Con Jones

Con Jones, 1913
Con Jones, 1913

(August 13, 1869 – June 3, 1929)

For such a major figure in the early Vancouver sports scene, the details are few and far between on Con Jones. Nothing is known of his early life except that he was born on August 13, 1869 and originally hailed from the Woollahra suburb of Sydney in New South Wales. Some accounts say Jones had been a bookie in his native Australia – others say that he later became a bookie here.

What is known for certain is that he arrived in Vancouver in November 1903 and in the years that followed, he opened up a tobacconist’s, the Brunswick pool hall, some bowling alleys, and a café.

Jones marketed his tobacco under the brand name of “Don’t Argue”, which had one of the most unique business logos ever: a guy in a bowler hat confidently muffling another man in the face. The store motto was “Don’t Argue, Con Jones Sells Fresh Tobacco” and it may have featured the first neon sign in Vancouver – sporting his famous “Don’t Argue” logo. There is strong evidence hinting that Jones surreptitiously “borrowed” the slogan and imagery which was also used by Hutton’s Hams & Bacons in his native Australia.

Within two years of his arrival he became one of Vancouver’s leading sports promoters. Jones started out with billiards; one of his first promotions was offering up a trophy for the BC Amateur Championship in May 1904 – but his first loves would be soccer and lacrosse, and he would spend big bucks to promote them both.

Around 4,000 spectators showed up to witness Vancouver’s debut at Hastings Park on May 31, 1913. On this site, Con Jones would build the stadium that would bear his name.
Around 4,000 spectators showed up to witness Vancouver’s debut at Hastings Park on May 31, 1913. Across the road from this site, Con Jones would later build the stadium that would bear his name.

His association with amateur lacrosse begun around 1907 with the National Sports Club. Con Jones then became a key influence in the formation of the British Columbia Lacrosse Association professional league in 1909 (no relation whatsoever to the modern BCLA provincial organisation). He took over as president of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club on March 22, 1909 – although newspaper reports arising six months earlier from the infamous gunshot incident  in New Westminster on September 26, 1908 seem to indicate Jones had some sort of involvement or influence over the club operations at that point, when he spoke up in defense of the incriminated Vancouver trainer George Paris.

With Con Jones now in charge, professionalism in Vancouver lacrosse had arrived and with it the money to acquire the necessary talent to win. He lured such stars as Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, Angus ‘Bones’ Allen, and William ‘Spike’ Hennessy from Eastern teams to sign with Vancouver in 1909.  Lalonde would become one of his favourite targets over the years, such as offering him $3,500 to $5,000 to return in 1911 for a single season, an astronomical sum for its day. (The actual amount Newsy earnt varies depending on sources).

Jones loved sports so much he built his own stadium on a two-block site that was located on Renfrew Street across from the PNE grounds. His lacrosse team vacated Recreation Park downtown and moved to his new athletic grounds in 1913. Jones would later construct a grandstand, which soon acquired the name ‘Con Jones Park’. Today the site is called Callister Park – although his wooden stadium is long gone, having been demolished in 1971. As well as benefiting the professional game, he continued to help build the amateur game at a local level by donating sticks and equipment to youngsters in the public schools.

After running into a scheduling dispute with New Westminster in July 1913, the Salmonbellies walked off the field in protest. Jones pulled the plug on his Vancouver team, refunding $5,000 in ticket revenue to disappointed fans as the sport skidded into the doldrums.

“Don't Argue, Con Jones Sells Fresh Tobacco”
“Don’t Argue! Con Jones Sells Fresh Tobacco”

He would return to lacrosse in 1915, after the Vancouver Athletics had floundered the year before as a replacement for his old club. However, Jones himself would soon fall into financial difficulties. With the Vancouver club mired in debt to the amount of $2,300 just two months into the season, Jones showed his accounting books to the Vancouver players and stated he would not be paying them for the rest of the season. The three Easterners that he had imported for the 1915 season packed up and left for home the following week.

The Great War would then make the 1916 and 1917 lacrosse seasons two of its many casualties as play was suspended due to the war effort.

By the time pro lacrosse was revived in 1918, it had lost its primacy in the hearts of Vancouver’s sports fans. Jones’ own interest in the pro game would sour again after the 1918 season when his Vancouver team won the Mainland Lacrosse Association and claimed the Minto Cup. However, the New Westminster Salmonbellies then claimed the following year – conveniently after they had lost the cup series – that they had never fielded a team and rejected Vancouver’s claims for the Minto Cup.

While the early 1920s would see the game regain some traction amongst fans, it never flourished at the same dizzying level as it did under Jones’ heyday during the decade prior. In the meantime, out of disgust with the recent situation with New Westminster, Jones refocused his attention to supporting the amateur game.

Con Jones on the field prior to a PCLA match between his Vancouver Lacrosse Club and the Victoria Capitals sometime in May-June 1921.

In late September and October of 1920, Jones met with his former star-player Billy Fitzgerald to lay out some plans for fielding a team to play against a Vancouver team involving Jones. Although never progressing beyond talk, conflicting and muddled news reports hinted that Fitzgerald would either organise and manage an unidentified eastern team to play a twelve-game schedule versus Vancouver or he would organise a Seattle lacrosse team to play in an ‘international league’ involving Vancouver and Montréal. Whether the failure of this international league bankrolled by Con Jones later lent weight to the creation of his Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association venture the following year involving Vancouver and Victoria (of which Billy Fitzgerald was a member) is unknown.

When he returned to the professional game in 1921, what seemed like a repeated occurrence over the years, constant disputes with the Salmonbellies, struck yet again. New Westminster refused to play against a Jones team, so this time Jones simply walked with his players and formed his own new league, the Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association, with Victoria as the token opposition. But his new venture was short-lived and floundered after just 5 games. Despite importing easterners to stock the teams, Victoria was hopelessly outclassed and the PCLA experiment quickly proved futile.

“The Man behind the gun” in 1922 for Vancouver Lacrosse Club. This would be his only Mann Cup title.

The following year saw Con Jones return to the senior amateur ranks as “the man behind the gun” for Vancouver Lacrosse Club in the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association’s senior league. Vancouver won the BCALA league on July 31, 1922 and were awarded the Mann Cup a week later. This would be Jones’s first and only Mann Cup championship however it would also be brief.

Just over a month later, Vancouver Lacrosse Club and New Westminster (champions of the Pacific Coast Amateur Lacrosse Association) met in a three-game, total goals series in the first half of September 1922 with both the Mann Cup and provincial champion Kilmarnock Cup on the line. After Vancouver were up 7-6 in goals after two games, they then defaulted their third game after a brawl broke out and the team refused to return to the field. The score was 1-1, so New Westminster lined up and they then went through the formal motions of scoring two unopposed goals into the empty net to take the series and the silverware back by 9 goals to 8.

If you look on the Mann Cup plaques today, there is no reference to Vancouver Lacrosse Club as one of the two champions in 1922, an honour which they rightly held under the challenge cup rules of the day. In those days, the cups were often engraved by the teams but Vancouver likely did not have enough time to put their name on it in the month they possessed the cup. When the Canadian Lacrosse Association took permanent possession in 1926, their list of champions was obviously based on whatever was engraved on the cup so the 1922 Vancouver Lacrosse Club championship was lost and soon forgotten. Much like his 1918 Minto Cup title which was taken away from him thanks to off-field actions, his lone Mann Cup title would be written out from history until rediscovered, buried away in the newspapers, some 80-years later.

Jones found himself returning to the British Columbia Lacrosse Association in 1924 after coming to an agreement with New Westminster over organisation for the upcoming season. (It is unknown whether Jones was involved with the professional club during the course of the previous season – and if so, to what extent.)

Con Jones with his talent-laden Vancouver Lacrosse Club, 1913
Con Jones with his talent-laden Vancouver Lacrosse Club in 1913

Sadly, just as Con Jones had a hand in building the professional game in Vancouver, he would also have a hand in its demise in that city – and ultimately in Canada, as the last professional bastion of the sport was on the Pacific Coast.

In June 1924, four games into the season, Jones suddenly and without warning threw in the towel.

Like a “bolt from the blue”, as one newspaper commented, Jones was forced to quit the game on his doctor’s orders. When local baseball legend Bob Brown then offered to step in and take Jones’s place leading the Vancouver club, the rescue attempt was quickly quashed when Jones flatly refused to allow his park to be used free of charge to help keep the national game alive.

As the Vancouver Province stated: “And that’s that. Con Jones is through.” – and so died the last remnants of the pro lacrosse game in Canada.

Jones was watching a soccer game at Con Jones Park when he suffered a stroke. Five days later, he suffered another attack and passed away at nine o’clock in the morning of June 3, 1929 at the age of 59. He was survived by his wife, four sons, and a daughter. His mausoleum is located at Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, British Columbia.

In 1965, in recognition of his status as a builder of the game, Con Jones was named one of the charter inductees in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

(PHOTOS CVA99-35; CVA 99-1018.17; CLHOF X994.155; CVA371-576)

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