George Rennie

George Rennie, 1911
George Rennie, 1911

GEORGE HADDOW RENNIE
(March 11, 1883 – December 13, 1966)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1901-1915; 1918-1920)

Like many accolades given to the old greats, his long-time friend and defensive team-mate Jim Gifford said that George Rennie was “one of the finest players in the world in his day”.

A defensive midfielder by trade, playing in the second defense and third defense positions, George Rennie turned senior in 1901 with the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

During the professional era, he played in 120 games and scored 18 goals. He was sent off for 38 penalty infractions for a total of 188 penalty minutes. Late in the 1919 season, he took on a substitute role as youngster Laurie Nelson took over his place on the field. Rennie would then continue in a substitute capacity throughout the 1920 campaign – his last as an active player. After the conclusion of the final match of the 1920 season, George Rennie closed the book on his two decades of playing when announced his retirement in the Salmonbellies dressing room, quoted by the newspapers as saying that: “youth must be served, and this is my last appearance in a uniform”.

Rennie was one of two New Westminster players who were members of the 1908 Canadian Olympic lacrosse team that traveled to London, England to compete in the Fourth Olympiad. Canada won the gold medal when they defeated Great Britain by a score of 14-10 on October 24, 1908. In a tournament which featured just two nations and a single match, it would be the last appearance of lacrosse at the Olympics as a fully recognised, non-demonstration sport.

He was born in either Douglastown or Newcastle, New Brunswick – both which are now parts of the modern city of Miramichi. Away from the game, Rennie worked as the superintendent of the Lulu Island Swing Bridge between Richmond and Vancouver until his retirement in the mid-1940s.

George Rennie was a charter inductee, as a field player, into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1965.

(PHOTO SOURCE: CVA 99-41)

From Cigarettes to Salmon Tins

Lacrosse Brand Salmon
Lacrosse Brand Salmon

Unusual and novel to the fans of today, as we saw with popular music of the era, lacrosse was so prominent in the Canadian mainstream mentality a century ago that sometimes the game’s imagery, real or fanciful, was used to sell commercial products to the general masses.

In 1910, Merrill DesBrisay purchased the Wales Island Cannery and rebuilt it. For the next 14 years, DesBrisay and Company operated the plant before selling to the Canadian Fishing Company in 1925. One of their brands of salmon was “Lacrosse Brand” and the tin sported artwork showing typical lacrosse imagery of the day.

Since DesBrisay’s name has not been found associated directly with lacrosse, the reasoning and inspiration behind the brand name is unknown. The game was so popular at the time he acquired the cannery that the brand name probably appealed to the patriotic and popular sentiments of the time, as lacrosse was fully regarded as Canada’s “National Game”. Many salmon brands from those same years would utilise stereotypical Canadian motifs to promote their products in the marketplaces of the Dominion and throughout the British Empire.

The green colouring on the label is fairly unique and stands out – as almost all salmon brands at the time produced in British Columbia opted for bright red as the main colour, probably intended as a subtle association to the red colour of salmon flesh. DesBrisay distribution was based in Vancouver and one has to wonder if the green colour was a deliberate nod to the Vancouver lacrosse teams whose primary colour was traditionally green – or simply coincidental?

Merrill DesBrisay was born in New Brunswick in 1866 and along with the cannery on the north coast, he operated a grocery business in Mission, British Columbia from 1893 until 1940. DesBrisay passed away on April 23, 1949 in Vancouver. His old cannery continued to operate on Wales Island until 1949, the same year as his passing, the last of eleven canneries which operated in the Nass River-Portland Canal area.

* * *

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

Tobacco smoking had a close association with lacrosse during the game’s strongest years prior to the Great War.

There were the sets of lacrosse player cards produced by the Imperial Tobacco Company which were inserted into cigarette boxes; three series of cards were produced from 1910 through 1912.

Both professional clubs had tobacco money directly involved with funding their operations. Con Jones, with his famous “Don’t Argue” smoke shops, was associated with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club while Fred Lynch, a member of the New Westminster Salmonbellies executive, had his own tobacco business advertised on billboards at Queens Park.

“Black Cat” brand cigarettes, which was a trademark of Carreras & Marcianus, Ltd. of Montréal, used lacrosse imagery in one of its adverts printed in the Vancouver Daily Province in 1910.

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

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

Willis Patchell

Willis Patchell with New Westminster in 1921.
Willis Patchell with New Westminster in 1921.

WILSON DOUGLAS (WILLIS) PATCHELL
(April 22, 1893 – February 24, 1973)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1914; 1918-1921; 1924)
Vancouver Terminals (1923)

One of the few players who could match up and effectively shut down the great ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, Willis Patchell was perhaps best remembered back in his day for his incredible and inspiring comeback effort after being wounded during the First World War.

He made his professional debut in 1914 with the New Westminster Salmonbellies and played in 6 games that season alternating between coverpoint and first defence. The coverpoint, the second deepest defender on the field, would be his usual position although he could fill in at first defence and point when occasion required.

The First World War would then take him away from the playing field for the next three or so years. It almost took him away from the game permanently.

A member of the 29th Battalion from British Columbia, Patchell suffered a broken right leg during the intense fighting on the Western Front in 1916. Doctors said that he would never play lacrosse again, yet he persevered and returned to the playing field two years later when lacrosse action resumed on the Pacific Coast in 1918 – the long, jagged scars on his leg the only evidence on the field of his wounds.

From 1918 onward, Patchell would play in six of the following seven professional seasons between 1918 and 1924. He was absent completely from the 1922 season and he then signed with Vancouver late in the 1923 season. The Terminals were having roster problems with some absentee bodies in their defensive zone and were desperate for help. While he showed some rust in his first game, no doubt on account of his long lay-off, it was felt Patchell could nevertheless provide some needed veteran experience to the Vancouver squad. He played the month of September 1923, suiting up three times for the Vancouver Terminals. He then returned to the Salmonbellies the next year, in what turned out to be the final professional season played on the Pacific Coast.

His professional field lacrosse career would see him play in 62 games – all but 3 of them played with New Westminster Salmonbellies. He managed to score one lone goal – which came on July 25, 1921. His 18 penalty infractions clocked up 81 minutes to his name. Willis Patchell would win four Minto Cup professional championships, although two of them – in 1914 and 1924, his first and last professional seasons – were won by New Westminster through defaults.

Patchell would regain his amateur status in 1927 and return to play for New Westminster Senior ‘A’ teams – first the Salmonbellies, and then later, the Adanacs – to extend his lengthy career which would span 20 years. He then followed up with another 11 years during when he would intermittently suit up in what must have been emergency situations. During that time he witnessed the transition from the old field game to the faster box version. His final 2 games were played in 1945, at the age of 52 for the New Westminster Adanacs, to book-end a senior career which had begun its first chapter some 31 years previous. Not a bad career for someone who was told he was done in 1917.

Willis Patchell played on the 1928 New Westminster Salmonbellies senior team that traveled to the Amsterdam Summer Olympics for the lacrosse demonstration. His brother Bill Patchell was the coach of the team – himself unable to play in the Olympics on account of his former professional status not yet rescinded like his younger brother.

A fireman by trade, he retired as assistant chief of the New Westminster Fire Department in 1953. Three years after his passing in 1973, Willis Patchell was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in the field player category.

(PHOTO SOURCE: CLHOF X979.150.1)

willis patchell stats

Jimmy Gifford

Jim Gifford as he appeared on a 1912 tobacco card.
Jim Gifford as he appeared on a 1912 tobacco card.

JAMES STODDART (JIM) GIFFORD
(September 26, 1886 – November 9, 1976)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1905-1912)

Jimmy Gifford was born in Scotland (his family hailed from Lockerbie) and moved to North America with his parents nine months later, first to St. Paul, Minnesota and then later to New Westminster where his father opened a jewellery business. The patriarch of the famous, lacrosse-playing Gifford brothers was Thomas Gifford; his father served as a provincial MLA for fourteen years under Premier Richard McBride.

His lacrosse career at the senior and professional level would be relatively short – just eight seasons in total – before he suddenly took ill on July 12, 1912, was rushed to hospital, and an abscess operation effectively forced him to retire. By the time the professional game came along in 1909, Gifford had already earnt the reputation for being one of the hardest and toughest players to take to the field. During the professional era his heated rivalry with ‘Newsy’ Lalonde of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club was legendary, nasty, and relentless. Even in old age Gifford continued to hold a grudge and could not bear being in the presence of Lalonde.

Outside of lacrosse, Gifford was employed in a partnership with Webb & Gifford Machine Works. Later in his life, he was instrumental in establishing the rival New Westminster Adanacs lacrosse club in 1933. He helped coach them to their first Mann Cup finals in 1938 and then won the cherished golden trophy the following season.

In 1965, Jim Gifford was named one the charter Field Player inductees into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Passing away in 1976 at the age of 90, he was last of the five Gifford brothers (Tom, Hugh, Jack, and Bill – along with himself) as well as the last remaining member of the legendary New Westminster Salmonbellies 1908 Minto Cup championship team.

Irving ‘Punk’ Wintemute

Irving Wintemute in 1911
Irving Wintemute in 1911

IRVING ‘PUNK’ WINTEMUTE
(February 24, 1886 – March 28, 1937)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1905-1915; 1919)

‘Punk’ Wintemute was a member of the 1908 Minto Cup team that went East to pry the silver mug from the Montréal Shamrocks. He would then go on to play eight seasons at the professional level for the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

He played junior lacrosse with the New Westminster East End team known as the Reginas until around 1905 when he joined the senior team. At the peak of his career he was regarded as one of the best stickhandlers in the game.

His best season as a professional came in 1912 when he scored a career-high of 13 goals that season. Finishing fourth in goal scoring for the New Westminster Salmonbellies, Wintemute had four 2-goal games. His only hat-trick was scored in 1910 during the second leg of the Minto Cup series versus Montréal Amateur Athletic Association. Playing the second home position on the midfield line, he was not a notably prolific goal scorer but still had a couple of strong seasons of production in which he reached double-digits. He retired with 43 goals in 76 professional matches, ranking him 11th in overall career scoring for professional players on the Pacific Coast and 17th for number of games played.

Irving ‘Punk’ Wintemute in 1908
Irving ‘Punk’ Wintemute in 1908

Away from the lacrosse field, he worked in the provincial civil service for 23 years as mining recorder and chief clerk in the government agent’s office. His responsibilities would include the staking of mining claims and dispute resolution.

In the mid-1920s, Wintemute underwent surgery to relieve his arthritis. The operation went horribly wrong and he instead ended up paralysed from the waist down and lost his vision. On June 15, 1929, an old-timers benefit match was played at Queens Park in New Westminster. Featuring many of the legendary lacrosse names from the first two decades of the century, between $1200 and $1400 was raised from the gate proceeds which were then turned over to Wintemute. After the match ended, members of both the New Westminster and Vancouver teams made their way over to ‘Punk’s house to visit with the now invalid, former fellow player from the heyday of local lacrosse.

Bedridden and blind, Wintemute would be given one of the new modern inventions known as radio to listen to broadcasts of the new modern version of his old sport now known as box lacrosse. Often old team-mates would visit him and listen to the games at his bedside and talk about their heroic days of old. Visits at his home and the radio were his only contacts with the outside world.

On August 17, 1933, a second benefit match for the ailing Wintemute was played in New Westminster between the New Westminster Adanacs and the former professional Salmonbellies of old.

Irving Wintemute passed away at his New Westminster home, located at 111 Fifth Avenue, on March 28, 1937 – his untimely death clearly brought on by the torturous years of his medical condition.

Two of his sisters married prominent lacrosse personalities in New Westminster, Oscar Swanson and Hugh Gifford.

(PHOTO SOURCES: CVA 99-41; NWMA IHP1490)

Andrew Jack

Andrew Jack playing with the ILA Squamish Indians in 1922, winning the Vancouver City Senior League championship.
Andrew Jack playing with the ILA Squamish Indians in 1922, winning the Vancouver City Senior League championship.

ANDREW JACK
(birth and death dates unknown)

Vancouver Terminals (1923-1924)

Andrew Jack, a member of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, was the second aboriginal player ever to play professional lacrosse in British Columbia when he became the goalkeeper for the Vancouver Terminals in the final weeks of the 1923 season.

Replacing five-year veteran Jake Davis between the posts, Andrew Jack – or “Jacks”, as the press erroneously referred to him – appeared in Vancouver’s last two matches of 1923. He helped lead the Terminals to 9-8 and 10-2 victories as Vancouver finished up with a 7-9 win-loss record versus the champion New Westminster Salmonbellies.

Jacks Puts Indian Sign On Royal Scorers” proclaimed the Vancouver Daily Province in the leading sports story after the 10-2 rout of the New Westminster Salmonbellies (who were sometimes also nicknamed the Royals on account of New Westminster being known as the Royal City).

With the reporter stating Vancouver had “…not played better lacrosse in years”, primary credit was given to the rookie Squamish goalkeeper. The Terminals had been suffering some morale problems on and off the field in previous weeks, and Andrew Jack’s play that afternoon was just the tonic required by players and fans to get over that slump.

In the typical reporting style and language of the day, “A swarthy redskin, whose forebearers may have swung a mean tomahawk in tribal wars swung a meaner lacrosse stick on Saturday and proved to be the undoing of the Redshirts at Athletic Park.

Whatever branch of sportive endeavor his ancestors may have pursued, they assuredly never worked to greater advantage than their copper-coloured descendant did when he stepped into goal for the troubled Vancouver lacrosse team and halted every shot but two in a torrent of sharp-shooting launched by the Salmonbellies when they saw the game slowly but surely slipping away.

Andrew Jack in the 1930s
Andrew Jack in the 1930s.

While reporters from that era saw nothing wrong in exploiting and embellishing the ‘savage Indian’ motif to spice up their articles, it is also clear that the media and fans back then were also genuinely enthusiastic and excited about the addition of Andrew Jack and his fellow Squamish team-mate Louie Lewis to the Vancouver roster. Regardless of skin colour and the prejudices of the day, anyone leading Vancouver to an embarrassing result over the hated Salmonbellies would have quickly won over many admirers in the Terminal City.

Con Jones re-signed him as the Vancouver Terminals goalkeeper the 1924 season.

Despite his minutely short professional career, just 6 games played before pro lacrosse died suddenly, Andrew Jack clearly held his own against the world’s best with a 3-2-1 record and a fairly impressive 5.33 goals against – allowing a total of 10 goals in 1923 and 22 goals in 1924.

Prior to joining the Vancouver Terminals in September 1923, he played for the North Vancouver-based Squamish Indians senior teams managed by the legendary Andy Paull. In 1922 the ILA Squamish Indians won the Vancouver City Senior League championship with a 12-1-2 record.

(PHOTO SOURCE: courtesy of Carol Joseph and Gail Lewis family collection)

andrew jack stats

Hugh Gifford

Hugh Gifford, 1911
Hugh Gifford, 1911

HUGH WILSON GIFFORD
(May 29, 1892 – March 22, 1966)

New Westminster Salmonbellies (1910-1915; 1919-1924)

Hugh Gifford played in more seasons than any professional player on the Pacific Coast save for New Westminster team-mates ‘Pat’ Feeney and ‘Buck’ Marshall. He made his debut in 1910, the second year of open professionalism in the British Columbia Lacrosse Association and would remain in the professional ranks for 12 playing seasons until the game died in 1924 – absent only from the 1918 Mainland Lacrosse Association campaign.

Of the four Gifford brothers who played professional lacrosse for the Salmonbellies, he was the last one still playing in that final season on the Pacific Coast and in Canada – his younger brother Jack Gifford missing from the four games that were played in the aborted 1924 season. He was also the first of the Gifford family to be born in New Westminster; his older brothers having been born in Scotland prior to the family leaving for North America in 1887.

Hugh Gifford, 1921
Hugh Gifford, 1921

Like his older brothers Tom and Jim Gifford, Hugh was a defensive player – although more as a midfield defender in the modern sense than a pure defenceman as the aforementioned two. Hugh Gifford was recalled as “a powerful, colourful player, an outstanding athlete,” and “a stalwart on defence”. However when required, he could play in any position in his team’s own half of the field. He pulled duty as a centreman in the second half of the 1915 season while he played a handful of games in 1919 and 1921 in point and coverpoint roles back near his own crease. He even started a game between the goal posts in one instance – in just his second game after joining the Salmonbellies – on August 27, 1910, in which he filled in for ‘Sandy’ Gray. The youthful Gifford allowed just 3 goals to get past him in helping lead New Westminster to a narrow victory over the home side in Vancouver.

Not a plentiful goal scorer, he generally finished in the middle-third of the pack in his team’s scoring each season but still managed a couple games in his career where he bagged 2 goals in one game whilst playing in his usual defensive midfield role. Overall, and most likely due to his lengthy career, Gifford still managed to finish ranked 18th in career scoring with 29 goals and 1 assist, which are the best goal totals for any ‘defensive-minded’ player on the Coast.

Hugh Gifford, ca.1910-1912
Hugh Gifford, ca.1910-1912

Where he would have made a name for himself statistically – if career statistics had been kept back then – would be penalties and minutes. His 54 penalty infractions place him fourth overall in the professional game on the Pacific Coast while his 342 penalty minutes make him the most penalised New Westminster player in terms of minutes sat out – and edge him up to third overall in that category behind Vancouver’s Harry Griffith and ‘Newsy’ Lalonde for career totals. Despite these high numbers, Hugh Gifford is not noted for being a particularly nasty or pugilistic player. He only had 6 games out of his career 124 played where he had more than 10 minutes in a game; this being an age where 5 minutes was generally the minimum handed out for a penalty.

After his retirement from the game, he became a junior-level referee. He later officiated in one of the Mann Cup series. Hugh Gifford passed away at Royal Columbian Hospital from complications which aggravated his chronic asthma condition. He was inducted posthumously as a field player into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1969.

(PHOTO SOURCES: CVA 99-41; CLHOF X979.150.1; CLHOF induction photo)

hugh gifford stats

Jimmy Gunn

Jimmy Gunn with the New Westminster senior amateurs, 1921
Jimmy Gunn with the New Westminster senior amateurs, 1921

JAMES (JIMMY) ALEXANDER GUNN
(October 25, 1898 – January 13, 1987)

Vancouver Terminals (1922-1923)
New Westminster Salmonbellies (1924)

With his brief and youthful career, Jimmy Gunn was a rising star in the last days of professional lacrosse. The Vancouver Daily Province observed that Young Gunn, in his professional debut match in 1922, was “…one of the fastest fielders seen on the home [midfield] in many moons”, who possessed an accurate outlet in moving the ball near the vicinity of the opposing goalkeeper.

Gunn played 30 games over two seasons with the Vancouver Terminals before signing with his hometown team in 1924. He played in all 4 of the New Westminster Salmonbellies’ games that last season before professional lacrosse died in June 1924. He scored a career total of 17 goals and 2 assists for 19 points; he was penalised 7 times for a total of 41 minutes.

Prior to his three years as a professional player, Jimmy Gunn played with the New Westminster seniors between 1919 and 1921 and winning the Mann Cup twice during his tenure with the Royal City amateurs. One can only guess what kind of star on the midfield he would have become if the professional game hadn’t died so suddenly – when Jimmy Gunn was still 26 years young.

Jimmy Gunn
Jimmy Gunn

He was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a field player in 1972 although at the end of his day he probably had more fame as a referee – officiating for 32 years and writing a referee manual for the Canadian Lacrosse Association which saw widespread distribution. He was also at some point, during his time around the game, the president of women’s lacrosse.

In 1969 the British Columbia Lacrosse Association named their outstanding referee achievement award after him – with awards handed out on an annual basis to the top senior and minor referees with field referees added to the class starting in 1998. Candidates for the Jimmy Gunn Merit Award are judged on their achievements toward promoting sportsmanship and the image of the game.

(PHOTO SOURCES: CLHOF X979.148.1b; CLHOF inductee collection)

jimmy gunn stats

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 three 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.
– 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)

Harry Godfrey

CVA 99-35 harry godfrey (1913)
Harry Godfrey, 1913

HARRY ROWELL GODFREY
(August 14, 1880 – April 12, 1941)

Vancouver Lacrosse Club (ca.1904-1913)

One of the most prevalent – and at the same time, for the modern historian, one of the most daunting and frustrating – aspects of researching lacrosse history in Canada is the sport’s heavy reliance on oral history. Stories which have been passed down word-of-mouth between the generations which are then later documented to paper as ‘fact’ – and then trying to sort out the inconsistencies that then arise when these stories don’t match.

Film footage of lacrosse is almost non-existent with only a single-known, brief, blurry clip dating from before the 1920s. Otherwise we are forced to rely on the words of newspaper reports, photographs, and reminiscences of those who were there. Photographs are a singular instant in time which don’t generally shed any clues as to the actual playing ability of the subjects on them.

With so many of the great lacrosse players from yesterday, while it’s been passed along that such and such player was a great star or a fan favourite, we have very little factual data today as to show why they were so regarded – especially with the inevitable passing of time, when a player obituary was written with little regard for accuracy and more focus on memorialising the deceased in the very best light. First-hand reminiscence and observations do have value when documented at the time of occurrence, but as time marches on, memories grow old and fade and often those memories start to diverge and contradict with the hard facts that do remain and can be confirmed.

With many of the early inductees in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, we know perhaps two or three sentences about them – and nothing more. With many players and people involved in the game a hundred years ago, we don’t even know when they were born nor in many cases when they died. It’s a sad state of affairs but one we must grudgingly live with, as historical preservation had different priorities and criteria decades ago. Obviously the powers that be, in their day, viewed (and in many cases, knew firsthand) that these players had incredible, outstanding merits – but practically no effort was then made to preserve the actual documentation and facts to keep their history alive and tell their stories to the generations to come.

X979.145.1 harry godfrey (1912)
Harry Godfrey, 1912

One such player is Harry Godfrey.

We are told he was a great player; the people in the lacrosse community who came before us saw him worthy enough to be inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1970, just five years after the hall was established. Today, however, forty-five years after his induction and over a century since he played his last game, we now do not know very much about him nor what drove his greatness. And when those scraps of facts which can be gleaned from newspapers are cobbled together, in the case of Harry Godfrey, the puzzle creates more contradictions and questions than it does assemble a clear picture.

Harry Rowell Godfrey was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1880. We know nothing of him prior to his arrival in Vancouver in 1900. He did not start playing lacrosse, it is reported, until his arrival in the Terminal City – yet within a year of appearing on the Coast, it has also been said that he was on the Vancouver YMCA senior team that traveled east in 1901 to challenge for the Minto Cup. Even more incredibly, in May 1904, he was unanimously elected the club captain of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club – an impressive feat for a player with only four years’ playing experience under his belt, and an event which earnt him mention in the press. These two events make one wonder if he did have some exposure or playing experience prior to his relocation to Vancouver.

We know he ran a sporting goods store, Harry R. Godfrey Gunsmiths and Sporting Goods, which was located first on Cordova Street and then later moved to West Hastings. His business opened in 1903 but had closed up shop by 1916. Amongst other items, his store sold lacrosse sticks to players of all ages and ability.

As for his playing ability, according to a newspaper article written at the time of his death in 1941, Godfrey was “…a big and wiry man,” who “…starred at home [i.e. midfield], and, later, defense. He was greatly respected by teammates and opposition both. After his playing days were over he was in the sporting goods business for many years, and later operated a mink farm in Burnaby.” The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane, Washington specifically pointed him out in their review of the on-going 1907 Canadian lacrosse season him as Vancouver’s “husky inside home player”.

Then there are the questionable facts which were later preserved but probably never verified at the time – this is part of the oral history regarding Godfrey that was probably created or passed from second- and third-hand sources. The classic but unsubstantiated ‘I knew a guy who knew a guy who knew or saw him play, and he said…’

According the biography written for Godfrey’s induction in the hall of fame, he played for “a number of school and junior teams” and that “he completed his field lacrosse career by playing ten years of senior lacrosse from 1907 to 1917 until the team disbanded because of the war.” But, what seems to have happened, is a blurring of facts and dates due to the passage of time and memories.

Victoria Daily Colonist, (May 21, 1904)
Victoria Daily Colonist, (May 21, 1904)

Based on more recent newspaper investigation, his playing career spanned a period starting no later than 1902 to ending in 1913 no earlier. He played professional lacrosse from 1909 through 1913 with Vancouver Lacrosse Club – and due to the regulations at the time, there would have been no way Godfrey could have then been permitted to play senior (amateur) lacrosse after his professional career ended. His name does not appear in game reports nor photographs of him with the Vancouver Athletic Club, the senior amateur team of the day. Vancouver’s professional team (and VAC) disbanded in 1915 and there was no lacrosse played in British Columbia during the war years of 1916 and 1917.

As for his alleged junior and school career which came before his senior and professional career, it is really difficult to determine or comprehend when this would have occurred – if it actually did occur – if he didn’t play any lacrosse prior to moving to Vancouver. He arrived in Vancouver at age 20, a few years too old for the junior or scholastic leagues of the time.

Outside of lacrosse, he excelled in basketball and had a keen interest in the YMCA organisation.

Harry Godfrey passed away in 1941 and was buried in Mountainview Cemetery in Vancouver. He was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1970.

(PHOTO SOURCES: CVA 99-35; CLHOF X979.145.1)