There are segments of sociology, perhaps only found on the island of Cape Breton, that need to be recorded, if not studied. The “Lee Hawkers” game is one of those segments; a common summer night cry of “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” heard from the woods surrounding the New Waterford neighborhood on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This modified game of hide-and-seek involving two teams was part of the teens in the mid-1960s. Lee Hawkers was a creative game of hide-and-seek played in the specific suburban area of New Waterford called River Ryan / Scotchtown.
The River Ryan / Scotchtown area was, and still is today, a residential community. Unlike what happens today, the neighborhoods were more intertwined with forests and fields. Throughout the 1960s, on summer days, teens would play baseball, throw horseshoes, build forts in the woods, shoot practice rounds with air pistols, or cycle out of town to Lake Kilkenny for a swim. . But what would these typically testosterone-driven men do for late-night fun? What mischief could they find shrouded in the darkness of sweltering summer nights?
The mischief arose when the child’s game of hide and seek morphed into a more adult-oriented game involving two teams, a ‘jail’ and few, but specific, rules of engagement around getting caught and released from jail. . The best memory is that this game after dark was originally a men-only sport. Two teams of adolescent boys would take turns being the captured (Hiders) or the captors (Seekers). To begin, in a clearing, a field, or someone’s dirt driveway, using the branch of a tree or the heel of a player’s boot or shoe, you would roughly mark a large circle (6 to 8 feet in diameter) on the sun-tanned soil. . This would become the jail that the Seekers would throw the captured Hiders into.
To capture or trap a hidden member of the opposing team, the Seekers would begin their search in the dark wooded areas in search of the Hiders. It is dark. It is the forest. Seekers could jump on a concealer … so hunting was usually done in pairs of seekers. But why the name Lee Hawkers? Read on … once a Hider was isolated, according to the original search and capture rules, a Seeker would be required to spit (yes, a peddler!) On the Hider, punch them on the back while yelling “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”. This marked the Hider as a “catch” or “captured”. The Seekers would take the captured Hider back to jail (the circle) to keep him safe. The “Lee” (short for leeward) in “Lee Hawkers” was an obvious warning that you should spit, or hawk, in the direction of the wind to avoid getting hit with your own saliva (phew!). And then this spitting, or hawking – the “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” capture sequence – would repeat itself until all the Hiders were caught and incarcerated. Once all the Hiders were captured, the teams would switch roles: the Seekers would become Hiders and the Hiders would become Seekers. Hide. Capture. Cell. Change. If the game was so simplistic. The game was more complicated and much more dynamic because incarcerated Hiders could be released from “jail”. What what!
The jail was guarded by a couple of seekers. These Guard Seekers remained on high alert to prevent Hider’s teammates from releasing their imprisoned teammates. If an uncaught Hider was running through the jail, then all of the incarcerated Hiders were now technically released from jail, free to run back into the woods and hide once more. How could the Seekers stop these repeated outbreaks?
The trick was to catch these Hider leak experts before they ran through jail. Using the same 1-2-3 capture sequence (clearing his throat, hitting his back, yelling “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”) would not only stop an escape attempt but would also result in a re-capture of Hider. “To jail with you!” At this point in Lee Hawkers’ evolution, you have a game of hide-and-seek dominated by teenage men, after dark. A bit messy, somewhat primitive, but relatively harmless.
Enter the teenage girls. They want to play. Co-ed Lee Hawkers. This had new possibilities, new promises. Hmmm, a thought. A thought that fulfilled an ancient goal: have fun while you find a partner. Like Stag Line (see Ezine article: “The” Stag Line “- A Cape Breton Ballroom Label (part of Cape Breton’s social heritage)”), Lee Hawkers seems to have evolved from an excuse for a dating game wrapped up in the looks of team sports. Or was Lee Hawkers a primitive form of the game now called Paint Ball? Could the Paint Ball color symbols have replaced the spit, or the peddler, in Lee Hawkers’ historic culturally storied Cape Breton game? Or was this game called Lee Hawkers simply a ruse of teenagers to play with girls? These are surely questions that require further discussion.
The girls were in the game. But first the spitting and clearing had to go! So it was. Lee Hawkers became a gentler sport for the genders combined. Catching a Hider now involved only “hitting” (lightly hitting) a Hider girl on the back while yelling “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”. Since the new rules eliminated street vending, the Hiders who were about to be captured, no longer ran to avoid the ‘guber’. Instead, the Hiders would resist being captured by the Seeker by lying on their back to avoid being hit. Based on the Seeker-to-Hider size / strength ratio, the attempt (s) to flip and “back off” could result in a fairly lengthy fight. Sometimes it would take the effort of 2 or more seekers to flip and hit a captured potential hider.
Now let your imagination fill in the blanks here. Imagine what happened when the Hider was a woman, the Seeker was a man. Hider – woman. Seeker – man. Fight. If the Seeker was male and discovered a female Hider, he would never ask his Seeker teammates for help. This is the part where the subtle changes to the ‘unwritten’ rules went into effect when the girls joined the game. The effort was always different in these female-to-male capture encounters. There was a tacit adjustment in the rules of the game and a certain neutralization of male brute force. The male Seeker fought gently with the female Hider until she could turn her over or roll her off her back, and the male Seeker could strike her back combined with the cry “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”. It was amazing how long it took for a strong teenager to perform a simple 45-90 degree turn of a woman to gain access to her back. He owes that inexplicable physics of women!
Like Lee Hawkers’ game, so goes love and dating. Brute force is neutralized in hormone-driven games. It becomes smoother. Thrill the chemistry of sexual attraction. And so life goes.
Lee Hawkers was one of those 1960s Cape Breton freaks (or at least a Scotchtown – River Ryan) that, perhaps like Stag Line, was a dating game ritual wrapped up in the guise of team sports. . Or maybe it was the precursor to today’s Paint Ball. Whatever it was, it sure was memorable!