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!
First 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.
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?
In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
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
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)
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
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.
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 Brockton Point Grounds, located on the peninsula of the same name in Stanley Park, are Vancouver’s oldest athletic grounds still in use (by cricket and rugby teams). Its heyday as a lacrosse field was from 1890 until 1905 – although the two seasons it was used by the professionals were in 1918 during the Mainland Lacrosse Association season and then one game in 1922.
The location was originally cleared for a sawmill in 1865 but when the mill was instead built over in Gastown, the site then became one of Vancouver’s earliest sporting grounds. There seems to be some uncertainty pinning down exactly when it was first used for sporting events – although it hosted its first lacrosse match no later than September 1890.
The isolated location and distance from downtown Vancouver made it somewhat unpopular as a venue. It also proved to be unavailable when professional baseball came to town, as the Brockton Point Athletic Association had a strict stipulation that the playing fields were for amateur use only. Once Recreation Park was built downtown in 1905 to solve this issue regarding professionals, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club soon followed baseball across Coal Harbour to the vastly improved, new stadium in April 1906 after disagreements over gate receipts.
In 1918, Con Jones signed a three-year, $700 per year lease for use of the Brockton Point grounds. By this point, the Parks Commission was controlling Brockton Point so its use by professionals for the Mainland Lacrosse Association season did not face the same opposition which earlier teams had dealt with. After one season however, and with Con Jones now out of the professional game after a dispute over the Minto Cup, lacrosse returned to Athletic Park.
The last recorded lacrosse games from those early days played at Brockton Point are believed to be amateur, holiday exhibition games which occurred in 1929. An exception to this was an exhibition field lacrosse match organised and played in 1986 between the North Shore Indians and a British Columbia Selects team in celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of both the founding of the city of Vancouver and the first lacrosse game in the province.
The crowd capacity for lacrosse games at Brockton Point is unknown, although the grandstand could hold around 5,000 spectators.
CAMBIE STREET GROUNDS (1887-1943)
First surveyed and assigned for athletics and sporting pastimes in the 1880s, the Cambie Street grounds were not that well-maintained and deemed unsatisfactory for sporting events well before the time professional lacrosse reached its glory years.
The grounds took up the entire city block bounded by Cambie, Dunsmuir, Beatty and Georgia Streets and was obtained through the persistent efforts of Lauchlan Hamilton, the Canadian Pacific Railway land commissioner and Vancouver’s first surveyor, and MP Arthur Wellington Ross.
In its early years, it could be leased from the Canadian Pacific Railroad for $5 per annum and cows and goats were kept on the grounds as a means to trim the grass. The grounds played host to Vancouver’s first sports event, a rugby game in 1887. Actual lacrosse games at the senior level were only played on the Cambie grounds in 1891, with three matches recorded as being played there.
Alfred ‘Al’ Larwill had a shack on the grounds and lived there as a sort of unofficial caretaker from the time after the great fire of 1886 until 1902 when he was ordered to move so the site could be renovated. Larwill passed away on April 2, 1911. The Cambie Street grounds saw more use as a practice field – and its real legacy for the game of lacrosse is that many a young Vancouver lacrosse player honed and perfected his skills under the watchful eye of Larwill. Outstanding lacrosse players such as George Matheson and his brothers Waldo and Earl learnt their trade there while growing up as youngsters.
The Cambie Street grounds were renamed Larwill Park in 1943 in memory of the old caretaker, who has since become a now-forgotten yet important historical personage from the very early days of athletics and sports in Vancouver.
Sadly, the name did not remain in use for long. During the Second World War, the grounds were re-developed and Larwill Park became a bus depot for long-distance buses in 1946. The Greyhound Bus Lines depot remained there until 1993 when it was demolished sometime afterwards. Currently the block is occupied by a parking lot.
Unlike the Vancouver lacrosse teams which moved around from location to location depending on grounds availability over the years, the New Westminster Salmonbellies were firmly ensconced at Queens Park for their home playing field starting from 1890 onwards. Prior to the construction of Queens Park, Townsend’s Field nearby was used during the first season for New Westminster.
The lacrosse field used by the Salmonbellies was located where the modern baseball diamond is located today. The field was notorious for its noticeable uphill slope which the home team manipulated to their advantage.
A few games at Queens Park, such as when the Montréal Amateur Athletic Association and Montréal Nationals traveled to the Coast in their challenges against New Westminster for the Minto Cup, reached the 16,000 range – but between 10,000 and 12,000 spectators was considered large and 8,000 a fair-sized crowd.
Along with Recreation Park, Queens Park was probably the most photographed of all the lacrosse grounds in British Columbia – with the bulk of the images originating during the 1908 to 1911 period.
RECREATION PARK (1905-1913)
Costing somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 to build, Recreation Park opened in May 1905 as Vancouver’s first downtown stadium structure. It was home to the Vancouver Lacrosse Club as well as Vancouver’s professional baseball team in the Northwest Baseball League.
Located on the block bordered by what is now Homer, Smythe, Mainland, and Robson Streets, the site was leased from the Canadian Pacific Railroad out of part of their railway reserve lands. At the time, Robson Street did not go through – and the stretch between Homer and Mainland was part of the grounds.
The location was chosen as Vancouver was in dire need of a downtown sports facility for the growing city. The previously used Brockton Point grounds were deemed inaccessible for larger crowds as well as restricted to use for amateur sporting events.
However, downtown Vancouver was changing quickly. When built in 1905, much of the downtown core had still been lightly developed with large tracts still remaining. But in the boom years which preceded and followed its opening in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, Vancouver’s population quadrupled. The Canadian Pacific Railroad had begun to look at using or selling off the land as early as 1909, just four years after the park had opened its doors to the public.
The 1911 season when Vancouver Lacrosse Club won the Minto Cup saw some of the largest crowds ever at Recreation Park, with a record-breaker in the 10,000 to 11,000 range early in the season on June 3. On Dominion Day, the stadium saw 12,045 in attendance – reported as one of the largest crowds ever to witness a lacrosse game in British Columbia.
The massive crowds would continue into the autumn when Vancouver and New Westminster needed a playoff series as both teams finished splitting the schedule with 5 wins apiece. The 14,009 paid attendance, possibly as many as 15,000, who filled Recreation Park on September 16, 1911 was probably the largest recorded attendance to witness a lacrosse game played in Vancouver until the birth of the Vancouver Ravens of the National Lacrosse League in 2002.
When Toronto Tecumsehs travelled west to challenge Vancouver for the Minto Cup in October 1911, standing room only crowds once again filled Recreation Park to capacity – and beyond – with many spectators watching precariously from neighbouring roof tops, window sills, fences, billboard signs, and even clambering up telephone poles for a view of the action. Oddly enough, the reported attendances for these matches were surprisingly low considering that photographic images from the series imply a completely different picture.
Recreation Park was closed after the 1912 season as Vancouver’s sports teams, forewarned and not surprised by the impending closure, simultaneously made their own arrangements to move elsewhere for their 1913 seasons. The grandstand was disassembled and moved to the new Athletic Park located on the south side of False Creek as the baseball team relocated its operations there. Meanwhile, Con Jones moved his Vancouver Lacrosse Club to the Hastings Park grounds near where he would eventually build a stadium that would bear his name.
Ironically, once the site had been leveled to the ground and all trace of the stadium removed, the vacant lot then remained unused as a blight on the downtown core, an eyesore well into the 1940s. All or parts of the block later became a parking lot and storage facility before redevelopment into high-rise condominiums around 2005.
HASTINGS ATHLETIC PARK (1913-1915?)
CON JONES PARK (1921-1971)
With the closure of Recreation Park, the Vancouver Lacrosse Club moved across the city to the wooded wilderness of Hastings Athletic Park for the 1913 season.
Pin-pointing the exact location of the playing grounds can be somewhat confusing as sources and maps sometimes present conflicting and incorrect information. Some sources – such as the atlas Vancouver: A Visual History have the ca.1913 grounds incorrectly located on the site of modern Callister Park where Con Jones’s stadium was located from 1921 until it was demolished in 1971 – while other sources have it correctly located across Renfrew Street in the modern Pacific National Exhibition grounds with the playing field located in the middle of where the Exhibition Park racetrack is currently located.
This confusion is further exacerbated as the newspapers of the day sometimes referred to Hastings grounds as “Con Jones Park” or “Jones Park” starting around 1914 or 1915, well before his stadium was built in 1920-21 – which sometimes gives the impression that there was a stadium structure already on site earlier than 1920.
In September 1920, Con Jones acquired a two-block lot (bounded by Renfrew, Oxford, Sunrise, and Cambridge Streets) across from the PNE Grounds. By May 1921, Jones’s lacrosse teams were making use of the brand-new Con Jones Park and its new wooden stadium. The years when Jones wasn’t involved in the professional game, the Vancouver Terminals were compelled to use Athletic Park. When Jones passed away in 1929, payments on its mortgage ceased and title of the property reverted back to original owner, John Callister – whose heirs later donated it to the City of Vancouver in the 1940s. The old stadium, which had become a shrine for local amateur soccer teams, was demolished in 1971, erasing the last legacy of Con Jones from Vancouver’s sporting map.
ATHLETIC PARK (1913-1951)
Athletic Park was located on the south shore of False Creek in Vancouver, on the north-east corner of Hemlock Street and West Fifth Avenue overlooking Granville Island. The second grandstand stadium built in Vancouver, it was home to the city’s baseball and lacrosse teams.
The stadium was built and owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and managed by local baseball legend Bob Brown until 1944, when it was then sold to Emil Sick and his Capilano Breweries, who renamed it Capilano Stadium.
The stadium suffered its second fire the following year and City Hall began to covet the site for construction of a new Granville Street Bridge and its required on-ramps along Hemlock Street as well as extending West Fourth Avenue. After further repairs and renovations to the rickety structure, the stadium was finally acquired by the City and demolished in 1951 – to be replaced by Nat Bailey Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Park.
The stadium was home for the Vancouver Athletic Club and Vancouver Terminals lacrosse teams – although it was generally used more by the various senior amateur teams and leagues than by the professionals, who usually opted for Con Jones Park when it was made available to them for their home grounds in Vancouver. As a general rule of thumb, Athletic Park was used as the home grounds whenever Con Jones was not involved in bankrolling the team in question.
June 4, 1921 featured a unique occurrence when there were two professional lacrosse matches played in the City of Vancouver on the same day, at the same time, when Athletic Park hosted New Westminster in that day’s British Columbia Lacrosse Association game while Con Jones Park across town hosted the visiting Victoria Capitals of the rival Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association.
The modern day site is now dissected and overrun by bridge overpasses, roads, condominiums, concrete, and commercial buildings – with no hint of evidence remaining whatsoever that at one time there was once a 6,000 seat stadium in existence there.
BEACON HILL PARK / CALEDONIAN GROUNDS / ROYAL ATHLETIC PARK / OAK BAY GROUNDS / THE STADIUM
There were five playing grounds used by lacrosse teams in Victoria during the field lacrosse era – with three of them used by the professionals, albeit for just four games.
Beacon Hill Park hosted the first organised lacrosse match played in British Columbia, in 1886, and was used by Victoria senior teams until around 1891.
The Caledonian Grounds, which dated from 1887, replaced Beacon Hill Park as the home field for the Victoria Lacrosse Club during the 1891 season, with the first recorded senior game played there on August 15 of that year. Located in the James Bay neighbourhood of Victoria, the park was bounded by Government, Niagara, St. Andrews and Simcoe Streets and owned by the St. Andrews and Caledonian Society.
It is unknown what year the Caledonian Grounds ceased to be used for sporting events and redeveloped into residential housing – although it has been described as one of the last city blocks in the neighbourhood to see redevelopment.
Royal Athletic Park, located on the block bounded by Caledonia, Vancouver, Pembroke, and Cook Streets, was constructed in 1908 as a much needed replacement for the Caledonian Grounds and the Oak Bay Grounds. It underwent renovations after a fire in 1967 and the grounds are still in use for field lacrosse and other amateur sports to this very day.
Of the four professional lacrosse games played in Victoria, one was played at Royal Athletic Park and one at the Oak Bay Grounds. Both of these matches were New Westminster-Vancouver BCLA league games that took place in Victoria during the 1913 season.
The Oak Bay Grounds – now known as Windsor Park – hold the distinction for providing the first Victoria-based team to challenge and compete for the Mann Cup, in 1913. Oak Bay lost their first game 13-0 and then defaulted their second game to Vancouver Athletic Club.
The two other professional matches played in Victoria however actually involved a Victoria team. Both of these took place in June 1921 when Vancouver promoter Con Jones created the Victoria Capitals, a team made up of local lads and Eastern imports, for his upstart Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association as competition for his Vancouver Lacrosse Club.
In May of 1920, a new stadium was constructed on a vacant lot behind the Empress Hotel on Douglas Street where the Crystal Garden is now located.
Referred in the local press as just ‘The Stadium’, it was used mostly by local professional and amateur baseball teams – but it was also briefly the home field for the Victoria Capitals lacrosse team in 1921. The Stadium hosted two home games for Victoria before the league folded after five games and three weeks of play.
Its capacity was reported to be 7,000 and the Victoria Daily Colonist spoke very highly of the venue during its construction – giving it high hopes for the future.
As it turned out, the Stadium’s sporting existence was very brief – no more than four years – as it was demolished at some point before the Crystal Garden was built and opened on the site in June 1925.
(PHOTO SOURCES: CVA Sp P90; CVA Sp P2; Leonard Frank collection 1939; CLHOF X994.10; CVA PAN P87; CVA 371-596; CVA 371-576; CVA 99-870; CVA 99-1020; BC Archives BCA G-02816)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)