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.

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