The Sydney Rifle Club

Cape Breton Post: Marksmanship has a Long Tradition in Cape Breton

Members of one of the Sydney Rifle Club’s trophy-winning teams in the 1950s. From left, front, Otis Cossitt, Gus Cossitt, Mike Gillis and Palmer Thompson; back, Ed Clarke, Nick Coates, Alex Libbus and Abie Libbus. CONTRIBUTED

Article by PAUL MACDOUGALL

Guns and poses

In the very early 1900s, Billy Eisan was reputed to be one of the best shots in all of Canada. At matches in Halifax for the Merchants’ Trophy, he was near unbeatable. He qualified many times to represent the province at national shooting competitions but lacking government funding to participate he couldn’t afford to go.

Eisan was one of many Sydney residents who started the Sydney Rifle Club around the turn of the 20th century.

Target shooting and hunting were popular among the recently arriving Lebanese emigrants and Isaac Libbus was also a member of the first group that mainly shot .303 rifles which the military provided in the hopes some members would become reservists in the local militia.

Members would meet and shoot at the Cossitt farm off Upper Prince Street near the present-day bypass highway.

Sgt.-Maj. John Butterworth, left, instructing in rifle use. Circa 1940s. Contributed • Karen Butterworth.

Many members of the renewed Sydney Rifle Club also joined the militia so they could also shoot at the original Cossitt farm range on Upper Prince Street. Many of them became instructors for the reserve army and the army cadets.

During the late 1940s and 1950s, a competition circuit developed in Sydney with two teams from the rifle club, the RCMP had a team, a number of legion branches and the Whitney Pier fire department also had competitive shooting teams.

By 1960 though a decent shooting range was no longer available and the Sydney Rifle Club disappeared until 1972 when a new generation of shooting enthusiasts asked veteran rifleman Abe Libbus to help them form a club based at a disused underground target range at the former Point Edward Naval Base (now Sydport). The range was literally a dungeon but members used it for about 20 years.

The new club obtained a licence for both rifles and handguns and was renamed the Metro Rifle and Pistol Club in an effort to attract members from beyond just the Sydney area.

The what’s in a name approach worked and at one point the club attracted 195 members.

Otis Cossitt. Contributed • Cossitt Family

In 1997, the club opened a new, above-ground facility on top of the old navy range. To pay the mortgage, the club rented it to various law enforcement groups including police departments, security guards, game wardens and the coast guard. The club started .22 rifle and air gun shooting for cadets to encourage competitive shooting and made it fully accessible for disabled shooters. Women also took part in the competitive aspect of the club.

 

After a number of years, many original longtime members died and there was not enough support from others to run the club. A heavy tax bill fired the final volley at the indoor range when it was sold for taxes in 2009.

Patch of the Sydney Rifle and Pistol Club 1955-56. Contributed • Karen Butterworth

In time a new facility was acquired at the former Leitches Creek Department of Natural Resources site.

Today, the Metro Rifle and Pistol Club boasts many members that enjoy target shooting or go to site rifles for hunting. Some members compete with air pistols (a.k.a. pellet guns), shooting clay skeets or pistol shooting blanks at balloons while galloping a horse. I’ve seen this at the Cape Breton County Exhibition, it’s bang on.

Paul MacDougall is a local writer and senior instructor in health sciences at Cape Breton University. In junior high he owned a pellet rifle for two days until his mom made him give it back to Pickles Dilney.

This article was published on Oct 1st, 2020 and updated Oct 2nd, 2020

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