Category Archives: Lacrosse culture

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.

Canadian Lacrosse Foundation: “Lacrosse Talks”

Lacrosse historians Bruce MacDonald and Dave Stewart-Candy.
As part of its series “Lacrosse Legends” and “Lacrosse Talks”, on June 11, 2019 the Canadian Lacrosse Foundation released its video webcast featuring two of the historians directly involved with the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Bruce MacDonald is the author of the book Salmonbellies vs. the World and was one of the lecture speakers at the 150th Anniversary of Lacrosse Celebration held in Montréal, Québec in June 2017 while Dave Stewart-Candy is the author of Old School Lacrosse – Pro Lacrosse in British Columbia 1909-1924 and the annual Canadian Lacrosse Almanac. Both gentlemen are official historians for the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum located in New Westminster, British Columbia.

The hour-long interview clip was filmed at the hall of fame museum site in February 2019 and can be found at the YouTube link located here.

John ‘Jocko’ Vinson

‘Jocko’ Vinson as the trainer for Vancouver Athletic Club in 1913

JOHN ‘JOCKO’ VINSON
(December 5, 1882 – April 15, 1916)

An Australian by birth hailing from Sydney, New South Wales, when exactly John ‘Jocko’ Vinson arrived in Vancouver and became associated with the Vancouver Athletic Club and their championship lacrosse team is unknown, as facts about his life prior to the outbreak of the First World War are scant and fleeting.

Barely out of his teens, Vinson stowed away on a transport ship leaving Australia and ended up as a bugler in the Second Boer War in South Africa. His Canadian military records from 1914 mention a declaration that he served two years in the South African War with the “2nd Australian Bushmen” but no such-named regiment seems to be listed in modern Australian military records for that conflict.

There is no mention of him in Vancouver newspapers prior to January 1910, although one article printed in 1917, after his passing, mentioned that he had been involved in Nanaimo sporting circles prior to “drifting across the gulf” to Vancouver.

As the trainer for a sports team, very little press would have been written about his role with the Vancouver Athletic Club except it is clear that Vinson was highly regarded and well-known in both local and national sporting circles. ‘Jocko’ Vinson was involved with the Vancouver Athletic Club lacrosse team during their hold over the Mann Cup as national senior amateur lacrosse champions from 1911 through 1913 and into 1914. While he never played lacrosse, he was nevertheless quite an athlete himself and Vinson held a number of world champion rope-skipping records, including one claimed record of 12,023 skipped in 74 minutes on May 18, 1913. He worked as a trainer in horse racing and fought boxing matches as a lightweight, weighing in at 120 to 122 lbs.

‘Jocko’ Vinson in 1913

An interesting and rare detail on his lacrosse career, it was reported he talked Bill Peacock into signing with VAC, beating out Con Jones and his professional Vancouver Lacrosse Club outfit for the services of the young, promising player.

On October 30, 1912, Vinson set sail from Vancouver on the New Zealand ocean liner SS Marama to visit his parents in Australia for a three-month period. He remained there in his native land until he set sail on the SS Makura to make his way back to Canada, arriving in Vancouver on the morning of May 1, 1913.

Described as an “all-round good fellow, always bright and cheerful and immensely popular”, ‘Jocko’ Vinson appears in all lacrosse team photographs for the Vancouver Athletic Club during their championship years – often wearing his trademark white sweater and suspenders and sporting a tweed cap. His occupation on his military records on enlistment in 1914 state he was a farrier, a specialist in horseshoeing. He appears to have been a bachelor as his half-brother in Australia is listed as next-of-kin.

When the Great War broke out, with enthusiasm Vinson once again answered the call to arms. Within two days of the British Empire declaring war, he enlisted as a member of the first contingent of the 11th Irish Fusiliers that departed from Vancouver for the front lines in Western Europe. He would serve in Belgium with the 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (British Columbia Regiment).

Corporal John Vinson fought in the Ypres campaign and was seriously wounded in April 1915 during the Battle of St. Julien. His heroic exploits saw him fighting off enemy attackers with bayonet and in the process leading his men in seizing a farmhouse and gun position. Wounded and begging to be left behind with a gun, to pick off German soldiers before they got to him, he had to be dragged back under protest to the safety of a shelter. News of his actions in combat reached back home in Vancouver and his heroics were reported in the local press while his gallantry earnt him special mention in military dispatches.

Writing about it in 1915, Ypres in Belgium would ultimately become Vinson’s final resting place the following year.

While convalescing from his wounds, Vinson wrote poetry about his experiences and observations in the war. In August 1915, a small collection of five poems was published in England. After ten months of recuperation, he recovered sufficiently enough from his injuries that he insisted he be returned once again to the front lines.

Ypres would become Vinson’s final resting place when he was killed in action on April 15, 1916, a day before the final German push convinced the divisional headquarters the hopelessness of their situation and declared an end to the engagement.

The Battle of St. Eloi Craters ended in a German victory as half the Canadian contingent surrendered and the other half crawled away in retreat. More than 1,370 Canadian soldiers, Corporal Vinson amongst them, stood their ground and gave their lives on the muddy, cratered quagmire that was the battlefield at Ypres. Newspapers in Vancouver and Victoria printed special tributes about the beloved ‘Jocko’ Vinson when news of his death reached home two weeks later in the first days of May 1916.

Corporal John Vinson is buried at the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground located a few kilometres south of Ypres/Iepers in Belgium.

(PHOTO SOURCES: CLHOF X979.190.1 excerpt, CVA 139-23 excerpt)

“Lacrosse: A Nation’s Game” documentary

Between January 29 and February 28, 2018, the Canadian cable and satellite television channel Super Channel will be broadcasting the new documentary Lacrosse: A Nation’s Game. Click on the name link for more information on the broadcast schedule and how to view this documentary and click here to view the trailer.

“Featuring interviews with faithkeepers, stick makers, coaches, and historians, and full of beautiful archive photos and video, Lacrosse: A Nation’s Game details the rich history of lacrosse in Canada from its Indigenous origins to the 150th anniversary celebration of the sport in 2017.”

One of the historians interviewed during the production is the author of Old School Lacrosse – as director of acquisitions and archives, he provided access to the museum site, photographs, and behind the scenes at the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in New Westminster, British Columbia.

An interview excerpt from the documentary Lacrosse: A Nation’s Game can be viewed here.

lacrosse-nations-game-dsc-minto
“Lacrosse: A Nation’s Game” – by Nüman Films (2018)

The Earliest Lacrosse Action Photograph?

first lacrosse photo
This photograph, in the collection of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, was apparently taken of a lacrosse game in action, played in Montréal, Québec in August 1864 – and as you can read, the caption claims it was the “first instantaneous snapshot ever taken”.

It is unknown whether the description implies it was the first-ever snapshot in photographic history – or just the first-ever photograph of a lacrosse game. On the back of the photo is the signature of AE Macnaughton (d.1937), who seems to be describing and verifying the nature of the print and its date. The author of Old School Lacrosse has frequently come across Archie Macnaughton’s name in his research from the 1890s to 1920s, a well-known individual involved in the game – first as a player in the 1890s for the Victoria Lacrosse Club and then later as manager of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club, as well as a referee and an association executive.

It is suspected the print copy in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame collection is a re-print that dates from before the 1930s and certainly not an original print from the 1860s.

However, based on what little the author knows of photography history, there are some serious doubts whether this photo actually does date from 1864.

The clearness and lack of blur of the players in motion in the image is unusual for photography of the era. The earliest snapshot cameras did not come along until 1888 with the introduction of the Kodak No.1 camera. The next latest occurrence of actions shots of lacrosse matches does not happen until the first five or so years of the 1900s.

Therefore, Old School Lacrosse suspects the photograph’s origins are likely three decades later, say 1880-1890s range. Perhaps 1864 is a typographical or lapse of memory error for 1894?

(PHOTO SOURCE: CLHOF X994.29(1))

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 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.

* * *

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.

Lacrosse in Victorian popular music

our national game sheet musicAs strange as it may seem to modern audiences of both popular music and the game of lacrosse, almost as soon as lacrosse took hold over the young Dominion of Canada in the late 1860s, composers were inspired to write music whose melodies were deemed reflective of the qualities exemplified by its game play.

Clearly the best known music composition would be the song La Crosse, Our National Game, words by James Hughes and the music arranged by Toronto teacher and choirmaster Henry Francis Sefton (ca.1808-1892) in the mid-1870s. Various dates of publication have been given for the piece, with 1872 being the most common.

While the song would predate the birth the game in British Columbia by a decade or more, when the game did gain traction on the Pacific Coast, this song too made the journey west as well and was not unknown to lacrosse fans here. In the 1890s, one of the local newspapers published its lyrics in the form of a poem.

La Crosse, Our National Game was dedicated to Lord Dufferin, the Governor General of Canada, with its typical Victorian-era ‘huzzah’ lyrics inspired no doubt by the extolling of Dr. William G. Beers, the ‘Father of Modern Lacrosse’ in Canada. Himself an adroit voice for the young Dominion of Canada, the song mirrors Beers in proclaiming the various merits of ‘the national game’ played up at the expense of the British and American sporting pursuits which would have also been on the minds of many Canadians in the 1870s and later years of the 19th century. With ice hockey years away from being organised, lacrosse was viewed as the one athletic pastime unique to Canada and the new nation established in 1867, in contrast to imported sports such as cricket and rugby from the Old Country or baseball from America.

Canadian opera soprano and comedian Mary Lou Fallis recorded a modern rendition of the song for her 1997 album Primadona on a Moose, a collection of early Canadian songs. The album and related show tour was inspired by old song recordings unearthed by her and McGill University researchers in the mid-1970s.

The Library and Archives of Canada has this modern vocal recording of La Crosse, Our National Game.

There are at least four other known pieces of music composed in Canada for “lacrosse” audiences:

La Crosse Galop or The Lacrosse Gallop composed by J. Holt and “dedicated to the La Crosse Clubs of Canada”. Inspired by the sudden popularity of the sport in Toronto, this dance piece was composed in 1867 or 1868 and was the first song written with lacrosse in mind. A galop is a lively dance forerunner of the polka in 2/4 time; often it would be performed as the final dance of an evening.
La Crosse Waltz, composed by W. Rowland and dedicated to Dr. William G. Beers, was first performed on May 20, 1876 at the Theatre Royal in Montréal.
– The piano piece Lacrosse Jersey (for Piano), written in 1892 by Nellie Smith and dedicated to the Toronto Lacrosse Club.
Lacrosse Polka (For Piano) written by L. Fred Clarry of Millbrook, Ontario.

None of these three compositions had lyrics written so it is unknown what exactly inspired their composition – apart from perhaps the need for appropriate music and performance pieces on hand at lacrosse club social functions in an era when the dancehall would be the primary venue.

(MUSIC & PHOTO SOURCES: Library and Archives Canada)