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Letting Go of Jimmy: An Early Loss for Harold Ballard

Thursday, January 3, 2019 12:26 PM

The city of Toronto is crazy about hockey. Especially its team, the Maple Leafs. When the on-ice product fails, talk turns to the history of the team. Most of all, everyone loves to hate Harold Ballard. Here’s a story about him that is lesser known.

On May 30, 1930, Harold Ballard and two “sea flea” racing buddies were out on Lake Ontario getting ready for a race the next day. Due to some mechanical problem, the steering of the boat driven by Harry “Red” Foster swerved and jammed suddenly, throwing all three over into the frigid water. The boat circled them while they struggled to stay afloat. A nearby boat sighted them and came to the rescue. But didn’t arrive soon enough. One headline read: "Two Rescued, One Drowned." The papers said Harold tried hard to save his friend, James “Jimmy” Rogers (shown in picture), but couldn’t hold on. 

For documented accounts of what happened that day, the following offers quotes and pictures. Thanks to Jeff Hubbell of Ports Toronto for help accessing records from the archives. See their Facebook page for rare material. 

 From the Toronto Daily Star May 31, 1930

J. Hayward (sailor on the rescue boat): "Orde called out: My God Bert! They’re over! About ship...It must have taken us 15 or 20 minutes to get back. When we were about 75 or 100 yards from the spot one fellow went down. The big fellow (Ballard) was trying to support him. In fact, both men were heading to their companion even after he was under water."

"The big fellow was crying “I’m gone. I’m gone.”  We couldn’t slow up; we had to sail by them. I grabbed one with the boat-hook and the force almost pulled me off the boat. We turned around and hooked the other one. Meanwhile the sea flea was running in wild circles about the drowning man. I got them into the cabin and removed their clothing to give them a good rub down. They were pretty well cut up about their companion and I’m afraid I had to bully them a bit."

Vrason Orde (captain of the rescue boat): "We did the best we could."

Ballard: "We were headed south into the lake, about 600 feet south of the breakwater, Red (Foster) swung the wheel to port and headed due north. Then we headed into our own wash and one big wave hit us at such an angle that the boat was thrown right over on the port side. The three of us went into the water."

Reporter: "The three young men were not wearing lifebelts."

"After several ineffectual attempts to stop the craft (the Jacky Boy), the tug Gibson got in its path and let it ram the side of the tug. The prow of the motor boat was slightly crushed."

"Both survivors suffered much from the shock and exposure. Ballard refused to stay at the Yacht Club, however, but set out with the lifesavers to show them the spot where young Jimmy Rogers sunk."

From The Globe May 31, 1930

Facts reported in the story:

"Ballard was first to reach him (Rogers) and grasped hold of him. Foster swam up alongside and also took hold....weighted down by their soaked clothes, they struggled in the water for fully 15 minutes."

"Foster and Ballard were unable to drag Rogers (toward their rescuers, Orde and Hayward on the Tigris)...Ballard on the verge of collapse, released his hold, and Foster, weakened from the cold water and the weight of his clothes, broke away. A second later Ballard cried out to Rogers: “I am all in. I think I will be next.”

"Rogers, unable to keep himself above the water, collapsed and his body sank."

"Call sent to the life-saving station and a speedboat went out. The crew picked up Ballard at the station who insisted on braving the danger of serious illness from exposure to direct the lifesavers. Ballard was taken back to the NYC, and with Foster, was given hot drinks and placed under warm blankets."

"Grappling arms were lowered. Lifesaving crew took a course of half a mile fully seven hundred yards out from the sea wall."

NOTE: (To account for how the accident happened without being spotted by potential rescuers on shore) "A dredge and a scow had been working the lake. The smoke obstructed the view of the men in the tower."


From another story later than summer, this is vintage Harold Ballard:

From the Toronto Daily Star, July 17, 1930

You’d think Harold would never again want to race a boat. but there he is, a month and a half later, right back at it: Quote: 

"Harold Ballard in sin-mac” provided the thrills for the crowd up in the harbour when he flipped on the hairpin turn in the free-for-all event after having won himself a nice lead. He swam ashore.” 

Jimmy Rogers (1929?) in a “Sea Flea” (small racing boat popular at the time).