Zorra Tug-of-War Heritage

“The Mighty Men of Zorra”

World Tug of War Champions

Tug of war was a favourite sport in the 19th century and there were many local teams throughout Ontario. But one stood above the rest. They would become international champions, a feat commemorated by the Memorial Tug-of-War Championship held each July 1st at the Embro Highland Games.

Rear L to R
Alex Clarke, Robert McLeod, Ira Hummason
Front row
William Munro, Captain Ebeneezer Sutherland, Robert McIntosh

This group of Zorra farmers – five pullers and one captain/coach – did not look the part. They were all in their 40s except for Ira Hummason who was 51.Their average weight was 200 pounds, the heaviest only 215. But looks, as their opponents learned, can be deceiving.

Robert McIntosh, the anchorman, could plant his feet on a barn doorsill and hold back two draft horses, making them lose traction on the cement floor. Billy Munro was a local strongman sought after for local barn raisings. Ira Hummason could carry two 115 pound anvils at arms length; Alexander Clark and Robert McLeod could more than hold their own on any team. The Hon. James Sutherland, MP was their first captain, later replaced by Ebenezer L. “Little Abe” Sutherland.

The team swept local competitions, and on August 14, 1888 handily defeated top North American contenders from Buffalo and Rochester. In August of 1890 they travelled to Chicago to meet the Chicago Highland Association team, a match that did not go smoothly. McIntosh was not allowed to wear his anchor belt to ease the friction of the rope around his waist, and a starting pistol was used, to which the Zorra team was not accustomed. They lost, but thousands of protestors objected.

A two-out-of-three pulls grudge match on Oxford turf was agreed upon, and in October 1889 a crowd of some 4,000 people thronged into the village of Embro including Sir Oliver Mowat, premier of Ontario. Zorra won in two straight heats, the second lasting more than 25 minutes.

Three years later they met the Chicago team again, to compete along with teams from Britain, France, Belgium and Germany in a world championship at the Chicago World’s Fair.

The off shore teams were eliminated, leaving the Zorra team dressed in their straw hats and plain cotton shirts, and the much heavier Chicago team in fancy knee breeches, brown shirts and blue caps. It was August 3, 1893.

Again proving looks are deceiving, the Zorra farmers won the first pull in six minutes.

The second pull was held on hard ground. The Zorra team could not effectively dig in, and the heavier Chicago team had a decisive advantage, winning in two minutes.

The third pull was again on softer ground. The Zorra men dug in hard, and the crowd fell quiet as they flattened out on the signal. Apparently, the length of time of that final pull was not recorded, but spectators claimed it was the greatest ever witnessed.

As the teams neared exhaustion the Zorra men, drawing on muscle and stamina built by hard work in woods and fields, rallied to pull their way to victory –  and their place in history.

 

Tug of War Champions Trophy