There are segments of sociology, found perhaps only on Cape Breton Island, that need to be recorded, if not studied. The game of “Lee Hawkers” is such a segment; a common summer night cry of “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” heard from the woods surrounding the New Waterford neighbourhood of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This game of modified hide-and-seek involving two teams was part of teen years in the mid-1960s. Lee Hawkers was a creative hide-and-seek game 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 today back then the neighbourhoods were more widely interlaced with forests and fields. Throughout the 1960s, summer days would see teenaged boys playing baseball, pitching horseshoes, building forts in the woods, shooting practice rounds with BB guns , or biking out of town to Kilkenny Lake for a swim. But what would these typically testosterone-driven males do for night-time fun? What mischief could they find cloaked in the darkness of sultry 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 being captured and being freed from jail. The best recollection is that this after dark game was originally a male only sport. Two teams of male teens would take turns being the captured (Hiders) or the captors (Seekers). To begin, in a clearing, a field or in someone’s dirt driveway, using a tree branch or the heel of a player’s boot or sneaker, a large circle (6-8 feet in diameter) would be roughly marked in the sun-baked ground. This would become the jail into which the captured Hiders would be thrown by the Seekers.
To capture or catch a hiding member of the opposing team, the Seekers would start their hunt in the dark wooded areas for any Hiders. It’s dark. It’s the forest. Seekers could jump out at a Hider… so usually the hunt was carried out in pairs of Seekers. But why the name Lee Hawkers? Read on… once a Hider was isolated, according to the original rules of seek and capture, a Seeker would be required to spit (yes a hawker!) on the Hider, pound them on the back while yelling “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”. This marked the Hider as a “catch” or “captured”. The Seekers would lead the captured Hider back to jail (the circle) for safe keeping. The “Lee” (short for leeward) in “Lee Hawkers” was a obvious warning that you should spit, or hawk, in the direction of the wind to avoid getting hit with your own spit (ugh!). And so this spitting, or hawking – the “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” capture sequence – would be repeated until all the Hiders were caught and in jail. Once all the Hiders were captured, the teams would switch roles – Seekers would become Hiders and Hiders would become Seekers. Hide. Catch. Jail. Switch. Were that …"Lee Hawkers – A 1960s Cape Breton Adolescent Hide-‘n-Seek Game – A Precursor to Paint Ball?"