From Cigarettes to Salmon Tins

Lacrosse Brand Salmon
Lacrosse Brand Salmon

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 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.

* * *

Lacrosse was so popular it was referenced in local cigarette adverts.
Lacrosse was so popular it was referenced in local cigarette adverts.

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.

(PHOTO SOURCES: City of Richmond Archives; Vancouver Daily Province 1910)

Special thanks to the Nine O’Clock Gun Company for inspiration for this article.

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