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Jackie Robinson, in 1947, wearing his Montreal Royals uniform, steps into the Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse for the first time. (W.C. Greene/AFP/Getty Images/W.C. Greene/AFP/Getty Images)
Jackie Robinson, in 1947, wearing his Montreal Royals uniform, steps into the Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse for the first time. (W.C. Greene/AFP/Getty Images/W.C. Greene/AFP/Getty Images)

Baseball

Commemorating baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson's Montreal home Add to ...

A modest apartment in Montreal that was once an informal honeymoon suite for Jackie and Rachel Robinson is being recognized as an important piece of baseball history and a northern outpost of the American civil rights movement.

A commemorative plaque will be unveiled Monday at the lower-level duplex apartment that was home to the couple in the summer of 1946 when Mr. Robinson played for the minor-league Montreal Royals, less than a year before he broke the race barrier in what later became known as "baseball's great experiment."

Ms. Robinson, now 88, remembers their time in that apartment, just months after she and Jackie were married, as a honeymoon. They were welcomed by the predominantly white neighbourhood, which became a refuge from the racially charged taunts Mr. Robinson endured on the road.

"You can't make [enough]of the house because it's where the experiment started and the experiment went on to be a national success, so it led to something," Ms. Robinson said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The Royals were then a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Mr. Robinson, an articulate, university-educated player with a powerful swing and a knack for stealing bases, had been hand-picked by general manager Branch Rickey to be the first black player in Major League Baseball.

He spent a season in Montreal before April of 1947, when he walked onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., and crossed the colour line.

In the 1940s, a community of black jazz musicians had found a welcoming home in Montreal, away from the segregation of the United States, but the Robinsons' home at 8232 de Gaspe Avenue was nestled within a predominantly white, French-speaking neighbourhood.

Ms. Robinson said she picked it from a list provided by the Royals, and was surprised to be received by a friendly French-Canadian woman who spoke English and welcomed her into the home.

"She received me so pleasantly," Ms. Robinson said. "Then she poured tea for me and agreed to rent the apartment to me furnished and she insisted I use her things - like her linens and her china.

Home life was important because the intermittent road trips were difficult for her husband.









The American couple formed a strong and long-lasting friendship with famed Montreal sportswriter Sam Maltin and his wife, Belle, who would invite them to their home and take them to concerts on Mount Royal.

Ms. Robinson was a fixture at the Montreal Stadium, never missing a home game.

She also recalls roaming the narrow, European-style streets of the city's old district, finding spots that suited her love of books and music - especially when Jackie was on the road.

The city would become caught up in baseball fever that summer. With the help of Mr. Robinson's .349 batting average and 40 stolen bases, the Royals would go on to win the Little World Series over the Kentucky Colonels.

Afterwards, a jubilant crowd chased Mr. Robinson down the street. That's when Mr. Maltin penned the famous phrase: "It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind."

The Robinsons' daughter, the U.S. ambassador to Canada and Montreal's mayor will all attend the unveiling, which has been timed to coincide with Black History Month.

With a report from The Canadian Press

 

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