First Name: Burns Wesley
Last Name: Pierce
Sport: Cycling
Inductee Type: Athlete
Year Inducted: Original
Home Town: Berwick
County: Kings County

It is doubtful that many of the regular patrons of Pierce Bowling Alley and Pool Hall on Mill Street during the 1920s and ‘30s knew what an illustrious athlete the owner had been before moving to Berwick. At the turn of the century, Burns Wesley Pierce had been one of the most famous and gifted competitors in the demanding sport of endurance cycling.

During the 1890s and early part of the 1900s, endurance bicycle racing was one of the most popular spectator sports. Thousands (one race once recorded a paid attendance of over 20,000) would crowd stadiums with steeply banked wooden tracks to watch and cheer while individuals and teams of cyclists pedaled furiously to set both distance and time records.

Burns Wesley Pierce was born in 1868 in East Sable River, Nova Scotia. In 1893, he moved with his young family to Linden, a village within the town of Malden, Massachusetts, where he was employed as a carpenter. One day, while cycling to work on an old second-hand cushion-tiered bicycle, he got into a race with some members of the local bicycle racing club. When he easily out-distanced these riders, his great natural ability and talent were quickly recognized, and he was immediately invited to become part of the club. Soon he was winning many local and amateur races in the New England area.

Pierce quickly became a fan favorite because of his highly competitive nature and great athletic ability. Because of the immense popularity of bicycle racing, race promoters sought to attract the best, most competitive racers; consequently, prizes and trophies of all sorts were offered. Since amateur riders couldn’t accept money, prizes included such diverse items as jewels, pianos, wagons, or lots of land. Burns Pierce once won a team of horses when he set the twenty-five-mile world record in 1896.

Because of these money restrictions, many of the best cyclists, including Pierce, formed the professional National Cycling Association in 1896. The organization quickly gained control of cycle racing in the United States, and Burns Pierce became one of the brightest stars in this new professional circuit. At one time, Pierce held the record for the 100-mile race (both in 1896 and 1899), American records at half-mile, two-, three-, four-, and five-mile distances, and the record for greatest distance covered in one hour.

Pierce’s greatest athletic feats took place in the endurance categories, which held a special fascination for him and his fans. He once won the San Francisco 24 hour race without ever dismounting from the bicycle, covering an astounding 467 miles – a record that stood long after his retirement. Pierce’s great strength and stamina were legendary and made him a much sought-after racer in the three- and six-day races that were so popular during the 1890s and early 1900s. These amazing contests of human endurance featured individuals or two-to-five-man teams riding continuously around the stadium tracks for three or six days. The winner was the rider or team who covered the most distance in the allotted time.

In one such individual six-day race, Pierce fell on the first day and injured a hand but strapped the hand to the handlebars and despite the obvious handicap, completed the race (another five days!), covering 1,732 miles and finishing sixth. In another three-day event, Pierce won while covering an amazing 809 miles. On teams, riders could substitute one another, but in the earliest races it was not unusual for the strongest riders to bike as many as 20 hours in a 24 hour period. After 1898, the rules changed so riders could only ride for a daily maximum of 12 hours. Miles and laps were recorded each hour and reported in the daily newspapers. Heavy betting was common among race fans.

Pierce often teamed with fellow Canadian Archie MacEachern in six-day events. They were a formidable team, often covering remarkable distances. Pierce also competed in special time trials in which cyclists paced by a motorized bicycle tried to break time records for particular distances. These time trials took place on very steeply banked wooden tracks around which thousands of spectators could cheer on the competitors. These races were particularly dangerous as evident by the death of several racers including Pierce’s good friend, Archie MacEachern.

Pierce’s many fans generally agree that his greatest race was the world middle distance championship in 1898. In this race, watched by over 20,000 spectators, Pierce dethroned the reigning world champion, Jimmie “Midget” Michael, by completing the 20-minute-mile in 37 minutes – a time that would still be very respectable today.

Burns Pierce retired from racing in 1905 and moved his family back to Nova Scotia. For a number of years, he lived in the Lockeport area. In 1923, the Pierce family moved to Berwick where Burns purchased the distinctive red brick house at #107 Foster Street. Until 1939, he operated a popular combination bowling alley/pool hall and tobacco shop on Mill Street, across from the railroad station. He was an avid outdoorsman and was said to be a “star curler” with the Berwick Curling Club. Burns Pierce passed away at his Berwick home in November 1944 at the age of 76.


• Set the 1896 25-milw world record
• Co-founder: Prof. National Cycling Association
• 1896 and 1899 100 mile race record holder
• American record holder: half, 2, 3, 4 and 5 mile
• Record for greatest distance covered in 1 hour
• Held record of 467 miles in the 24 hour race
• Successful competitor in 3 day and 6 day events
• Completed the 20-minute-mile in 37 minutes