Category Archives: BC Lacrosse History

5th Anniversary of “Old School Lacrosse” book

“Seems like a legitimate hit”Five years ago today, on February 14, 2012, the original edition of Professional Field Lacrosse in British Columbia 1909-1924 was published.

Since that time, the Old School Lacrosse website came into being and an expanded, second edition – renamed to match the website title – was published two and a half years later.

To celebrate this 5th Anniversary milestone, an updated book PDF of Old School Lacrosse – Professional Lacrosse in British Columbia 1909-1924 has been uploaded and made public today – including all the player biographies and stories written to date. Enjoy!

Click this link to view and download: OLD SCHOOL LACROSSE – PRO LACROSSE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA 1909-1924

Archie Macnaughton

Archie McNaughton, ca.1888-1892
Archie Macnaughton, ca.1888-1892

ARCHIBALD EDWARD (ARCHIE) MACNAUGHTON
(July 26, 1864 – ca. July 13, 1937)

Montréal Amateur Athletic Association (1882-1891)
Victoria Lacrosse Club (1892-1893)
Victoria Capitals (1894)
Victoria Triangles (1895)

Archie Macnaughton (his surname has appeared spelt variously as McNaughton, MacNaughton, and Macnaughton) is an interesting figure in the very early days of the sport in Canada. While he never played in the professional ranks, he was one of lacrosse’s early star players in Montréal – as well as a pioneering figure in the establishment of the game on the Pacific Coast and the rise of the Victoria senior teams in the mid-1890s.

He was born in Lachine, Québec and was a member of the Montréal Garrison Artillery which participated in the suppression of the North-West Rebellion in 1885. The Montréal Gazette called him one of three “crack snowshoers” who were welcomed home by club members.

His Scottish ancestry may possibly be linked to an old family in Glenlyon, Scotland as there is mention of an Archibald McNaughton (possibly his father) in church records at Scotch Presbyterian Church in Montréal, who was born in Callendar, Scotland but grew up near Saint-Eustache in suburban Montréal. However, “Archibald McNaughton” does appear infrequently as a name occurring in early Montréal.

He helped Montréal win a junior championship in 1881 and then turned senior the following year. Macnaughton was widely regarded as one of the best home fielders (attack midfielders in modern language) and one of the fastest sprinters to play the game in his day, with phenomenal speed. He possessed a deadly and dangerous shot, usually taken on a dead run and the ball’s velocity was reported to be stronger in force than that of a baseball player fielding the ball home.

He was the fourth-best goal scorer in the 1886 National Lacrosse Union season with 7 goals in 10 games for the Montréal Amateur Athletic Association. The following season however he was held scoreless in 7 games played. In 1888, Montréal AAA dropped out of the NLU and the league barely staggered to the finish. When Montréal AAA returned to the NLU in 1889, they lost Macnaughton to a twisted ankle in the pre-season. On his return to play, after missing two matches, he still managed to make up for goals to finish second in league scoring with 8 goals in 6 matches.

Archie Macnaughton with Montréal in 1889.

His final season with Montréal Amateur Athletic Association saw him playing the role of Atlas, shouldering the team’s goal-scoring in the wake of the retirements of Tom Paton and W. Hodgson, the two other leading players with the ‘Winged Wheelers’. He once again finished in second-place for goals with 8 scored in 8 games. Montréal AAA would drop out of the National Lacrosse Union again in 1891.

He moved to the Pacific Coast in 1892 and joined the Victoria Lacrosse Club. He played in 3 matches that year, held scoreless in his first two appearances and then scoring 3 goals in his third outing for Victoria. He also refereed two senior league games that same season.

Archie Macnaughton married Miss EM Bishop of Montréal in a ceremony held at First Presbyterian Church in Vancouver on August 11, 1892. They left Vancouver that same day and took up residence in Victoria.

In 1893, as a member of the Victoria club, he helped lead the Capital City crew in victory over his former team, the Montréal Amateur Athletic Association, 6-0 during their tour of the Eastern clubs. The team’s return to their home town that October was met by the city band and a midnight reception which followed at the Driard Hotel. During the senior league season that year, he played in 6 matches and scored 3 goals.

Archie Macnaughton had his best campaign for Victoria in 1894, when he scored 11 goals in 10 matches – finishing off the regular season by scoring 5 of Victoria Capitals’ 6 goals in their rout over Vancouver Lacrosse Club on September 29, 1894. He then bagged another 2 goals in the Capitals’ playoff match played at Brockton Point the following month versus New Westminster. That playoff meeting ended in dispute as Victoria was leading the championship game 3 goals to 2 when the game was called due to darkness. Claiming the championship, the Victoria Capitals then withdrew from the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association on November 2, 1894 in protest of referee indecision in the playoff game and due to New Westminster arriving at Brockton Point an hour and a half late which resulted in the late start.

Macnaughton made only a single appearance for the Victoria Triangles in the 1895 season, which saw him scrape through Victoria’s fifth goal in a 6-2 rout over Vancouver to close out the final game of the season.

AE Macnaughton's signature, showing how he spelt his surname
AE Macnaughton’s signature, showing how he spelt his surname

He played ice hockey for Montréal Amateur Athletic Association of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada from 1887 to 1892, appearing in 19 games and scoring 21 goals. Macnaughton was the leading goal scorer in the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada in 1890.

In 1888 he had to testify in a libel lawsuit which involved accusations of lacrosse players match-fixing a game.

In the first week of April 1894, he was part of a British Columbia ‘Mainland’ team that traveled to San Francisco, California to participate in exhibition matches versus a British Columbia ‘Island’ team as well as a San Francisco team a few days later. These were the first lacrosse games played in that city and attracted considerable attention from the locals.

Archie Macnaughton managed the New Westminster Salmonbellies in 1900 and he took his team back east on tour. He was later the manager of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club in 1908 and 1910.

His sudden passing was reported in the July 13, 1937 edition of the Victoria Daily Colonist but no exact date was given.

(PHOTO SOURCES: provided by Eric Zweig; CLHOF X994.15 excerpt; CLHOF X994.29 excerpt)

Canadian Lacrosse Almanac 2017 Edition

Click this link to view and download: CANADIAN LACROSSE ALMANAC 1867-2017

2016-almanac-coverFirst compiled in 2002 as a 102-page softcover book with a print-run of 200 copies, the Canadian Lacrosse Almanac was inspired by Jim Hendy and his pioneering work The Hockey Guide which first hit the shelves in 1933 and remained in yearly production until 1951.

The almanac’s initial focus was primarily on the statistical history of British Columbia lacrosse leagues – namely, annual league standings along with post-season play. It was the first publication to research and examine the pre-1932 era in British Columbia which until that time had never been documented at a statistical level.

Over time, further research uncovered new data and new material was made available to the author. Cost and production issues made the author switch from a print format to releasing it in a PDF format – made available for free – when he completed a second edition in 2005.

With the current 2017 edition now at 592 pages (with 26 more pages of new content compared to the 2016 edition), the almanac has expanded to cover the rest of Canada as well as American NCAA collegiate, professional leagues, international competitions, and foreign domestic leagues where information is available.

Second edition of “Old School Lacrosse” now in print

pro lax book coverIn February 2012, after ten years of research, the author of Old School Lacrosse self-published his pioneering work Professional Field Lacrosse in British Columbia 1909-1924 which thoroughly detailed the statistical aspect of the pro game from the days when lacrosse – and not hockey – captivated the attention and won the hearts and minds of sports fans in the Lower Mainland.

An in-depth statistical history of professional-level lacrosse played in Vancouver and New Westminster between 1909 and 1924, it goes back to the original newspaper reports and game summaries for its sources. The original 184-page book contained complete box scores assembled and cross-referenced for accuracy, featuring each and every match played, listing starting rosters, goal-scoring summaries, detailed player career statistics listing every match, and historical photographs from the hey-day of lacrosse on the West Coast.

The first edition was limited to a print run of 25 copies, while updated digital versions were made available as free PDFs to provide the reader of Old School Lacrosse with all the game statistics behind the photographs found on the site.

A second, revised printed edition was completed in November 2014 with 50 copies printed. For the second edition, the book was renamed Old School Lacrosse – Professional Lacrosse in British Columbia 1909-1924 to keep it consistent with this associated Old School Lacrosse website. It was expanded to 229 pages incorporating the original statistical material along with the player biographies and articles from Old School Lacrosse – as well as more photographs.

Copies of the second print edition are currently available for $10.00 CDN each +$10.00 CDN shipping and handling via Canada Post parcel service to anywhere in British Columbia. All other Canadian addresses are +$12.00 CDN for shipping. American orders are $30.00 CDN which includes shipping to anywhere in the continental United States of America. Payment for all shipped orders to be made via PayPal or prior arrangement.

To order, contact the author at davidjsc@gmail.com

All-Stars of the Pacific Coast

There were never any official all-star teams named during the early pro lacrosse era on the Pacific Coast, although occasionally newspapers would concoct various all-star team lists for their curious readers.

The fact that there were only two clubs – New Westminster and Vancouver – to select players from, probably made choosing all-star teams a somewhat pointless and trivial activity – especially in those seasons when play was abandoned or one club, usually New Westminster Salmonbellies, dominated over the other and competition on the field was not even close.

1909 VANCOUVER NEWS-ADVERTISER TEAM

George Rennie; 120 games played and 18 goals in 10 pro seasons between 1909 and 1920
George Rennie; 120 games played and 18 goals in 10 pro seasons between 1909 and 1920.

On October 22, 1909, the Vancouver News-Advertiser published its suggestions for an all-star team for the recently-completed 1909 season:

GOAL: Dave Gibbons (Vancouver)
POINT: none named
COVERPOINT: Lionel ‘Toots’ Clarkson (Vancouver)
FIRST DEFENSE: Jimmy Gifford (New Westminster)
SECOND DEFENSE: George Rennie (New Westminster)
THIRD DEFENSE: George Matheson (Vancouver)
CENTRE: Tom Rennie (New Westminster)
THIRD HOME: Bill Turnbull (New Westminster)
SECOND HOME: Cliff ‘Doughy’ Spring (New Westminster)
FIRST HOME: Ernie Murray (Vancouver)
OUTSIDE HOME: Len Turnbull (New Westminster)
INSIDE HOME: Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde (Vancouver)
SPARE (DEFENSE): Waldo Matheson (Vancouver)
SPARE (OFFENSE): Gordon ‘Grumpy’ Spring (New Westminster)

No point player was named – most likely an oversight omission. Charlie Galbraith (New Westminster) or Johnny Howard (Vancouver) would have been the logical choices that season for that particular position.

By and large, a sound list of names with 10 future hall-of-famers although one must still nevertheless question how much homer favouritism was put into the selections by the News-Advertiser when seeing names such as Clarkson and Gibbons making the grade.

‘Toots’ Clarkson only played in 4 matches in his named position that season (Tommy Gifford of New Westminster would have been the wiser choice here) while Gibbons was peppered with more goals than his Salmonbellies opposite ‘Sandy’ Gray and only won 3 of Vancouver’s 10 games.

That said, with no visual references such as film, the news reporters of the day are certainly the closest source to the action for the modern fan. Statistics do not always paint an accurate picture, certainly in regards to defensive players, so perhaps the reporter or reporters who made up the list saw superior aspects of Clarkson’s and Gibbons’ play that has now since been lost to us, the modern reader, from our distant vantage point over a hundred years later.

Dave Gibbons, the Vancouver goaltender for 7 pro seasons between 1909 and 1921.
Dave Gibbons was the Vancouver goaltender for 7 pro seasons between 1909 and 1921.

This is especially true with Dave Gibbons. The Vancouver goalkeeper seems to have been regarded highly enough that he eventually saw himself inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a charter member in 1965 – however his playing numbers during the professional era just do not seem to back up that acclaim and greatness compared to other contemporary goalkeepers of his day. How he managed to beat out ‘Sandy’ Gray in the News-Advertiser’s list that season is anyone’s guess. Gibbons could very well have been similar to Cory Hess: his best years occurred before the professional game took off – so a sentimental choice. Or perhaps a case of a great goalie in front of a not-so-great team?

1937 ‘NEWSY’ LALONDE TEAM & 1964 INTERVIEW

An interesting all-star team was published by the Calgary Herald in their September 11, 1937 edition. It was chosen by none other than the legend himself, Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, listing off his all-time greats: (Players who played lacrosse on the Coast have been marked with an *asterisk)

GOAL: Cory Hess*
POINT: Joe Cattaranich
COVERPOINT: Jim Kavanaugh
FIRST DEFENSE: Mickey Ion*
SECOND DEFENSE: Harry Pickering*
THIRD DEFENSE: Cliff “Doughy” Spring*
CENTRE: Gene “Daredevil” Gauthier
FIRST HOME : Henry Scott
SECOND HOME: Billy Fitzgerald*
THIRD HOME: Albert Dade
OUTSIDE HOME: Henry Hoobin
INSIDE HOME: Gordon “Grumpy” Spring*

Leaning heavy towards Ontario players, ‘Newsy’ Lalonde’s all-star team nevertheless gives great insight as Newsy played both in the West and the East and he himself could be openly critical of teammates who didn’t pull their weight. In other words: there are no slouches here. Looking at these names, this is definitely a pre-Great War team as well as a pre-Coast pro team, as many of these players were plying their trade in the decade prior to professionalism on the Pacific Coast.

As a footnote to this list, pointman Joe Cattaranich would be one of the pioneers who proposed moving the game indoors in 1930 and devised box lacrosse.

During a July 4, 1964 interview with The Montreal Star newspaper, ‘Newsy’ Lalonde listed off Fred ‘Cyclone’ Taylor and Tom Phillips as “fine lacrosse players” and Archie Macnaughton, William ‘Spike’ Hennessy, Weldy Clark, ‘Grumpy’ Spring, Alex Turnbull, Len Turnbull, the Gifford Brothers Tommy and Jimmy, and Fred ‘Mickey’ Ion as other players he rated being “at the top” of the game.

His 1964 list includes some rather interesting and intriguing names: Archie Macnaughton played with Montréal Amateur Athletic Association before coming west in the 1890s – he had retired as a player long before ‘Newsy’ started playing senior ball. In fact, Lalonde would have been too young to remember having even seen Macnaughton play. In reading Weldy Clark’s name, one has to wonder if Lalonde’s memory was fading a notch, mistaking Weldy Clark a half-century later for the great ‘Bun’ Clark – as Weldy’s playing career was short and unremarkable. By including Jim Gifford’s name, Lalonde shows – perhaps grudgingly – his respect towards a fine lacrosse player in an otherwise heated and nasty personal rivalry between the two men that in Gifford’s case still hadn’t passed at the time of the interview. ‘Mickey’ Ion was a tough lacrosse player in his day but ‘Newsy’ was probably much more familiar with Ion from his time as a referee in the National Hockey League.

JOE LALLY’S ‘FIFTY YEARS OF THE BEST’ IN 1944

The famous referee, Mann Cup trustee, Canadian Lacrosse Association founder, and stick manufacturer from Cornwall, Joseph ‘Joe’ Lally, named his all-time Canadian team in a 1944 list he called ‘Fifty years of the best’. Of the twelve players selected by Lally, five of them were Westerners or had played in the West as imports:

‘Bun’ Clark (Toronto Tecumsehs)
Tommy Gifford (New Westminster)
Gordon ‘Grumpy’ Spring (New Westminster)
Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde (Montréal Nationals & Vancouver Lacrosse Club)
Billy Fitzgerald (St. Catharines Athletics)

The remaining players picked were Albert Lewis, Jim Kavanaugh, Hugh Carson, Roddy Finlayson, Charlie Querrie, John Powers, and Henry Hoobin.

1949 TURNBULL-GIFFORD ALL-STARS

In his November 2, 1949 British Columbian newspaper column entitled “The Old-Timer Says…”, sports-writer Vic E Andrew talked about a discussion he had with former greats Len Turnbull and Hugh Gifford regarding all-stars teams for New Westminster and Vancouver. Observing that baseball had Cooperstown and ice hockey would soon have its own hall-of-fame based in Kingston, Ontario (today known as the International Hockey Hall of Fame), Andrew put forth the question “What about lacrosse?”. In response, these were the teams they came up with: (Players associated primarily with the years prior to the professional era are marked with an *asterisk)

NEW WESTMINSTER ALL-STARS
GOAL: Alban ‘Bun’ Clark
POINT: Johnny Howard
COVERPOINT: Tom Gifford
FIRST DEFENCE: Dave ‘Buck’ Marshall
SECOND DEFENCE: Hugh Gifford
THIRD DEFENCE: Harold ‘Haddie’ Stoddart
CENTREMAN: James ‘Pat’ Feeney
FIRST HOME: Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull
SECOND HOME: Jack Bryson*
THIRD HOME: Bill Turnbull
OUTSIDE HOME: Len Turnbull
INSIDE HOME: Cliff ‘Doughy’ Spring
ALTERNATES: Barlow Galbraith*, Stan Peele*, Jim Gifford, Gordon ‘Grumpy’ Sprung, and Bob Cheyne*

VANCOUVER ALL-STARS
GOAL: Dave Gibbons
POINT: Harry Griffiths
COVERPOINT: Harry Pickering
FIRST DEFENCE: Harry ‘Fat’ Painter
SECOND DEFENCE: George Matheson
THIRD DEFENCE: Everett McLaren
CENTREMAN: Bob Cameron
FIRST HOME: Angus ‘Angie’ MacDonald
SECOND HOME: Ralph Ravey*
THIRD HOME: Nick Carter
OUTSIDE HOME: John ‘Dot’ Crookall
INSIDE HOME: Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde
ALTERNATES: Billy West and ‘Dot’ Phelan

The two teams are quite interesting as they do originate from first-hand sources – two players, Len Turnball and Hugh Gifford, who actually played with and played against – or were very familiar with – all of their careers. It seems the three decades of time which passed may have affected some of the selections. For example, home midfielder Cliff Spring somehow took his brother Gordon’s spot at inside home, while on the Vancouver team the complete absence of Angus ‘Bones’ Allen on the midfield and the inclusion of coverpoint defenceman Bob Cameron, who played just one season on the Coast, as the centreman seems just downright strange.

1950 CANADIAN PRESS GREATEST PLAYER VOTE

Henry Hoobin, the Montréal Shamrocks legend
Henry Hoobin, the Montréal Shamrocks legend and one of the game’s greatest forwards.

In 1950, a group of Canadian Press journalists voted on the greatest lacrosse player of the first half of the 20th Century.

The list they came up with is less an all-star team and more like a potential wishlist for a future hall-of-fame. In fact, the American authors Alexander Weyand and Milton Roberts outright refer to these selections as being voted for “a Lacrosse Hall of Fame” in their 1965 book “The Lacrosse Story”, the first complete history researched and written about the sport.

Three players with Pacific Coast playing experience received votes: (Players who played lacrosse on the Coast have been marked with an *asterisk)

Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde* – 13 votes
Billy Fitzgerald* – 6 votes
Herry Hoobin – 5 votes
Lionel Conacher – 1 vote
Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull* – 1 vote
Joe Lally – 1 vote
Lance Isaacs – 1 vote
Didier Pitre – 1 vote

All the players that received votes were born in Eastern Canada – although as we all know, Lalonde did spend almost half his career in Vancouver while ‘Dad’ Turnbull relocated permanently to British Columbia and was so loved and respected by the Coast fans that he can be considered one of our own sons.

Joe Lally’s claim to fame was less as a player and more as a club official and organisational figure – so his lone vote was likely sentimental or political – while Lance Isaacs, who died from a heart-attack during a game in 1937, was notably both the only box lacrosse player and only aboriginal player to receive a vote.

2002 PAUL WHITESIDE ‘ALL-NATIONAL’ TEAM

In Donald M. Fisher’s book Lacrosse: A History of the Game, the author gives five lists of all-time great lacrosse players in the book’s appendix section. In a work heavily devoted to the United States collegiate game, only one of the lists overlaps the same time period of the Pacific Coast pro game, or the “All-National Game Era” of 1880-1920 as it is referred by Ontario lacrosse historian Paul Whiteside.

Unfortunately, the list drawn up by Whiteside for Fisher’s book is centered around Eastern players and only one “Westerner”, ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, makes an appearance on it. This is understandable as at the time of Fisher’s publication (2002), there was scant factual information about the game played on the Pacific Coast. As well, Whiteside’s area of expertise is researching and documenting the Eastern game – a true pioneer in his own right in preserving the early days of the game in that part of the country. Due to geographical distance, he would have had little to no access to western sources for historical data at the time when he compiled his all-star team.

2014 OLD SCHOOL LACROSSE PACIFIC COAST PRO ALL-STAR TEAMS

Len Turnbull, the Salmonbellies’ best scorer after the Spring Brothers.
Len Turnbull, the Salmonbellies’ most prolific goal-scorer after the Spring Brothers.

So, for what it is academically worth, Old School Lacrosse has now sat down, looked over the statistics and the history of the era, and come up with two all-star teams to cover the pre- and post-Great War divide in the pro game on the Pacific Coast.

Using the First World War as a division point in the Coast game, to create two all-stars teams, conveniently mirrors the two-year break by organised lacrosse in British Columbia which occurred in 1916-1917. As well, it also conveniently accounts for the changes in team compositions (player reduction from 12 runners to 10 starting in 1919) and the reduction in field-size in 1915.

There were some truly great legends that briefly played as imports on Coast teams (thinking here those brought west by Con Jones and his money) but their peak of greatness happened elsewhere or they had little impact beyond a season or so while playing out west – which is why someone like Billy Fitzgerald (one of the greatest Eastern players) or Cory Hess were left off these teams. Likewise with Salmonbellies legends such as Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull or Tommy Gifford whose glory days with New Westminster were firmly in the years prior to professionalism.

OLD SCHOOL LACROSSE 1909-1915 PACIFIC COAST PRO ALL-STARS
GOAL: Alban ‘Bun’ Clark (Vancouver/New Westminster)
POINT: Johnny Howard (Vancouver/New Westminster)
COVERPOINT: Dave ‘Buck’ Marshall (New Westminster)
DEFENSE (3): George Rennie (New Westminster); Jimmy Gifford (New Westminster); George Matheson (Vancouver) – honourable mentions: Tom Rennie (New Westminster), Hugh Gifford (New Westminster), and Harry Pickering (Vancouver)
CENTREMAN: Cliff ‘Doughy’ Spring (New Westminster)
MIDFIELD/HOME (3): Angus ‘Bones’ Allen (Vancouver); Bill Turnbull (New Westminster); James ‘Pat’ Feeney (New Westminster)
OUTSIDE HOME: Len Turnbull (New Westminster)
INSIDE HOME: Gordon ‘Grumpy’ Spring (New Westminster) – honourable mention: ‘Newsy’ Lalonde (Vancouver)

OLD SCHOOL LACROSSE 1918-1924 PACIFIC COAST PRO ALL-STARS
GOAL: Bernie Feedham (New Westminster)
POINT: Dave ‘Buck’ Marshall (New Westminster) – honourable mention: Harry ‘Fat’ Painter (Vancouver)
COVERPOINT: Willis Patchell (Mew Westminster)
DEFENSE (2): Hugh Gifford (New Westminster); Laurie Nelson (New Westminster) – honourable mention: Eustace Gillanders (Vancouver)
CENTREMAN: Harold ‘Haddie’ Stoddart (New Westminster)
MIDFIELD/HOME (2); Angus ‘Angie’ McDonald (Vancouver); George Feeney (New Westminster) – honourable mention: Cliff ‘Doughy’ Spring (New Westminster)
OUTSIDE HOME: Jack Gifford (New Westminster)
INSIDE HOME: John ‘Dot’ Crookall (Vancouver)

Looking over and comparing these two teams, what is most interesting is the differences in talent between some positions. For example the defensive line: the 1909-1915 team is chock full of quality, future hall-of-famers to choose from while in the post-Great War era, even with the reduction by one defenseman, this is probably the weakest position for making selections. Apart from Hugh Gifford, an excellent player whose career spanned across both of these teams, the second defensive spot has no clear-cut player to claim it. Nelson and Gillanders were competent players but both can be regarded a few notches below in talent compared to everyone else on these two teams; Nelson gets the nod here simply due to bagging a few more goals and having better team success.

In goal, Bernie Feedham was statistically by far the best of the post-war goaltenders – which says something about the other goalies of those years when a transplanted outfield player can step in and excel in that position and in the process lead his team to championships.

Not counting honourable mentions, there are 11 hall-of-famers on the 1909-1915 team but just 6 on the 1918-1924 team – and one of those, ‘Buck’ Marshall, also pulls duty on the 1909-1915 team.

In almost all positions, it is fairly safe to say the 1909-15 players would overshadow their 1918-24 counterparts. Only in the point and coverpoint positions would there be an even battle for supremacy. Both of ‘Buck’ Marshall’s line-mates on these two teams, Howard and Patchell, were players famed for one very important playing ability: knowing how to shut down ‘Newsy’ Lalonde.

Bill Turnbull, one of the best pro midfielders from 1909 to 1915.
Bill Turnbull, one of the best pro midfielders from 1906 to 1915.

This imbalance does not detract from the personal accomplishments of such greats as Jack Gifford, ‘Dot’ Crookall, or ‘Angie’ McDonald – as all were obviously capable, star players who would have found their marks in the earlier era. But the depth of talent of the post-Great War period does seem to be thinner going through the ranks when in comparison to the pre-war glory years.

Looking back at Newsy Lalonde’s all-star team from 1937, even though his career spanned into the post-Great War era, everyone he chose for it starred before the war. Whether there was an actual weakening of talent post-war is unknown. It could just be a matter of perspective mirroring the weakening of the sport’s attention on the minds of the post-war fans, in that the accomplishments of those who played during the pre-war years are simply inflated from receiving greater fan and press recognition. For the players who followed and made their name after the Great War, with the game dying in the early to mid-1920s there was probably less interest in their heroics as well as less fans to remember their names.

One final note: while ‘Grumpy’ Spring is listed here ahead of ‘Newsy’ Lalonde as the best inside home of 1909-1915, this author believes that ‘Newsy’ Lalonde was, overall and nationwide, the greatest field lacrosse player of the pre-box lacrosse era. ‘Grumpy’ edges out ‘Newsy’ here due to playing his entire career on the Pacific Coast and finishing his career as the greatest pro goal scorer on the Coast. Lalonde’s greatness over Spring on a national scale is buttressed by his solid eastern career first with Cornwall and then later with the Montréal Nationals.

The National Game in 1911

BCLA bylaws and rulebook from 1911
British Columbia lacrosse rulebook from 1911

Like all other sports, lacrosse has evolved its fair share over the years.

Obviously in Canada, the indoor box variant which was born in 1931 has become the primary form of the game, but the modern outdoor field game has also seen its share of rule changes since the glory days of 1911 – let alone since William George Beers (1843-1900) codified the first set of playing rules in 1869 in his book Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada.

The biggest changes to the field game occurred in the decade prior to the professional heyday. The alterations that took place in the game between 1900 and 1910 were more drastic in nature than what has followed since 1910. Once the pro game became established, there were just two major changes that later came along: reduction of teams and playing field.

By the mid-1930s, the rules of the field game had evolved to a state where they were not much different than the modern game today, except in terms of equipment and how the midfielders line up on face-offs. South of the border, the American game had begun to diverge with the adoption of offsides*. However by this point, the outdoor version had all but passed on in Canada and remained dormant until the late 1960s.

WHY 1911?

So, just how different was the 1911 lacrosse game – and why even use that year for comparison?

FIRST REASON… At least here on the Pacific Coast, 1911 was the all-time highpoint of popularly of the game in Vancouver and New Westminster. There was a high level of support and interest across the spectrum, from the diehard lacrosse fan through to the casual sports-enthusiast, which still continues to elude the modern lacrosse game in the Lower Mainland to this very day.

It was truly the national game for local spectators – as organised ice hockey would not make its debut on the local sporting scene until the 1911-12 winter that followed when the Denman Arena was built. Vancouver’s mild winter weather resulted in a lack of natural ice which had prevented hockey from taking root.

To get a firm idea of the game’s popularity, compare the population in Vancouver (123,902) and New Westminster (55,679) in 1911 with the attendance records at the great lacrosse matches that same year – and then compare those numbers with modern population numbers in those two cities.

Minto Cup game at Queens Park between New Westminster and Montréal AAA on July 23, 1910. Attendance at this game was around 7,000.
Minto Cup game at Queens Park between New Westminster and Montréal AAA on July 23, 1910. Attendance at this game was around 7,000.

Games in New Westminster would draw anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 while at Recreation Park in downtown Vancouver, there were matches at times that went into the 11,000 to 15,000 range. On September 16, 1911, it was reported 14,009 people paid and as many as 15,000 were on hand to watch the playoff game between Vancouver Lacrosse Club and New Westminster Salombellies. In modern terms, this level of popularity would be equivalent to the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League drawing a crowd in the range of 73,000 to 299,500 fans to a single game, on a regular basis!

SECOND REASON… It is a useful and handy coincidence that at least one official rule-book for the British Columbia Lacrosse Association professional league from 1911 does still exist, in excellent condition and in the possession of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, which can be used for rules comparison. In 1911, the British Columbia Lacrosse Association was the name of the professional league and organisation – and no relation to the modern provincial body of the same name.

THIRD AND FINAL REASON… The five seasons in lacrosse from 1909 through 1913 seasons were by far the most photographed of the sport on the Pacific Coast until the advent of digital photography. Action images from those games have been preserved well into the modern era – compared to some decades such as the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, where very few action images still remain available or in existence in archives. There are more action photos from 1911 and 1912 alone than there are from the 1930s and 1940s and it is often easier to locate an action photograph of a New Westminster or Vancouver player from 1911 or 1912 than one who played in 1952 – or 1972 or 1992, for that matter.

Some of these old photographs – specifically wide-angle or long-distance shots of games in progress – can be examined for clues about how the game was played on the field in lieu of film footage. It is known for a fact that at least one game in Vancouver was filmed in 1920 by three movie cameras – but that footage is believed to be long-lost or has yet to turn up anywhere.

DIFFERENT, YET NOT SO DIFFERENT

One of the most obvious changes in the game is the lacrosse stick itself – which of course in 1911 was made of wood and natural materials such as string, leather and cat-gut for the mesh.

However the old wood sticks used in 1911, which obviously differ from the modern plastic-metal stick used today, are also quite different in size and design compared to the modern style of wood stick still produced by the Mitchell Brothers of Cornwall Island or Alf Jacques of Onondaga.

Comparing a 1920s wood stick used by an outfield player with a modern wood stick
Comparing the pocket size of an old wood stick used by an outfield player in the 1920s with a modern wood stick.

The 1911 stick could be of any length but the head could not be more than one foot wide and the pocket had to be strung so it was flat when the ball wasn’t in it. Modern field lacrosse sticks only allow a width between 6 and 10 inches for runners, with most modern stick heads closer to the lesser amount. With the 1911 stick, one and only one string (comparable to the modern shooting string), was allowed to be strung across the head – but it could not be tied down. The string was actually more intended to be used as a means for preventing two sticks from hooking together during a game.

The sticks used in 1911 had a triangular head shape and appearance not much different than a modern wooden goalkeeper’s stick. The pockets on these old sticks are around twice as wide and twice as long in the throat compared to modern sticks used by runners. (The triangular or flat head design didn’t get phased out for the rounded, bishop’s crook form until the late 1930s). Lastly, the shaft on the 1911 stick was generally shorter than those used on modern sticks. Most surprisingly however is the fact that many of these old, larger woodsticks are actually lighter in weight (and thus not as strong) than modern woodsticks – which possibly explains how players in 1911 managed to do without the level of protective padding seen in the game today.

Obviously the passing game – or combination play as it was sometimes called – was still evolving but had nevertheless taken root by 1911. It is easy to imagine that while the players back then would have been skilled and quite comfortable with using the larger pocket-head on these sticks, play for picking up the loose balls on the ground would have been probably more chaotic and harder than it is today.

The next, most noticeable difference for the modern eye watching a 1911 game would be the size of the team – in terms of number of players – and dimensions of the playing field.

The 1911 lacrosse team used 12 men per team compared to 10 in the modern game: 11 runners and 1 goalkeeper. While modern field lacrosse is played in a 3-3-3 line-up for outfield players, in 1911 the line-up would look something like 2-7-2 or 2-3-1-3-2. The two extra runners in the midfield helped make up for the fact that there were no substitutions allowed at all during the game, except for injury.

Capacity crowd at Recreation Park, October 1911
Capacity crowd at Recreation Park spills out on to the field for Minto Cup action, October 1911

Unlike field lacrosse today – which has four named positions in use (goalkeeper, defense, midfield, and attack) – the 1911 game mirrored such sports as baseball and rugby by having unique names for each and every position on the playing field: the goalkeeper, point, cover point, the three defensemen (first, second, third defense), centreman, the three home fielders (third, second, and first homes), outside home, and inside home – the last two who were strictly attackmen in the modern sense of the game. The defense and home positions roamed the midfield while the point and coverpoint were the deep defensive opposites of the outside and inside homes.

The two extra midfielders (i.e. third defense and third home) also made up for the the fact that the playing field was vastly larger – with 330 feet minimum the required distance between the two goals – although 375 feet was the preferred distance if possible. The modern field game is a lot more compact at 240 feet between goals on a field 330 feet in length. There doesn’t seem to be any regulations governing the width of the playing field in 1911, so play was likely focused more in the zone down the middle between the two goals rather than going out far on the wings.

At most playing fields such as Queens Park or Recreation Park, spectators were kept behind a short fence which marked the out-of-bounds. Where there was no fence, the crowd could be found standing right on the sidelines. And sometimes, during such capacity events as the 1911 Minto Cup clashes against the Toronto Tecumsehs, some fans decided the best place to watch was found by simply sitting or lying down on the edge of the playing field itself – happily enjoying the match from that vantage point in a simpler time.

The fact that fans did occasionally enter the outer edges of the playing field to watch games probably also further indicates that action very rarely reached out along the far extremities of the playing surface, with little worry for spectators inadvertently getting in the way of the action to be a real concern or hazard for the players or officials.

Protective padding was non-existent apart from gloves – and even then some players opted to go barehanded. In the later years, some players can be seen in some action photographs wearing padded caps with side flaps which gave some token protection to their heads. Facial protection was unheard of – even for goalkeepers, who fearlessly stared down attacking shooters barefaced and with no protection whatsoever, save for their sticks.

Goal nets were the familiar 6 ft x 6 ft size – but the goal crease was a 12 ft x 12 ft square box. The net was positioned so that there were 3 feet between the posts and the side of the crease and the goal line was 6 feet back from the front of the crease. Unlike the modern game, players were allowed to enter the goal crease as well as check the goalie – but only if the ball was also inside the goal crease at the same time.

Lacrosse action at Recreation Park
Lacrosse action downtown at Recreation Park in 1912. Bun Clark has just been scored on by Vancouver.

There were no off-sides or restraining lines drawn on the field as in the modern field game. However with the extra players and farther distance to cover, the game was more positional which managed to prevent a horde of 20 runners all clustered around one net.

Old wide-angle photographs showing the full field of play generally show what appears to be 6-on-6 play engaged in the action with the rest of the players hanging around the goal at the opposite end, with maybe one or two midfielders hovering around the middle of the field to provide some sort of transition. In close-quarters action around the goal, the game movement would probably not be too much different than in the modern game.

In fact, when you consider that box lacrosse originally had 6 (and not 5) runners until the 1950s, it’s fairly easy to see the development relation where box lacrosse evolved from field as a compacted, half-court variant of the field game.

When there was a stoppage in play due to the captain calling a foul with one of the rules or questioning the referee on a call, players had to remain standing on the field exactly where they were when the whistle was blown. They could not move again from their spot until play was resumed by the referee and the ball whistled in.

A faceoff occurred not only when a goal was scored, but also when there were penalties, fouls, and the ball going out of bounds.

Lacrosse was so popular, it appeared in local cigarette adverts.
Lacrosse was so popular, it appeared in local cigarette adverts.

Games were 4 x 20 minute quarters with 5, 10, and 5 minutes for breaks. Has it been mentioned yet to all the midfielders reading this, that there were no substitutions?

Penalties in 1911 were a minimum of 5 minutes and longer time at the discretion of the referee and referees could fine any player up to $10 ($205 in modern dollars) for insulting remarks or actions against any official. In later years, there would be 3-minute infractions.

However, when a player was thrown out of a game, the time remaining in the game was generally what was assessed for penalty minutes against that player. This explains why some players had unusually high penalty minutes in some games. Yes, the game was still rough compared to the modern day – but the penalties hurt the players just as much. A player given the boot in the first or second quarter would thus appear to be punished more in the game report than if he were sent off late in the game for the same infraction.

Lastly, referees were paid $25 per game – or $515 in modern currency.

The biggest changes implemented during the 1909-1924 professional era took place in 1919 which saw the reduction of two players (the third defense and third home players) as well as the reduction in the playing field size. That year, new rules were adopted that saw playing time go from four-quarters to three 20-minute periods – although a temporary measure as it was then changed back to four-quarters in 1922. There were also adjustments to the rules which restricted substitutions and dictated when and how-often player changes could be made.

In 1922, the substitutions rules were altered again, clarifying some earlier confusion. They were now only permitted for injuries or between periods. Starting in 1923, assists on goals were officially recorded for the first time.

* Offsides and the restraining lines for attackmen and defenders – now prevalent in the modern field game, but a glaring omission from the old professional and senior game – were introduced in the United States collegiate game in 1921 but would not appear in the Canadian field game until after its demise and later revival. Usage of the individual positional names would be dropped from the American field game in 1947 although their use in the women’s game would linger on. In regards to the number of players, the American game soldiered on with 12 players until 1932 when they went to the 10-man version.

(CLHOF X994.162; CVA Sp P92-2; CVA PAN P87; CVA #677-1009)

Post-war Revival and the End of an Era 1918-1924

There are very few authenticated photos from the post-war professional game. This appears to be a New Westminster squad from ca.1922-1924
There are very few authenticated photos from the post-war professional game. This appears to be a New Westminster squad from ca.1922-1924

1918–1924 …Post-war Revival and the End of an Era

The Mainland Lacrosse Association was formed in 1918 with New Westminster and Vancouver as a pro league replacement to the inactive British Columbia Lacrosse Association.

However a year later at the BCLA Annual Meetings held on May 8 and 15, 1919, the Minto Cup Trustees and British Columbia Lacrosse Association refused to recognise the results of the Mainland Lacrosse Association series as being official. Vancouver had won the eight-game series but would not be awarded the Minto Cup. Vancouver claimed that they were in perfect order to organise a new league in lieu of the BCLA, which had suspended operations for the duration of World War One. New Westminster disagreed and claimed (somewhat well after the fact) that their club did not actually operate in 1918.

The British Columbia Lacrosse Association resumed play that season with the New Westminster Salmonbellies and Vancouver Terminals. In the meantime, out of disgust with the recent situation with New Westminster, Con Jones walked away from the pro game and turned his attention to supporting the amateurs.

A year later, in 1920, the May 24 game saw the largest crowd turnout in New Westminster since the heady days of 1911. The Dominion Day match-up saw the novelty of four movie cameras in attendance along with numerous fans from Vancouver Island and from as far as Seattle and Tacoma. The large crowds continued throughout the season.

In late September and October of 1920, Con Jones met with his former star-player Billy Fitzgerald to lay out some plans to field a team to play against a Vancouver team involving Jones. Although never progressing beyond talk, conflicting and muddled news reports hinted that Fitzgerald would either organise and manage an unidentified eastern team to play a twelve-game schedule versus Vancouver or he would organise a Seattle lacrosse team to play in an ‘international league’ involving Vancouver and Montréal. Whether the failure of this international league bankrolled by Con Jones later lent weight to his Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association venture the following year involving Vancouver and Victoria (of which Billy Fitzgerald was a member), is unknown.

Vancouver Terminals lining up prior to a BCLA match at Athletic Park in 1921.

May 1921 saw the formation of a second professional club in Vancouver – the Vancouver Lacrosse Club, fronted by Con Jones – after a large majority of the players with the Vancouver Terminals bolted the team due to money issues. After the New Westminster Salmonbellies declared their refusal to play Jones’s new team and stated they would only compete against the Terminals for the Minto Cup, Jones responded by forming a Victoria club and starting up a second, professional league for his team to play in.

This new league was called the Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association (different from the amateur PCALA in existence at the same time) and consisted of the new Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Victoria Capitals. With two professional leagues in operation simultaneously, as many as 16 players were recruited from Ontario – the majority signing with the Vancouver Terminals in the BCLA as replacements for those players lost to the Vancouver Lacrosse Club team in the PCLA. Victoria Capitals also benefited from the influx of Easterners to buttress their roster. Amongst all this roster movement, only New Westminster seemed unaffected.

However, soon after the PCLA played its first game, it was obvious to all that Victoria was seriously outclassed and talks began to merge into a three-team league with two Vancouver clubs and the Salmonbellies. No merger agreement was able to be worked out – and after five games into the season, the PCLA disbanded on June 13, 1921. Four days later, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club applied to join the BCLA but their request was denied. As the rest of the BCLA season played out, some Vancouver players in the PCLA eventually made their way back to their original BCLA club from which they had departed.

The BCLA league became a fatality in September 1923 with two games remaining to be played; like many previous seasons lost during mid-season, it was due to a grievance over scheduling.

As with every other season before, 1924 started with a lot of promise. But in the end, it proved to be the final curtain call when professional lacrosse in British Columbia died an inglorious death on June 3, 1924. Sadly, just as Con Jones had a hand in building up the professional game in Vancouver, he would have a hand in its demise in that city, and ultimately in Canada – as its last bastion was on the Pacific Coast. Four games into the season, Jones suddenly and without warning threw in the towel.

Like a ‘bolt from the blue’, as one newspaper commented, Jones was forced to quit the game on his doctor’s orders. When local baseball legend Bob Brown then offered to step in and take Jones’s place leading the Vancouver club, the rescue attempt was quickly quashed when Jones flatly refused to allow his park to be used free of charge to help keep the national game alive.

As the Vancouver Province stated: “And that’s that. Con Jones is through.” – and so died the last remnants of the pro lacrosse game in Canada.

(PHOTO SOURCES: NWMA IHP0371; CVA 99-905)

The National Game reigns over the West Coast 1909-1915

New Westminster scores goal at Queens Park.
New Westminster scores at Queens Park.

1909–1915 …The National Game reigns over the West Coast

The infamous gunshot incident of 1908, still talked about amongst fans as late as the 1950s, slipped off the attention of league executives by the start of the following season, buried under the growing contentious debate regarding professionalism in the sport.

During the 1908 season, New Westminster Salmonbellies, an amateur team, challenged and defeated the Montréal Shamrocks and Ottawa Capitals, both professional teams, for the Minto Cup – which was awarded to the professional champion of Canada. Now tainted for playing against professionals, New Westminster’s players had their amateur status revoked. As a result, in 1909 the British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association went professional and the organisation became a league known as the British Columbia Lacrosse Association – although some amateur players were allowed and did compete alongside the professional players that season.

Salmonbellies defense ragging the ball at Recreation Park, ca. 1911.
New Westminster defense ragging the ball at Recreation Park, ca. 1911.

The bulk of the senior amateurs then formed a new organisation called the Pacific Coast Amateur Lacrosse Association. Around the same time, the British Columbia Coast Lacrosse Association formed on May 9, 1909 to replace the former BCALA as the provincial governing body for amateur players.

The professional BCLA consisted of New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Vancouver Lacrosse Club and would stay at two member teams throughout its entire tenure – although as we shall see, many a season would be abandoned due to squabbling between clubs and owners. On July 24, 1909, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club won their first away game in four years, drubbing the Royal City squad 6-1 in front of the largest crowd out so far that season.

North Vancouver Lacrosse Club applied to the BCLA in 1911 for membership. Two test matches were arranged in the pre-season pitting the North Vancouver squad against the two pro clubs. After being soundly defeated by results of 12-3 and 13-3, their application was quickly rejected.

Lacrosse action (ca. 1911) at Recreation Park. Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray is manning the goal for New Westminster and it appears ‘Newsy’ Lalonde is the Vancouver player going in on goal.
Lacrosse action (ca. 1911) at Recreation Park. ‘Sandy’ Gray is between the posts for New Westminster and it appears ‘Newsy’ Lalonde is the Vancouver player going in on goal.

The 1911 campaign probably stands, even to this day, as the high-water mark of British Columbian lacrosse in terms of both quality on the field and popularity in the stands. Édouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, regarded as the greatest lacrosse player of the first half of the 20th century, was signed on for $3,500 ($72,000 in modern currency) – an incredible sum of cash in those days for a professional athlete. The series between the two local rivals was very close and intense; the regular season resulting in a draw in the standings and a two-game, total-goals playoff was required to determine that year’s Minto cupholders. Vancouver secured their first ever shutout against the hated Salmonbellies during the second of a pair of exhibition matches held in honour of the royal coronation. Crowds were huge, the 12,045 that weathered out a drizzled Dominion Day afternoon at Recreation Park was believed to have been a record breaker. Crowds in the range of 8,000 – in excess of record numbers just ten years prior – were considered the norm of the day and the attendance record would be surpassed again when the Toronto Tecumsehs unsuccessfully challenged the Vancouver Lacrosse Club for the Minto Cup in October.

Vancouver goalkeeper Cory Hess making a save against New Westminster at Hastings Park on May 31, 1913
Vancouver goalkeeper Cory Hess making a save against New Westminster at Hastings Park on May 31, 1913

After three seasons of unprecedented popularity, the BCLA season collapsed seven games into the 1913 campaign. The Salmonbellies again had issues with the Vancouver club and had refused to start their Dominion Day match, walking off the field in protest. After almost two weeks with no agreement in the dispute, Con Jones pulled the plug on his Vancouver Lacrosse Club team and withdrew from the league on July 17, 1913 – refunding $5,000 in ticket revenue to disappointed fans as the sport now skidded into the doldrums.

With Vancouver club president Con Jones, the famous local sports promoter and owner of a chain of tobacconist’s shops, now calling it quits and out of the picture, popular interest in the game began to wane. More than any other individual, Jones was responsible for the promotion and growth of enthusiastic public support of lacrosse in the heady days of the early 1910s with his vast sums of money thrown around for signing players. His ‘retirement’ now coincided with the gradual departure of lacrosse from the sporting public’s hearts and minds.

‘Bun’ Clark defends the New Westminster goal against Vancouver sniper  ‘Bones’ Allen (#9) at Hastings Park, ca. 1913.
‘Bun’ Clark defends the New Westminster goal against Vancouver sniper ‘Bones’ Allen (#9) at Hastings Park, 1913.

After a successful PCALA season, the Vancouver Athletic Club fielded a professional team in 1914 and replaced the departed Vancouver Lacrosse Club in the BCLA. However, they too failed to make it to the end of the season as the club disbanded on July 8, 1914 – which sadly saw the end of one of the more promising pro seasons on the pitch to have come along in a few years.

For an all-too-brief moment in time, a pro league called the Western Lacrosse Association was formed in 1915 as a replacement for the (temporarily folded) BCLA with teams in Vancouver and Victoria. After the initial announcement of this newly formed league, no further reference was ever made to it again. New Westminster soon returned to the pro fold along with Vancouver – and, so too did Con Jones. Victoria was then quietly dropped and as far as anyone was concerned, the BCLA was back in business as per usual.

One-half of a panoramic view of Recreation Park in downtown Vancouver. This incredible photograph, which appears to be from one the Minto Cup challenge matches played between Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Toronto Tecumsehs in the Autumn of 1911
One-half of a panoramic view of Recreation Park in downtown Vancouver. This incredible photograph appears to be from one the Minto Cup challenge matches played between Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Toronto Tecumsehs in the Autumn of 1911

The British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association was formed in May 1915, six years after the demise of the previous BCALA incarnation as yet another provincial lacrosse body. There were now a whole host of provincial bodies abound: the BCALA, the PCALA, and the BCCLA organisations in the amateur ranks and the BCLA for the professional players.

Con Jones himself would soon fall into financial difficulties. With the Vancouver club mired in debt to the amount of $2,300 just two months into the 1915 season, Jones showed his accounting books to the Vancouver players and stated he would not be paying them for the rest of the season. The three Easterners that he had imported in for the season packed up and left for home the following week.

Organised Lacrosse in British Columbia fell by the wayside in 1916 and suspended operations for the duration of the First World War as the war effort took centre-stage attention.

(PHOTOS CVA 371-578; CVA 371-596; CVA 371-583; CVA 371-578; Sp P71; PAN P87)

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)

Marching towards Professionalism 1890-1908

New Westminster, 1890
New Westminster, 1890

1890–1908 …Marching towards Professionalism

The (original) British Columbia Amateur Lacrosse Association was formed at a meeting held in Vancouver at the Windsor Hotel between the Vancouver, Victoria, and New Westminster clubs on March 22, 1890. A schedule of six matches was drafted up and New Westminster swept their series to claim the first provincial championship (although some later historical records indicate Victoria as the champion of the inaugural season).

Vancouver would then win the next two titles (1891, 1892) followed by Victoria in 1893 (some records indicate New Westminster) – however over the following years, New Westminster would dominate the championship scene with titles in 1894, 1895, and 1897 through 1902 with Vancouver picking up the slack in the intervening years.

Vancouver Lacrosse Club, ca. 1896
Vancouver Lacrosse Club, ca. 1896

The 1892 season was a great example of early organised field lacrosse. In an incredibly close campaign, each of Vancouver’s five victories for the title was won by 1-goal margins, yet due to their losses they still managed to let in more goals than they scored for the entire season. In those days, each goal scored was actually called winning a “game” and play ended after one team had accumulated four “games” to win the match or time ran out.

Victoria would have to wait until 1919 before winning a second senior amateur title for the Capital City but their closest attempt came during the 1894 season when they tied New Westminster in the league standings. As a result of the draw, a playoff game to determine the championship was played on October 20, 1894 at Brockton Oval in Vancouver. New Westminster showed up at the field an hour and a half late and this later caused the game being called due to darkness and Victoria holding a 3-2 lead with eleven minutes remaining. The referee refused to give the victory to Victoria and the club later withdrew from the BCALA on November 2, 1894 in protest of the referee’s indecision and the late arrival of their opponents.

Vancouver Lacrosse Club, 1899
Vancouver Lacrosse Club, 1899

Two campaigns around the turn of the century – in 1899 and 1900 – saw organised league play deteriorate from numerous cancellations of matches. For example, in August 1900, some scheduled league matches involving New Westminster were cancelled due to their subsequently organised tour of Eastern Canada in August 1900. There were also some matches against Victoria that New Westminster possibly refused to play – allegedly due to ‘rough play’ on Victoria’s part in meetings earlier in the season.

The senior ranks expanded in 1901 with the return of the Nanaimo Lacrosse Club after a two-year hiatus. The Coal City crew were able to secure a couple of surprise victories at the expense of the Vancouver club but generally remained the league’s whipping post for the duration of their senior tenure. By mid-point of the 1902 season, the club had withdrawn from the league and defaulted their five remaining matches. The Vancouver YMCA lacrosse club went back east in October 1901 to challenge for the Minto Cup, the senior championship of Canada which was inaugurated earlier that season.

The 1903 senior lacrosse season ended in dispute between New Westminster and Vancouver and the league championship was still vehemently undecided at the start of the 1904 campaign. The differences between the two clubs dragged on after the three-team schedule was released. New Westminster withdrew from the league on June 2, 1904 after refusal to play two replays to decide the 1903 champion. There was some talk of a second Vancouver team joining, but in the end Vancouver Lacrosse Club and Victoria continued on with an eight-game schedule, which Vancouver handily won after five victories.

Despite the conflicts off the field, one bright spot during the 1903 campaign was growing attendance. The June 30, 1903 match at Brocton Oval between Vancouver and New Westminster saw 7,000 in attendance, reported to have been the best crowd since 1896. Two months later on August 29, 1903, a rematch between those same two teams drew 11,000 onlookers out to Brockton Oval in was dubbed by one newspaper reporter as “the greatest lacrosse match in West Canada”.

Seattle Lacrosse Club, members of BCALA in 1905
Seattle Lacrosse Club, members of BCALA in 1905

In 1905, the BCALA league was reformed with four members: New Westminster, Vancouver, Victoria, and a newly-formed club from Seattle. The Emerald City’s club was later ejected from the league after they were unable to play their two final scheduled games – a move somewhat encouraged by Vancouver since it would improve their record against their league-leading rivals in the Royal City.

The following season saw Victoria withdraw from the senior league and Vancouver field a second club in the form of the Mount Pleasant Maple Leafs. Late in the season, in September 1906, lacrosse players and fans saw the donation of the Kilmarnock Cup as a trophy for the provincial senior championship. Through the efforts of Victoria Lacrosse Club, the $500 mug was donated on behalf of the scotch distillers John Walker & Sons and brought over from England. The Kilmarnock Cup would remain in competition until retired at the close of the 1960s.

New Westminster Salmonbellies, 1908
New Westminster Salmonbellies, 1908

New Westminster became the first Kilmarnock Cup champion in 1907, defeating Mount Pleasant Maple Leafs 5-4. Mount Pleasant had previously bested the Vancouver Lacrosse Club 11-4 in an intra-city playoff.

Victoria rejoined the senior league for 1908. The original schedule was then revised in August to accommodate New Westminster’s challenge trip to Montréal that resulted in the successful capture of the Minto Cup for the West Coast.

On September 26, 1908 in the final New Westminster-Vancouver match of the season, escalating player tempers on the field saw a riot break out when a New Westminster fan pelted a Vancouver player with eggs – which resulted in George Paris, the Vancouver trainer, retaliating by pulling out his gun and firing a shot into the crowd. Thankfully, no one was killed, although the bullet went through the coat of one spectator. Both clubs felt they were victims in the ugly incident and Vancouver stated their refusal to “play any further games in New Westminster…

(PHOTO SOURCES: NWMA IHP1505; Saturday Globe (January 30, 1897); CVA Sp P4.1; Seattle Times archives; NWMA IHP0663 )