Len Turnbull

Len Turnbull, May 1911

LEONARD (LEN) TURNBULL
(May 31, 1889 – March 7, 1952)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1906-1913; 1915; 1918-1919; 1921-1923)
Toronto Lacrosse Club (1914)

The Turnbull brothers of New Westminster, Len and Bill, were two of the best offensive players of their day. The younger of the brothers, Leonard Turnbull was born on May 31, 1889. He grew up at the family residence at 1112 Sixth Avenue in New Westminster and was still living there at the time of the 1901 census. His parents were William and Jessie Turnbull. Apart from his brother Bill, he had no other siblings besides an older sister named Tryphina.

Although both his parents were born in England, the family was of Scottish descent. On his mother’s side, Len was a grandson of New Westminster pioneers Sergeant-Major John McMurphy and his wife, who arrived in 1858 with the rest of the Royal Engineers when the townsite was founded and built. Despite the shared surname, Len and Bill Turnbull had no family relationship whatsoever with their New Westminster teammate Alex Turnbull, whose origins were in Ontario.

Len Turnbull, the Salmonbellies’ best scorer after the Spring Brothers.

Len Turnbull played two seasons of intermediate lacrosse with the New Westminster West Ends before graduating to the senior squad in 1906. Starting in 1909, Len Turnbull would play 11 seasons of professional ball for the Salmonbellies, clocking up 105 appearances and bagging an even 100 goals for the redshirts.

His role on Salmonbellies team was the outside home position on the attacking line – paired up with the great ‘Grumpy’ Spring for most of his career until Spring’s retirement after the 1921 season. He gained fame for his ball-ragging ability to kill time on the clock. In his last two seasons of play, he usually found himself alongside Thure Storme whenever the injury-prone Scandinavian was healthy. For reasons unknown, Len was sometimes nicknamed ‘Tulip’ or the ‘Old Tulip’.

In October 1910, the two brothers both visited Spokane, Washington – their names well-known enough as lacrosse stars for their presence in the city to garner specific mention in the local newspaper.

Len Turnbull signed a contract with the Toronto Lacrosse Club in 1912 along with fellow teammates Cliff Spring and ‘Buck’ Marshall but then renegaded and handed back the advance money after Toronto’s failure to also sign Gordon Spring and Bill Fitzgerald – which was apparently part of the agreement. Cliff Spring and Len Turnbull finally did sign and play for Toronto of the Dominion Lacrosse Union in 1914, scoring 23 goals in 18 games in his lone season not wearing New Westminster colours.

Len Turnbull unsuccessful in beating ‘Bun’ Clark at Recreation Park in Vancouver, ca.1910-11

Turnbull was in the military at some time during the Great War but his length and nature of service is otherwise unknown.

In assessing his career numbers, he ranks eighth overall for number of games played during the professional era in British Columbia and fifth overall for goals scored. His 100 goals make him one of only five players who matched or surpassed the century mark during the Coast’s professional years and the third-highest goal-scorer for New Westminster after the two Spring brothers. His best campaign for goal production occurred in 1910 when he tied his linemate Gordon Spring with 22 goals.

Especially during the post-war ‘comeback’ part of his career, he was an impeccably clean player and accumulated only 19 penalties and 112 minutes to his name throughout his pro career. He was only one of two players who played a decade or more of professional ball under his belt on the Pacific Coast and didn’t finish in the top-twenty for penalty infractions and minutes.

The bulk of his pro career was compacted into 8 seasons – as he only played 4 games in parts of 3 years between 1915 and 1919, as well as completely missing out the 1920 season. However, from start to finish and adding his three seasons of senior ball with New Westminster prior to professionalization on the Coast, along with his season playing back east, in total Len Turnbull’s stellar lacrosse career spanned across 15 seasons played out over 18 years.

Teammate ‘Grumpy’ Spring celebrates as Len Turnbull puts the ball past ‘Bun’ Clark at Queens Park, ca.1910-11

At the time of his brother Bill’s untimely passing in 1933, he was residing in Penticton, British Columbia.

Len Turnbull worked as a mail clerk for the Pacific Great Eastern railroad. He retired at age 60, two years before he passed away in 1952 at his home on Old Yale Road in Surrey, British Columbia from carcinoma of the colon.

At the time of his death, he was a widower, and, according to funeral records, it appears he had no living next of kin besides his sister Tryphina Olmstead and a cousin. Len Turnball was interred in the International Order of Old Fellows cemetery section located within the Fraser Cemetery in New Westminster, British Columbia. At his funeral, which was reported by the local press to have been well-attended, two of his old teammates from his glory days, Jim Gifford and George Rennie, were his pallbearers.

In 1971, Leonard Turnbull was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in the Field Player category.

(PHOTO SOURCES: CVA 99-41; NWMA IHP1183; CVA 371-607; CVA 371-58)

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