The elites (the wealthy land owners, industrialists, politicians and professionals who took leadership roles in society) created Amateur Athletic Associations, conservative organizations of representatives from many diverse sports, who held their same vision of sport. Hence, an AAA represented the hockey players, the track athletes, the swimmers and the rowers. In return for their support the AAAs offered standardized facilities, the first record-keeping, regular competitions and sports leagues and the banning of money in all it's forms from sport - payment, wagering, prize money - all in an effort to eradicate the cheating, drunkenness and mercenary nature of Canadian sport. They were creating, by force, a new culture of sport in Canada.
By 1900 cock-fighting and dog-fighting were driven completely underground. Matched racing in track, rowing and other sports were successfully controlled in the Toronto-Montreal corridor where the AAAs ruled. If you still wanted to find a good matched race to bet on you had to travel to the margins of society.
Orillia, Walter Knox's home town, apparently, was on the margins of society. Located just 120 kilometers north of Toronto, it was far enough away that the elites and their Amateur Associations did not hold sway there. There is no record of an Orillia AAA before WWI.
Orillia was a sports mad town. Just 4,000 people lived there, but it proudly called itself "The Town of Champions". Jake Gaudaur was the world professional sculling champion. His little brother Charlie was a Canadian wrestling champion. Of course Walter Knox was Canadian amateur pole vault champion, and so was his brother Jack just four years earlier. Robert Curran, teaming with John Gray of nearby Coldwater, was twice North American double sculls champion. Gray's two older brothers, George and Ab, were both Canadian shot put champions, George being world champion for a remarkable 17 years. Harry Gill was the North American all-around champion in track and filed. Orillia's lacrosse team was good enough to go on tour across Australia one year, we had a provincial champion curling team and our hockey teams were competitive with the best.
Some of these great athletes, like Curran and Gray, were amateurs. Others, like Gaudaur and Knox, decidedly were not. Up on the frontier (Orillia was the last stop before the rock of the Canadian shield, where settlement was sparse) the traditional approach to sport still flourished - matched competitions for huge stakes, with rampant gambling by the throngs of spectators who showed up for the big match.
It is interesting that Orillia, so close to conservative and wealthy Toronto, never developed an amateur association. When Walter Knox and Harry Gill wanted to go to the Canadian Track and Field Championships in 1900, there was no group to issue them amateur cards in Orillia for track, so they registered under the auspices of the Orillia Lacrosse Club. Later Walter had to join the Toronto Central YMCA to get an amateur card.
Orillia was no backwater town. It was known as the most progressive industrial town north of Toronto then, booming with the lumber industry and diversifying into many related industries. The YMCA, a strict adherent to the amateur ethic, was the dominant sports organization in the town then, and likely, because of its dominance, disguised any need for the conservative rulers of the town to establish an Amateur Athletic Association over-seen by the AAA of Canada.
This all made for a diverse and fascinating situation for sports enthusiasts in our town. There were upright amateur teams who competed on a provincial level in hockey, curling, baseball and lacrosse, but there were also the wild extravaganzas of professional matched races here too, most notably Jake Gaudaur's world championship sculling match out on Lake Couchiching in 1892. Orillians came out en masse to wager on the hometown hero.
Walter Knox, a sports mercenary if ever there was one, grew up in this culture. It was expected that there would be cash prizes for events at the local meets of his youth, and to prove one's manhood you always had to put your money on the table. It must have been very foreign for Walter to step into the amateur world in 1900 at his first Provincial Championships in Toronto.