there was the attraction of getting to know an entirely new place—French-speaking Quebec. This essay describes baseball life in the QPL in the late 1960s.

Upon arriving in Montréal, I boarded a bus for the sixty-five-mile journey to the town of Drummondville on the St. Francis River (Saint-François River). There I signed a contract of $125 per week ($750 in today's dollars) to play for the Royaux de Drummondville (Royals), and the next day joined the team on a road game to Québec City. My new skipper had me penciled in at first base and batting sixth. The club must have wondered about the scouting report they had received and the wisdom of signing me since I proceeded to strike out in my first three at-bats. In the darkened bus, on the long ride back to Drummondville, I wondered if I'd made a mistake coming to Canada.

Drummondville, a town of 35,000, was almost entirely Francophone. The ballpark, near the town center, boasted a large wooden, covered grandstand. A big sign at the entrance read Bienvenue a tous les sportifs (Welcome to all sports fans). The infield was all "skin" (dirt) and the stadium lights dim. It was the worst ballpark in the league, so bad that several umpires had filed complaints with the league about its poor lighting, a hazard to hitters and pitchers.

Playing my first home game in Drummondville, against the Thetford Mines Miners, I banged out two solid hits, and began to feel better about my decision, and even better the following night after two extra-base hits, this [End Page 158] time against the Lachine Mets. They were off pitcher Ray "Frenchy" Daviault who had pitched for Casey Stengel's New York Mets in their inaugural season.

After hitting a home run against the Granby Cardinals, which the Drummondville newspaper La Parole Journal described as one of the longest home runs ever hit in Granby, the paper mentioned that I was of German heritage, as if to say Germans come naturally big and strong. It was a curious comment because I had never thought of myself as having any ethnicity, and my family had left Germany for the U.S. more than a century ago.

Besides Drummondville, six other teams filled out the Provincial League: the Québec City Indians, Plessisville Braves, Granby Cardinals, Sherbrooke Alouettes, Thetford Miners, Coaticook Canadians and the Lachine (Montréal) Mets. When we commuted to away games, we returned the same night because no town was more than ninety miles away. On bus rides home, we always had two cases of free beer—provided by one of the team's sponsors. Having beer on the bus was a common practice throughout the league, and quite unlike anything I'd seen in the US minor leagues.

Most of the QPL teams were in the region known as the Eastern Townships in southeastern Québec, south of the St. Lawrence River and tight against the U.S. border, marked by gently rolling hills, picturesque back roads, and pretty villages. The region was originally settled by Québecois as part of Nouvelle France (New France); then by some Americans wishing to stay loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution (1765–83). The loyalists mostly got displaced by more Québecois in the twentieth century. Although the region is predominantly French-speaking, the influence of the loyalist settlers from New England can...


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pp. 158-172
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