July 24, 2014 Issue#388
The photo that got the ball rolling Courtesy of Yukon Archives, Paul-Emile Mercier fonds, 2001/127, #4
There’s only one archived photograph that proves croquet is part of Yukon’s past. When she saw it, Nancy Oakley’s imagination sparked; she’s got big plans for the future of croquet in the Yukon.
The executive director of the Yukon Historical and Museums Association was struck with the notion to host a fundraising croquet tournament. After seeing the photo, she knew she wasn’t inventing a history, or importing the game to the North.
Oakley knows about history, and she knows about croquet. She says the history of the sport isn’t a popular topic and, “maybe it’s overdue for attention.”
According to her, it was a game for the genteel crowd at the end of the 1800s, but after World War II baby boomers made the sport their own. It became more accessible, and backyard croquet sets were common. Now, Oakley says the game is just retro enough for hipsters to love it. She says an afternoon of croquet means an afternoon dressed in bowties, cardigans and argyle socks.
Oakley says the idea is behind the fundraiser is “partly to raise hard-earned cash” for the historical society, but it’s also a way to let people have fun with Yukon’s history and heritage.
Oakley says in throwing a croquet fundraiser for the historical association, she wants to start a trend in the Yukon. She knows of at least 50 Alaskans who play croquet, maybe she’ll invite them and start an international rivalry. Or, maybe next year the tournament will be hosted in Dawson City, and a Dawson City-Whitehorse rivalry will be sparked.
Air North is sponsoring the croquet tournament — there will be flight tickets as prizes, and the airline is flying the croquet equipment from Ontario. Oakley says working with Air North opens doors for interaction with Ottawa and Vancouver, which are major croquet hubs in Canada.
It’s not a coincidence that the executive director of the Yukon Historical and Museum Association thought to raise money with a croquet tournament — and it’s not only because golf is a game she openly scorns. It’s because her dad, Don Oakley, is a croquet man.
“He’s the croquet man,” Oakley says. “He’s the biggest croquet equipment manufacturer in North America.”
When she was a kid, on career day her dad would come to her school with variants of mallets and balls and talk about his job. She says he got into the business circumstantially.
“As legend goes,” she says, “he was a woodworker. One day, way back in the day, his neighbours asked if he could fix up their old backyard croquet set. He did, and then he said to himself, ‘hmmm, I wonder if a person could make money out of this?’”
It turns out, a person could. Don Oakley created a niche market for himself. His daughter says it’s amazing what a person will pay for a croquet mallet.
“You’ll laugh, but there are lots of hot players,” she says.
She has stories.
Her dad made Stompin’ Tom Connors’ croquet set. After concerts, Tom and the boys would set up wickets behind their tour bus.
“They’d drink some beers, smoke some cigarettes, and play into the wee hours of the night.”
Oakley says most people aren’t likely to know as much about croquet as she does. She knows about extreme croquet, invented a few years back in San Francisco, where the balls have to roll through culverts, for example. She knows the many variations of backyard croquet, and that Canada has a croquet team that plays at the international level.
So, with her history, it’s not surprising that a single old photo would get Oakley going like it did. She says croquet is kind of an obscure part to a lot of people’s lives. She wants to make it a thing.
“We have more croquet skills than we give ourselves credit for,” she says.
She says the croquet fundraiser will be more social than a golf fundraiser. Teams of two should dress up — there will be prizes for best costumes, and most enthusiastic teams.
People can register at the last minute, but there is a 20-team maximum so Oakley thinks it’ll be a good idea to register early.
The tournament is on Saturday, August 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.heritageyukon.ca to download the registration form.