ALFRED ERNEST ‘BONEY’ SUCKLING
(April 23, 1863 – January 11, 1937)
Winnipeg Old Garry’s (1883)
Toronto Ontarios (1887)
Vancouver Lacrosse Club (1886; 1887-1896)
Alfred Ernest ‘Boney’ Suckling was regarded as one of the best defensemen in the early, formative years of British Columbian lacrosse. Born in Aldershot, England, one of a family of ten, he moved with his family to Toronto, Ontario when he was a young boy. He came west with the Canadian Pacific Railroad and worked construction in the mountains for three years – he was present when the last spike was driven in the railroad at Craigellachie, British Columbia in 1885.
With him, he brought his love of lacrosse. Tough as nails and loved by fans, ‘Boney’ wore no padding nor gloves and was known to tape lead to the butt-end of his stick. But more importantly, he helped found the Vancouver Lacrosse Club, ca. 1886-1887, and during his lifetime he was often referred to as the ‘Father of Lacrosse in British Columbia’. In the 1889 edition of The Canadian Almanac & Directory, his accomplishments in “establishing healthy young clubs in Vancouver and Victoria” during the summer of 1888 were specifically noted in the lacrosse section of the sports and pastimes chapter.
In the final senior game of the 1895 season, against the Victoria Triangles at Caledonia Park, ‘Boney’ went on a headhunting expedition within ten minutes of the opening whistle. Suckling first targeted Ditchburn – putting the good-natured Victoria player’s head in bandages, dazing and dulling his spirits for the rest of the match. Suckling was finally sent off during the play for the third goal when he struck Frank Cullin on the side of his head with his stick, an action the Victoria Daily Colonist remarked “whenever he is playing a losing game gets nasty and plays roughly”. Cullin returned the blow and the two men then fell to the ground clinching each other in the scrap. After breaking up the melee, Referee JH Senkler removed both players from the remainder of the match.
Suckling occasionally played between the posts as Vancouver could never seem to settle on a consistent fixture in the goal crease. Some early seasons the keeper changed up with a different person from game to game while J Quann and Myers became the usual choices in the mid- to late-1890s. ‘Boney’ was listed as the goalkeeper in a photograph collage printed in the Saturday Globe newspaper in January 1897, accompanying a history of the lacrosse club to that date, although the previous season would end up being his final on the playing field.
‘Boney’ Suckling played for 11 seasons from the game’s debut on the Coast in 1886 until 1896 although he is not listed on the roster for the singular 1886 and 1887 matches played by the Vancouver Lacrosse Club – he may have been back in Toronto during that time. His final game ended in controversy, when the Victoria Capitals filed a protest – dismissed a couple weeks later on a bureaucratic technicality – due to his rough play in the September 4, 1896 match at Brockton Point.
Prior to his permanent relocation to Vancouver, he had played lacrosse with the Toronto Victorias junior team in 1883 and some senior teams there – most notably the Torontos and Toronto Ontarios senior squads in 1887. By the autumn of 1887, he was residing back on the west coast for good and fully immersed with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club and the local lacrosse scene. In 1883 he played for the Old Garry’s of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
After his retirement as a player, he later became a referee, team official, and the provincial association president. His involvement in lacrosse continued until a few years before his death at age 74.
In February 1905, while on the way home from a five-week trip to Eastern Canada, Suckling stopped over in Seattle and met with members of the Seattle Lacrosse Club. In his capacity as president of the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association, they were interviewing him about the possibly of the Seattle team joining the BCALA senior league. Seattle would indeed join for the 1905 season but then were ejected from the league a few months later, when they were unable to play their two final scheduled games.
He was one of the originators of the thoroughbred association at Minoru Park and was responsible for the building of what later became known as the Brighouse racetrack, now the site of Lansdowne Mall in Richmond.
Suckling’s grave is located at Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, British Columbia. He passed away at Essondale.
(PHOTO SOURCES: detail from CVA Sp P4.1; detail from CVA VLP63; author’s photograph)