Monthly Archives: November 2013

Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull

Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull, ca.1909
Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull, ca.1909

(December 6, 1863/1872 – August 27, 1956)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1897-1909; 1918)

Born in either Stratford or nearby Paris, Ontario, Alex Turnbull played his earliest senior games starting in 1884 with an assortment of Toronto and area clubs. Newspapers mention such local teams as the Toronto Athletics, Paris Brants, Brockville, Perth, Toronto Junction, Toronto Elms, West Torontos, Peterboros – and then, lastly, the famous Toronto Tecumsehs.

In the fall of 1897, Turnbull moved to British Columbia to ply his trade as a typesetter – first to Rossland and then onwards to New Westminster where he played with the New Westminster Salmonbellies from 1897 until 1909 with a brief comeback in 1918. On arrival in New Westminster, he took an immediate liking to the city and soon found employment with the fire department.

A true legend on the field, ‘Dad’ was regarded, by the standards of his day, to be quite healthy for his age and a model athlete for his diet and regimen. Strong, agile, and a good sprinter, Turnbull was a fairly small player standing at 5 foot 6 inches and weighing in at 145 lbs. during his prime years. Notable for the era, he never drank and very rarely smoked and he was praised in newspapers such as the Ottawa Citizen for his temperance and “clean living”.

The story behind his nickname ‘Dad’ – obviously play on his age – is that a Vancouver Daily Province writer wished it on him in 1908 after Turnbull had helped lead the youngsters of the New Westminster Salmonbellies back east to their first Minto Cup victory.

Always drawing attention from the press for his remarkable, advanced playing age, there however appears to be some serious discrepancies reconciling the birth year of 1872 – which is the usual given year, based on handwritten notation in a Turnbull family Bible – with the start of his senior playing career in 1884.

Alex Turnbull, ca.1900-1905
Alex Turnbull, ca.1900-1905

The details regarding his early life remain mysterious as the various dates associated often do not seem to stick. The Montréal Gazette noted in a 1908 article that he was aged 44 at time of publication (on July 31, 1908) and he would be 45 as of September of that year, which would imply he was born in 1863. It also would imply a different birthdate from that of December 6. This 1863 birth year would however better correspond with his senior playing career beginning in 1884, because otherwise he would have been 12 (if born in 1872) when he started playing senior lacrosse.

Based on independent research, both the BC Sports Hall of Fame and this author came to the same conclusion: the earlier year of 1863 is more historically accurate and feasible than the family’s claim of 1872.

To add further confusion, in an Ottawa Citizen reprint of a Vancouver Daily Province interview in 1917, his age at retirement in 1910 was quoted as being 42, which he neither confirmed nor denied – and which would then imply a birth year of 1868 thereabouts. The same article stated that he started playing senior in 1886, which conflicts with other newspaper reports.

In the twilight of his career when the professional game came along, he had to stop playing in 1909 after suffering two broken ribs during a game, but made a comeback in 1918 at age 46.

In later years, he was employed as the warden at the provincial jail in New Westminster. In April 1911, he made headlines in the newspapers as far east as the Ottawa Citizen when he was accidentally shot in the leg when one of the guards’ revolvers “exploded” while on duty as deputy gaoler. He later transferred to the land registry office where he worked until his retirement in 1946.

Alex Turnbull as manager of the senior amateur Salmonbellies, ca. 1913
Alex Turnbull enjoying a rare cigar while manager of the senior amateur Salmonbellies, ca. 1913

Two years prior to his passing, he was asked for his opinion on professional sports. Still an ardent supporter for amateurism, ‘Dad’ Turnbull replied that “…the introduction of professionals killed the game for me and a lot like me because the fun went out of it.

In 1965, Alex Turnbull was posthumously inducted as a charter member to the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Two years later ‘Dad’ was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame.

Alex Turnbull was a member of the Canadian Olympic team that won a gold medal for lacrosse at the 1908 London games, one of two New Westminster players who made the trip to England for the Fourth Olympiad. Canada won the gold medal when they defeated Great Britain by a score of 14-10 on October 24, 1908 – with Turnbull scoring once in the first quarter and bagging a pair of goals in the third. In a tournament which featured just two nations and a single match, it would be the last appearance of lacrosse at the Olympics as a fully recognised, non-demonstration sport.

At some point during the 1970s, his gold medal from the Olympics was put on display at the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Sadly, in the early weeks of January 1980, the hall of fame fell victim to one of a co-ordinated series of museum break-ins that occurred in Vancouver and New Westminster. The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Irving House Museum, the New Westminster Museum & Archives, the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame, and some other locations, all suffered break-ins which resulted in the theft of around 20 irreplaceable and priceless gold-metal items from the premises. None of these items stolen in 1980 – including Alex Turnbull’s Olympic gold medal – have ever been located or recovered. Most likely all were melted down for their gold content.

However the thieves, obviously professionals based on their co-ordinated targeting and timing, thankfully left the Mann Cup and Minto Cup unharmed during the break-in.

(PHOTO NWCA IHP1725; CLHOF X979.214.1)

Billy Fitzgerald

Billy Fitzgerald, 1911
Billy Fitzgerald, 1911

(February 20, 1888 – June 30, 1926)

St. Catharines Athletics (1907-1908; 1918)
Toronto Lacrosse Club (1909-1910; 1912)
Vancouver Lacrosse Club (1911; 1915)
Toronto Rosedales (1914)
Cornwall Colts (1919)
Victoria Capitals (1921)
Vancouver Terminals (1924)

Billy Fitzgerald of St. Catharines, Ontario was one of the greatest players of the field lacrosse era. He played most of his lacrosse back east in St. Catharines and Toronto but in 1911 he was enticed to the Coast by a $5,000 offer from promoter Con Jones to sign with his talent-laden Vancouver Lacrosse Club – who then went on to win the Minto Cup championship that year, in one of the few seasons they managed to out-play the Salmonbellies for the silverware.

As well as playing for Vancouver in 1911 – where he scored 15 goals in 14 games – he played parts of three other seasons on the Pacific Coast with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club (1915), Victoria Capitals (1921), and Vancouver Terminals (1924). He appeared in a total of just 26 games out west and scored 28 goals – but this was still good enough for him to finish 19th in career goal scoring.

In late September and October of 1920, Con Jones met with his former star-player 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.

The international league never happened but Fitzgerald did play and oversee the Victoria Capitals team in Con Jones’s brand-new Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association of 1921 – which lasted all of 5 games before folding.

Fitzgerald died at the age of 38 due to complications arising from an operation for gallstones. A few months later in September 1926, a memorial game in St. Catharines, which was attended by thousands, was played in his honour by former team-mates and opponents.

In 1950, he finished second in voting by Canadian journalists for the honours of Canada’s greatest lacrosse player of 1900-1950. Billy Fitzgerald was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1961 and inducted four years later as an original member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

billy fitzgerald stats


Post-war Revival and the End of an Era 1918-1924

There are very few authenticated photos from the post-war professional game. This appears to be a New Westminster squad from ca.1922-1924
There are very few authenticated photos from the post-war professional game. This appears to be a New Westminster squad from ca.1922-1924

1918–1924 …Post-war Revival and the End of an Era

The Mainland Lacrosse Association was formed in 1918 with New Westminster and Vancouver as a pro league replacement to the inactive British Columbia Lacrosse Association.

However a year later at the BCLA Annual Meetings held on May 8 and 15, 1919, the Minto Cup Trustees and British Columbia Lacrosse Association refused to recognise the results of the Mainland Lacrosse Association series as being official. Vancouver had won the eight-game series but would not be awarded the Minto Cup. Vancouver claimed that they were in perfect order to organise a new league in lieu of the BCLA, which had suspended operations for the duration of World War One. New Westminster disagreed and claimed (somewhat well after the fact) that their club did not actually operate in 1918.

The professional British Columbia Lacrosse Association resumed play that season with the New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Vancouver Terminals – a new club founded by Pete Muldoon and Harry Pickering on May 19, 1919 and incorporated with $5,000 in capital as the Vancouver Terminal Lacrosse Company two months later around July 18, 1919. In the meantime, out of disgust with the recent situation with New Westminster, Con Jones walked away from the pro game and turned his attention to supporting the amateurs.

A year later, in 1920, the May 24 game saw the largest crowd turnout in New Westminster since the heady days of 1911. The Dominion Day match-up saw the novelty of four movie cameras in attendance along with numerous fans from Vancouver Island and from as far as Seattle and Tacoma. The large crowds continued throughout the season.

In late September and October of 1920, Con Jones met with his former star-player Billy Fitzgerald to lay out some plans to field 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 his Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association venture the following year involving Vancouver and Victoria (of which Billy Fitzgerald was a member), is unknown.

Vancouver Terminals lining up prior to a BCLA match at Athletic Park in 1921.

In April 1921 there were serious discussions between the Vancouver Terminals and the Montréal Shamrocks regarding a Minto Cup challenge in Vancouver. A three-game total-goals series was proposed by cup trustee Charlie Welsh to be played the following month – however the series then soon fell victim to a contract dispute within the Terminals organisation between the players and management, as well as uncertainty who exactly now held the Minto Cup due to the apparent split breaking out within the club into two factions.

May 1921 saw the formation of a second professional club in Vancouver – the Vancouver Lacrosse Club, fronted by Con Jones – after a large majority of the players with the Vancouver Terminals then bolted to sign with Jones due to money issues. After the New Westminster Salmonbellies declared their refusal to play Jones’s new team and stated they would only compete against the Terminals for the Minto Cup, Jones responded by forming a Victoria club and starting up a second, professional league for his team to play in.

This new league was called the Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association (different from the amateur PCALA in existence at the same time) and consisted of the new Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Victoria Capitals. With two professional leagues in operation simultaneously, as many as 16 players were recruited from Ontario – the majority signing with the Vancouver Terminals in the BCLA as replacements for those players lost to the Vancouver Lacrosse Club team in the PCLA. Victoria Capitals also benefited from the influx of Easterners to buttress their roster. Amongst all this roster movement, only New Westminster seemed unaffected.

Action gets underway off the draw in this PCLA match between Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Victoria Capitals in May-June 1921. The two centreman are probably Paddy McDougall (Victoria) and Everett McLaren (Vancouver).

However, soon after the PCLA played its first game, it was obvious to all that Victoria was seriously outclassed and talks began to merge into a three-team league with two Vancouver clubs and the Salmonbellies. No merger agreement was able to be worked out – and after five games into the season, the PCLA disbanded on June 13, 1921. Four days later, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club applied to join the BCLA but their request was denied. As the rest of the BCLA season played out, some Vancouver players in the PCLA eventually made their way back to their original BCLA club from which they had departed.

The BCLA league became a fatality in September 1923 with two games remaining to be played; like many previous seasons lost during mid-season, it was due to a grievance over scheduling.

As with every other season before, 1924 started with a lot of promise. But in the end, it proved to be the final curtain call when professional lacrosse in British Columbia died an inglorious death on June 3, 1924. Sadly, just as Con Jones had a hand in building up the professional game in Vancouver, he would have a hand in its demise in that city, and ultimately in Canada – as its last bastion was on the Pacific Coast. 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.

(PHOTO SOURCES: NWMA IHP0371; CVA 99-905; CVA 99-1018.8 )

The National Game reigns over the West Coast 1909-1915

New Westminster scores goal at Queens Park.
New Westminster scores at Queens Park.

1909–1915 …The National Game reigns over the West Coast

The infamous gunshot incident of 1908, still talked about amongst fans as late as the 1950s, slipped off the attention of league executives by the start of the following season, buried under the growing contentious debate regarding professionalism in the sport.

During the 1908 season, New Westminster Salmonbellies, an amateur team, challenged and defeated the Montréal Shamrocks and Ottawa Capitals, both professional teams, for the Minto Cup – which was awarded to the professional champion of Canada. Now tainted for playing against professionals, New Westminster’s players had their amateur status revoked. As a result, in 1909 the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association went professional and the organisation became a league known as the British Columbia Lacrosse Association – although some amateur players were allowed and did compete alongside the professional players that season.

The bulk of the senior amateurs then formed a new organisation called the Pacific Coast Amateur Lacrosse Association. Around the same time, the British Columbia Coast Lacrosse Association formed on May 9, 1909 to replace the former BCALA as the provincial governing body for amateur players.

Salmonbellies defense ragging the ball at Recreation Park, ca. 1911.
New Westminster defense ragging the ball at Recreation Park, ca. 1911.

The professional BCLA consisted of New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Vancouver Lacrosse Club and would stay at two member teams throughout its entire tenure – although as we shall see, many a season would be abandoned due to squabbling between clubs and owners. On July 24, 1909, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club won their first away game in four years, drubbing the Royal City squad 6-1 in front of the largest crowd out so far that season.

On February 23, 1911, the Mount Pleasant Maple Leafs senior team decided to apply for membership in the professional league representing as the North Vancouver Lacrosse Club. While the prospective third team began the process to get itself organised, infighting within the former club soon broke out – to the point that both the Maple Leafs and North Vancouver submitted separate applications during the following month, bogged down by bureaucratic, political details and threats of court injunctions. While both the New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Vancouver Lacrosse Club seemed agreeable to a second Vancouver-based team (North Vancouver would play its matches in Vancouver, and not on the North Shore), it was obvious that a four-team pro league was not feasible due to limited money and talent to go around for everyone. Ultimately the issue was resolved when two test matches were arranged in the pre-season pitting the North Vancouver squad against the two pro clubs. After being soundly defeated by results of 12-3 and 13-3, their application was quickly rejected – and further talk of expanding the league was quickly silenced.

Lacrosse action (ca. 1911) at Recreation Park. Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray is manning the goal for New Westminster and it appears ‘Newsy’ Lalonde is the Vancouver player going in on goal.
Lacrosse action (ca. 1911) at Recreation Park. ‘Sandy’ Gray is between the posts for New Westminster and it appears ‘Newsy’ Lalonde is the Vancouver player going in on goal.

The 1911 campaign probably stands, even to this day, as the high-water mark of British Columbian lacrosse in terms of both quality on the field and popularity in the stands. Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, regarded as the greatest lacrosse player of the first half of the 20th century, was signed on for $3,500 ($72,000 in modern currency) – an incredible sum of cash in those days for a professional athlete. The series between the two local rivals was very close and intense; the regular season resulting in a draw in the standings and a two-game, total-goals playoff was required to determine that year’s Minto cupholders. Vancouver secured their first ever shutout against the hated Salmonbellies during the second of a pair of exhibition matches held in honour of the royal coronation. Crowds were huge, the 12,045 that weathered out a drizzled Dominion Day afternoon at Recreation Park was believed to have been a record breaker. Crowds in the range of 8,000 – in excess of the record numbers just ten years prior – were considered the norm of the day and the attendance record would be surpassed again when the Toronto Tecumsehs unsuccessfully challenged the Vancouver Lacrosse Club for the Minto Cup in October.

Vancouver goalkeeper Cory Hess making a save against New Westminster at Hastings Park on May 31, 1913
Vancouver goalkeeper Cory Hess making a save against New Westminster at Hastings Park on May 31, 1913

After three seasons of unprecedented popularity, the BCLA season collapsed seven games into the 1913 campaign. The Salmonbellies again had issues with the Vancouver club and had refused to start their Dominion Day match, walking off the field in protest. After almost two weeks with no agreement in the dispute, Con Jones pulled the plug on his Vancouver Lacrosse Club team and withdrew from the league on July 17, 1913 – refunding $5,000 in ticket revenue to disappointed fans as the sport now skidded into the doldrums.

With Vancouver club president Con Jones, the famous local sports promoter and owner of a chain of tobacconist’s shops, now calling it quits and out of the picture, popular interest in the game began to wane. More than any other individual, Jones was responsible for the promotion and growth of enthusiastic public support of lacrosse in the heady days of the early 1910s with his vast sums of money thrown around for signing players. His ‘retirement’ now coincided with the gradual departure of lacrosse from the sporting public’s hearts and minds.

‘Bun’ Clark defends the New Westminster goal against Vancouver sniper ‘Bones’ Allen (#9) at Hastings Park, ca. 1913.
‘Bun’ Clark defends the New Westminster goal against Vancouver sniper ‘Bones’ Allen (#9) at Hastings Park, 1913.

After a successful PCALA season, the Vancouver Athletic Club fielded a professional team in 1914 and replaced the departed Vancouver Lacrosse Club in the BCLA. However, they too failed to make it to the end of the season as the club disbanded on July 8, 1914 – which sadly saw the end of one of the more promising pro seasons on the pitch to have come along in a few years.

For an all-too-brief moment in time, a pro league called the Western Lacrosse Association was formed in 1915 as a replacement for the (temporarily folded) BCLA with teams in Vancouver and Victoria. After the initial announcement of this newly formed league, no further reference was ever made to it again. New Westminster soon returned to the pro fold along with Vancouver – and, so too did Con Jones. Victoria was then quietly dropped and as far as anyone was concerned, the BCLA was back in business as per usual.

One-half of a panoramic view of Recreation Park in downtown Vancouver. This incredible photograph, which appears to be from one the Minto Cup challenge matches played between Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Toronto Tecumsehs in the Autumn of 1911
One-half of a panoramic view of Recreation Park in downtown Vancouver. This incredible photograph appears to be from one the Minto Cup challenge matches played between Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Toronto Tecumsehs in the Autumn of 1911

The British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association was formed in May 1915, six years after the demise of the previous BCALA incarnation as yet another provincial lacrosse body. There were now a whole host of provincial bodies abound: the BCALA, the PCALA, and the BCCLA organisations in the amateur ranks and the BCLA for the professional players.

Con 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 1915 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 in for the season packed up and left for home the following week.

1916–1917 …Patriotic Lacrosse during the Great War

Organised Lacrosse fell by the wayside in 1916 and suspended operations for the remainder of the First World War as the war effort took centre-stage attention. When club officials in New Westminster refused to field a team in 1916 and for the rest of the duration of the war, Con Jones continued to plan and recruit players in early April 1916 for a potential pro campaign involving two Vancouver clubs. However, a BCLA league meeting held on the evening of April 18, 1916 stopped those plans dead in their tracks when it was decided that “in the interest of the Empire’s fight, it would be better if professional lacrosse were suspended on the Pacific Coast until after the end of the war”.

In the absence of the pro and amateur leagues, 1916 would see a couple exhibition games arranged by old-timer teams for patriotic fund raising while 1917 would feature a five-game ‘patriotic lacrosse series’ between two squads called the Vancouver Patriotic Club and the Maple Leafs – featuring an unprecedented mix of professional and amateur players from Vancouver and New Westminster, with all profits going to charities associated with the war effort.

The initial old-timers’ match, played at Brockton Point on Dominion Day of 1916, was attended by 2,500 to 3,000 fans and raised $1700 for the Returned Soldiers Fund. In the following year, work was begun starting in January and through into the spring months to revive lacrosse.

At a formal meeting held on April 18, 1917, twenty-seven players from Vancouver and New Westminster decided to organise a patriotic lacrosse series with the entire profits to be contributed to patriotic charities. Many of the players who were married or otherwise unable to go overseas, nevertheless wanted to do their part in assisting in the war effort. Finances were handled by the British Columbia Amateur Athletic Union (BCAAU) due to one of the stipulations required to preserve the amateur status of the amateur players who would be playing alongside their professional brethren. Players were paid by means of a co-operative system with a portion of the gate receipts going to the Canadian Patriotic Fund.

In addition to the patriotism aspect, the series was used to keep public interest in the game with the post-war years in mind. Boys under the age of fourteen were admitted for free, in the hopes it would encourage future interest and participation in the sport. The rosters were somewhat fluid as players came and went. For the first three games, the teams were the Vancouver Patriotic Club and the Maple Leafs. In the fourth match, New Westminster featured in a combined Maple Leafs squad versus Vancouver.

(PHOTOS CVA 371-578; CVA 371-596; CVA 371-583; CVA 371-578; Sp P71; PAN P87)

1908… The Season that ended with a Bang

New Westminster Salmonbellies, 1908
New Westminster Salmonbellies, 1908


In the early days of lacrosse, the rivalry between the New Westminster Salmonbellies and Vancouver Lacrosse Club was fierce, intense, and heated. Tension and hostilities often erupted and bled out on the field and sometimes into the stands. Skirmishes between the two teams, and their loyal supporters, were not an uncommon sight. This is the story of one season, one particular game in fact, held over one hundred years ago that resulted in the season ending with a bang… literally!

On Saturday, September 26, 1908, ten-thousand souls showed up at Queens Park to watch New Westminster and Vancouver in the final match of the season between the clubs.

Vernon Green
Vernon Green

The press had deemed the game a championship affair, although in reality the result would have little to no real bearing on the final outcome of the league’s standings. New Westminster had already secured itself the championship of the four-team senior league (Mount Pleasant Maple Leafs and Victoria Lacrosse Club were the other two teams in the league along with New Westminster and Vancouver), and eagerly awaited the challenge of defending the Minto Cup against the visiting Ottawa Capitals.

Likely out of lack of interest in the result, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club arrived at the field short for players and had to borrow a substitute goalkeeper named Munn from the ranks of the Salmonbellies.

The game soon got off to a choppy start when Vancouver’s centreman Vernon Green laid out a vicious slash on a young lad by the name of Gordon ‘Grumpy’ Spring. ‘Grumpy’ would in time become the greatest goal-scorer to grace the pro game on the Pacific Coast – however on this very day, Spring was making his senior level debut. Accidental or not, Green was sent off for ten minutes while Spring nursed a deep gash to his head. Welcome to the big leagues, Grumpy!

Gordon Spring, ca.1908
Gordon Spring, ca.1908

With Vancouver in the process of getting spanked 8-0, Vernon Green then levied further punishment in the form of a hard hit to another New Westminster player named Irving ‘Punk’ Wintemute. After serving another five minutes in penalties and taunting referee Joe Reynolds for being afraid of the home side, Green then targeted New Westminster captain Tommy Gifford as the game now neared the final minutes before the whistle sounded the half.

Likely in retaliation for what had happened earlier to ‘Grumpy’ and ‘Punk’, while Green was sandwiched fighting for the ball, Tom Gifford gave the tempestuous greenshirt the butt-end of his sick. Green was looking for payback, so with their sticks now swinging and chopping, Gifford received severe cuts to his face and a broken nose.

Jimmy Gifford, Tom’s younger brother, then made a dash for Green as friends of both men began to make their way out on to the field to lend assistance. Soon, hundreds of spectators had spilled out on the field and the lacrosse game was abandoned as a full-blown riot broke out.

Tommy Gifford, ca.1908
Tommy Gifford, ca.1908

Being the primary target for the wrath of New Westminster fans, Vernon Green managed to make his exit from the field and sought out refuge in the visitors’ clubhouse. When hostile fans tried to get to him, the trainer for Vancouver, a former prizefighter by the name of George Paris, blocked the way.

While Paris was standing by the dressing room door in protection of the retreating Vernon Green, an unidentified man in a light suit pelted the Vancouver trainer square in the head with a rotten egg. The Ottawa Citizen later claimed the man’s identity was in fact New Westminster club official and former player, Oscar Swanson.

George Paris drew his revolver as he looked for the unknown egg-pelter who had skedaddled back into the crowd. A police detective and a city worker named Dave Burnett, whose head the rotten egg had whizzed past, tried to subdue the angry trainer. Incensed, Paris made threats at them to back off. When the two men grabbed Paris, his gun went off and the bullet grazed Burnett’s hand (the Ottawa Citizen claimed it struck his backside) before passing harmlessly through his coat.

Naturally, in light of the times, the media quickly drew unfortunate attention to Paris being ‘a coloured’ or ‘a negro’, as if that somehow sufficed to explain his explosive behavior and the reason why he went trigger happy.

Front page news in the Victoria Daily Colonist
Front page news in the Victoria Daily Colonist

Paris is now sadly remembered, if at all, for pulling out his revolver in that impulsive incident – when perhaps he should be recognised as a rare pioneer in bending the nasty colour barriers that were so strong and prevalent in popular team sports back then.

After all, from 1893 for the next ten or so years, lacrosse teams in British Columbia were prohibited in writing by the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association (BCALA) from fielding “coloureds and Indians” alongside or against white players or having them as members of the association. In later years, less-bigoted minds would prevail as these racial restrictions quietly disappeared from the official provincial rulebook by 1911 – if not sooner. The colour barrier would be broken at the senior level in 1918 and at the professional level in 1923.

Oscar Swanson, who had a previous run-in with George Paris when the negro trainer had beaten and thrown him over a fence during a recent match at Brockton Point, then appeared and tried to go after Paris with some friends. When the crowd became aware of Paris and his smoking handgun, there were vicious cries of “lynch him” and “string him up” heard from some voices in the stands. At some point, Paris was separated from the crowd and marched off by Detective Bradshaw and Officer Johnson to the station house under arrest.

Around a hundred fans lingered around the dressing room, and as the riot quieted down, Rev. TM Henderson, the New Westminster club president, tried to make himself heard, asking for the crowd to disperse from the dressing room area.

During the riot, the Vancouver players had retreated to their dressing room while the cooler-minded of the Salmonbellies’ players kept the mob back in protection of their opponents. Some newspaper reports mention Manager Macnaughton and other Vancouver players were pelted with eggs (Macnaughten, specifically, hit in the eye) as they beat their retreat, while other reports seem to imply only one egg was thrown – the one that struck George Paris.

Tommy Gifford, ca.1908
Tommy Gifford, ca.1908

Meanwhile, Tommy Gifford had changed into his street clothes. Urged on by his friends, he made a speech to help quell the mob, saying: “If I am satisfied you ought to be”. Gifford then walked into the Vancouver dressing room and shook hands with Vernon Green (some say ‘apologised’) before escorting the hated Greenshirt safely through the mob, out of the park and unmolested towards downtown. Some reports however state the fracas continued until the Vancouver team left, their car being pelted with more eggs as it departed.

The following Monday morning, Vancouver manager Archie Macnaughton declared “as long as I am manager of the Vancouver Lacrosse club it will never play another match in New Westminster.” Vancouver was slated to play an exhibition game in three days time against the visiting Ottawa Capitals at the New Westminster Exhibition fair. The game was cancelled.

That same day, George Paris appeared in court to answer to charges of carrying a revolver and injuring with intent to kill. Paris secured bail the following day for the amazingly absurd amount of $10,000 (half in his own money and the remainder from two guarantors) and was released from New Westminster police custody. Amazingly absurd, because the two charges levied against him would have resulted in a total of just $150 in fines or up to two months imprisonment if found guilty. After two further days spent in jail, he was released on the Wednesday.

Not all the charges were levied against Paris. At the same time, the police issued a court summons against Vernon Green to answer charges of assault against Gordon Spring. An investigation committee was formed and the BCALA was expected to launch an inquiry into the events with talk of levying suspensions against Green, Tom and Jim Gifford, and Charles Galbraith (whose role in the disturbance is otherwise unremarked).

Con Jones stood by his man and said that George Paris still had his place as trainer with the club – although Paris seemed to have disappeared from the lacrosse scene after the incident. Tempers remained heated in New Westminster circles, which obviously took offence to the use of the revolver and the attitude of Green during the match – while Vancouver complained of the lack of fair play in New Westminster’s end.

New Westminster, 1908 Minto Cup champions
New Westminster, 1908 Minto Cup champions

After repeated attempts, however, an inquiry was never brought to fruition and a month later the Vancouver Daily Province observed the old adage of “Time heals everything…” and that “next spring the odour of the eggs which deluged the Vancouver players will have left us.”

True enough, more important and pressing issues were at hand when the annual general meeting of the BCALA lacrosse powers was held in March and April 1909 as the heated debate over professionalism vs. amateurism in senior lacrosse had reached fever pitch.

The infamous egg incident and ensuing riot in the previous season was not even addressed during league meetings – but lacrosse fans were still talking about the gunshot and rotten eggs into the 1950s and beyond.

(PHOTOS IHP1727; IHP1723; IHP1724; IHP0367; IHP0567. TEXT SOURCES Vancouver Daily Province, New Westminster Columbian, Victoria Daily Colonist, Ottawa Citizen)