1908… The Season that ended with a Bang

New Westminster Salmonbellies, 1908
New Westminster Salmonbellies, 1908

1908 …THE SEASON THAT ENDED WITH A BANG

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)

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