GEORGE HADDOW RENNIE
(March 11, 1883 – December 13, 1966) New Westminster Salmonbellies (1901-1915; 1918-1920)
Like many accolades given to the old greats, his long-time friend and defensive team-mate Jim Gifford said that George Rennie was “one of the finest players in the world in his day”.
A defensive midfielder by trade, playing in the second defense and third defense positions, George Rennie turned senior in 1901 with the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
During the professional era, he played in 120 games and scored 18 goals. He was sent off for 38 penalty infractions for a total of 188 penalty minutes. Late in the 1919 season, he took on a substitute role as youngster Laurie Nelson took over his place on the field. Rennie would then continue in a substitute capacity throughout the 1920 campaign – his last as an active player. After the conclusion of the final match of the 1920 season, George Rennie closed the book on his two decades of playing when he announced his retirement in the Salmonbellies dressing room, quoted by the newspapers as saying that: “youth must be served, and this is my last appearance in a uniform”.
Rennie was one of two New Westminster players who were members of the 1908 Canadian Olympic lacrosse team that traveled to London, England to compete in the Fourth Olympiad. Canada won the gold medal when they defeated Great Britain by a score of 14-10 on October 24, 1908. 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.
He was born in either Douglastown or Newcastle, New Brunswick – both which are now parts of the modern city of Miramichi. Away from the game, Rennie worked as the superintendent of the Lulu Island Swing Bridge between Richmond and Vancouver until his retirement in the mid-1940s.
George Rennie was a charter inductee, as a field player, into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1965.
Unusual and novel to the fans of today, as we saw with popular music of the era, lacrosse was so prominent in the Canadian mainstream mentality a century ago that sometimes the game’s imagery, real or fanciful, was used to sell commercial products to the general masses.
In 1910, Merrill DesBrisay purchased the Wales Island Cannery and rebuilt it. For the next 14 years, DesBrisay and Company operated the plant before selling to the Canadian Fishing Company in 1925. One of their brands of salmon was “Lacrosse Brand” and the tin sported artwork showing typical lacrosse imagery of the day.
Since DesBrisay’s name has not been found associated directly with lacrosse, the reasoning and inspiration behind the brand name is unknown. The game was so popular at the time he acquired the cannery that the brand name probably appealed to the patriotic and popular sentiments of the time, as lacrosse was fully regarded as Canada’s “National Game”. Many salmon brands from those same years would utilise stereotypical Canadian motifs to promote their products in the marketplaces of the Dominion and throughout the British Empire.
The green colouring on the label is fairly unique and stands out – as almost all salmon brands at the time produced in British Columbia opted for bright red as the main colour, probably intended as a subtle association to the red colour of salmon flesh. DesBrisay distribution was based in Vancouver and one has to wonder if the green colour was a deliberate nod to the Vancouver lacrosse teams whose primary colour was traditionally green – or was green simply coincidental?
Merrill DesBrisay was born in New Brunswick in 1866 and along with the cannery on the north coast, he operated a grocery business in Mission, British Columbia from 1893 until 1940. DesBrisay passed away on April 23, 1949 in Vancouver. His old cannery continued to operate on Wales Island until 1949, the same year as his passing, the last of eleven canneries which operated in the Nass River-Portland Canal area.
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Tobacco smoking had a close association with lacrosse during the game’s strongest years prior to the Great War.
There were the sets of lacrosse player cards produced by the Imperial Tobacco Company which were inserted into cigarette boxes; three series of cards were produced from 1910 through 1912.
Both professional clubs had tobacco money directly involved with funding their operations. Con Jones, with his famous “Don’t Argue” smoke shops, was associated with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club while Fred Lynch, a member of the New Westminster Salmonbellies executive, had his own tobacco business advertised on billboards at Queens Park.
“Black Cat” brand cigarettes, which was a trademark of Carreras & Marcianus, Ltd. of Montréal, used lacrosse imagery in one of its adverts printed in the Vancouver Daily Province in 1910.
WILSON DOUGLAS (WILLIS) PATCHELL
(April 22, 1893 – February 24, 1973) New Westminster Salmonbellies (1914; 1918-1921; 1924)
Vancouver Terminals (1923)
One of the few players who could match up and effectively shut down the great ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, Willis Patchell was perhaps best remembered back in his day for his incredible and inspiring comeback effort after being wounded during the First World War.
Born in the Sapperton neighbourhood of New Westminster, British Columbia, the young Willis Patchell grew up along the banks of Brunette Creek and the Coquitlam River setting up mink and muskrat traps, a skill he learnt from his father, one of the wardens at the British Columbia Penitentiary, who had previously lived in New Brunswick and the Yukon. In his retirement years, Patchell would use his trapping experience to assist the city in eliminating its rat problems along the waterfront.
He made his professional debut in 1914 with the New Westminster Salmonbellies and played in 6 games that season alternating between coverpoint and first defence. The coverpoint, the second deepest defender on the field, would be his usual position although he could fill in at first defence and point when occasion required.
The First World War would then take him away from the playing field for the next three or so years. It almost took him away from the game permanently.
A member of the 29th Battalion from British Columbia, Patchell suffered a broken right leg during the intense fighting on the Western Front in 1916. Doctors said that he would never play lacrosse again, yet he persevered and returned to the playing field two years later when lacrosse action resumed on the Pacific Coast in 1918 – the long, jagged scars on his leg the only evidence on the field of his wounds.
From 1918 onward, Patchell would play in six of the following seven professional seasons between 1918 and 1924. He was absent completely from the 1922 season and he then signed with Vancouver late in the 1923 season. The Terminals were having roster problems with some absentee bodies in their defensive zone and were desperate for help. While he showed some rust in his first game, no doubt on account of his long lay-off, it was felt Patchell could nevertheless provide some needed veteran experience to the Vancouver squad. He played the month of September 1923, suiting up three times for the Vancouver Terminals. He then returned to the Salmonbellies the next year, in what turned out to be the final professional season played on the Pacific Coast.
His professional field lacrosse career would see him play in 62 games – all but 3 of them played with New Westminster Salmonbellies. He managed to score one lone goal – which came on July 25, 1921. His 18 penalty infractions clocked up 81 minutes to his name. Willis Patchell would win four Minto Cup professional championships, although two of them – in 1914 and 1924, his first and last professional seasons – were won by New Westminster through defaults.
Patchell would regain his amateur status in 1927 and return to play for New Westminster Senior ‘A’ teams – first the Salmonbellies, and then later, the Adanacs – to extend his lengthy career which would span 20 years. He then followed up with another 11 years during when he would intermittently suit up in what must have been emergency situations. During that time he witnessed the transition from the old field game to the faster box version. His final 2 games were played in 1945, at the age of 52 for the New Westminster Adanacs, to book-end a senior career which had begun its first chapter some 31 years previous. Not a bad career for someone who was told he was done in 1917.
Willis Patchell played on the 1928 New Westminster Salmonbellies senior team that traveled to the Amsterdam Summer Olympics for the lacrosse demonstration. His brother Bill Patchell was the coach of the team – himself unable to play in the Olympics on account of his former professional status not yet rescinded like his younger brother.
A fireman by trade, he joined the department in June 1919 and first worked at the old No.2 Fire Hall located on Nanaimo and Tenth Streets. He was promoted to the rank of captain in June 1937 and he retired as assistant chief of the New Westminster Fire Department on May 1, 1953. In 1952, he coached the Burnaby-New Westminster firemen’s softball team to the championship that year.
Three years after his passing in 1973, Willis Patchell was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in the field player category.