To many, it seems the Art Sullivan story is one that should be told in a forum such as the PEI Sports Hall of Fame, due to his influence on so many youth of our province through his building and development of the sport of baseball, specifically in Montague, but in reality, throughout King’s County.
During the 1930s, a young Art grew up in the rural island community of Vernon. He had a tremendous love of baseball, and longed to be able to play on a real team. Unfortunately there was no organized ball for Art to join, so he had to be content with pick-up games with friends while he waited to be old enough to play on one of the community teams scattered throughout Kings County.
When Art went off to St. Francis Xavier University to commence studies in engineering, he took his first base mitt with him. He played one season with St. FX but unfortunately, that was all he would get to play. World War II had started and Art joined the army. A tragic accident occurred during training at the base in Valcartier in Quebec – an explosion badly injured Art, resulting in the loss of his right hand and right eye. This abruptly ended Art’s playing career, but his love of the game grew stronger.
After returning to civilian life, Art worked in insurance. With wife Margaret (Peg), the couple had 10 children, five girls and five boys. After landing a job as Customs Officer for Montague Bridge Post Office and Customs House, the family purchased a property on Main Street in Montague that sat on 4 1/2 acres of land.
Art, graciously, allowed a neighbour to use the land to grow hay for animal feed. However, there was still land left vacant, so Art’s eldest sons, James and Roland, could play baseball with their friends. With a growing family and three more growing sons (John, Bill and Paul) the children approached Art about the prospect of having a baseball team.
Art’s childhood dream and vision of creating a real baseball diamond a real program for the benefit of not only his own children, but for any child in Montague or rural Kings County, was now thrust into full motion.
Art had two very strong traits:
a) He was every persuasive and
b) He was unwaveringly committed
The question therefore became when, not if, the vision could be accomplished – the authentic “Field of Dreams” project was under way, long before Kevin Costner made the famous movie. Many individuals and businesses in the community stepped forward to assist in building the facility behind Art and Peg’s on Main Street, providing practical and financial support, while Art’s own skills honed by his education helped layout the diamond.
Suddenly, things were ready, and a three team house league was introduced, as well as a town team to play against other rural centres. Practice sessions were held to help the children improve their skills, and suddenly things began to take shape.
Word soon spread and the field became a popular place in the community for children to gather for many years to follow. The first team to represent the Montague and Area Baseball Association was the Little League team sponsored by the Montague branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. From these humble beginnings, everything began to grow.
A pitching machine was acquired, and in 1963, through the leadership of future PEI Sports Hall of Famer Dr. David Boswell, baseball clinics were introduced under the tutelage of Don LeClair. The program matured and the local association quickly became competitive when matched up with other communities. Local children would be at the field from early morning until sunset, and the backdoor of Art and Peg’s house quickly became the spot of the kids needed the bathroom or a quick snack. If any child wanted to play but didn’t have the right gear, Art would quickly solves the issue.
On the diamond the teams were becoming competitive, winning a number of provincial baseball championships in various age categories, as well as a Maritime championship in the Juvenile division. It was a major highlight in 1965 when the rural PEI team defeated a very strong urban team from mainland Halifax. In 1970, Montague won the Provincial championship and advanced to the Baseball Canada Junior National Championships in Carmen, Manitoba. This was a fitting tribute to Art and his vision in the early days, as he had sadly passed away the previous December.
Unique Features of the Montague Program: Art’s Legacy
Boys and girls played together in both the house league and competitive programs
The first pitching machines on PEI were located at Sullivan Field, as well as the first batting cages
The program was completely free for children to participate. Children unable to afford equipment were helped either by Art personally or through soliciting funds
Transportation would often be provided for those not within walking distance, and meals were often provided by Peg
New and innovative ways of coaching and teaching were introduced to help children learn the basics of the game
Art’s legacy, above all, was the human legacy of the players and children who not only had their first experience of baseball, but sport and physical activity in general, on Sullivan Field. Life lessons were learned, and many of those who had their first taste of organized sport at Sullivan Field went on to become great baseball builders themselves, in coaching, educating and administering.
Art Sullivan was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame on July 15, 2022, by his son-in-law, Don LeClair