The National Game finds its feet 1886-1890

The Daily Colonist, Victoria (March 19, 1889)
The Daily Colonist, Victoria (March 19, 1889)

1886–1890 …The National Game finds its feet

In the years between the 1886 Beacon Hill match (discussed in a previous post) and the formation of the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association (BCALA) in 1890, lacrosse clubs would make haphazard arrangements for challenge matches – usually to be held on such popular, public holiday events as Empire Day or Dominion Day.

As in 1886, there was only one match reported played in 1887 – played between Victoria and Vancouver on Dominion Day with Victoria winning by two goals / “games” to none.

Vancouver Lacrosse Club was formally organised in 1888. The first practices were held on the sawdust at the Hastings Mill yard but it soon became apparently that more suitable playing grounds were required. Through the efforts of Al Larwill, AE Beck, and CG Johnson work began on clearing the Cambie Street grounds which became the first home for athletic clubs in the city.

New Westminster newspapers reported the formation of a lacrosse club in that city on May 12, 1888, but local fans would have to wait another year before the first ever lacrosse game played in the Royal City.

Alhambra Cup at the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame
Alhambra Cup at the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame

The 1888 season saw multiple challenges being issued back and forth between the Victoria and Vancouver clubs. In August, Kamloops played host to a match between the Victoria Lacrosse Club and Vancouver Lacrosse Club during the Canadian Pacific Railroad picnic held there. Won 3-2 by Victoria, the match took around three hours duration to complete. At one point, high winds and a dust storm interrupted play and it took fifty minutes to complete play for the final “game”.

The following spring saw Vancouver Lacrosse Club put forth the Alhambra Cup for competition – originally to be won by the team winning the most matches played in Vancouver, although as the playing season progressed, the Vancouver club would sometimes announce beforehand that, regardless of location, the upcoming game would count towards Alhambra Cup competition.

On June 8, 1889, the visiting Vancouver team dispatched an inexperienced New Westminster side with a 3-1 result in the debut of lacrosse for the Royal City. From such inauspicious beginnings on that Saturday afternoon, no one in attendance could have known they had just witnessed the birth of what would become arguably one of the most legendary lacrosse clubs in all of competitive sports.

After some wrangling, Vancouver and New Westminster ended up making the trip in September to the Kamloops CPR picnic to play; in the meanwhile, Victoria stayed home uninvited and sulked, feeling snubbed by the two other teams.

Vancouver Lacrosse Club, ca.1889-90 with the Alhambra Cup
Vancouver Lacrosse Club, ca.1889-90 with the Alhambra Cup

Concerns over betting at the final Alhambra Cup match in October 1889, which ended in a 2-2 draw, and disagreements between Vancouver and New Westminster over rules and player eligibility to play for what they deemed the ‘championship’, led some people to look at the example of Eastern Canada – for example, usage of a set code of rules like those used by the Manitoba Lacrosse Association. This encouraged them to look towards forming their own provincial association. A week before Christmas of 1889, during a dinner hosted by the president of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club for his players, discussion about the formation of a provincial association was brought up. The move towards formal, organised lacrosse would start to take shape in the spring of 1890.

(PHOTOS The Daily Colonist online archive; the author; CVA VLP 63)

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