Thomas F. “Tommy” Ryan

Tommy Ryan

Portrait by Robert Howson

Many excel at sport while others contribute to its growth, but very few actually invent a sport. That is the case with Guelph’s Tommy Ryan.

Known as a real “character” on the Toronto sports scene, Ryan built Canada’s first regulation tenpin lanes in 1905 at his establishment, the Toronto Bowling Club. It was one of the hotspots in the big city. It resembled a southern plantation with potted palm trees, a string orchestra and piano and an immense lunch counter. The “Gentlemen Only” club catered to the well-to-do with regulars including John Eaton and Mayor Sam McBride. However after a few years customers began to complain about the weight and size of the tenpin balls, so he had his father whittle down five of the larger tenpins to approximately three-quarters of their original size. He then spaced these pins equally on the 36” tenpin triangle and found a hand-sized hard rubber ball and threw it down the alley. The year was 1909 making this the 100th anniversary of five-pin bowling – one of the few sports ever invented in Canada. When it turned out that the lighter pins would fly around the alley creating quite a racket, 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. However, he never patented his invention and never profited from it.

As a young man Ryan was an accomplished baseball player who once turned down an offer to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern International League. But mostly he was known as a fixture on the Toronto’s sports scene for the first half of the 20th century involved in everything from boxing to horse racing.

In 1971 Tommy Ryan was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

Inducted into the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame – Builder category – on May 20, 2009