When the 1908 New Westminster Salmonbellies field lacrosse team defeated the Montreal Shamrocks to win the Minto Cup it was the start of a BC dynasty that lasted over twenty years.
In those days the Minto Cup was emblematic of the Canadian senior lacrosse championship and was dominated by eastern teams. Field lacrosse was Canada’s national sport, but teams from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa had been able to keep the Cup from coming out West.
By the late 1890s a fierce rivalry developed between New Westminster, Vancouver and Victoria. Lacrosse quickly became the most popular sport in these towns, with all three teams constructing stadiums to accommodate large crowds.
“Lacrosse was by far the most important sport in BC during that period,” explains sport historian Barbara Schrodt. “Competition breeds success, and the rivalry between New Westminster, Vancouver and Victoria raised the quality of performance. The calibre of lacrosse was brought to a marvelous level.”
Crowds of 11,000 became common for games at New Westminster’s Queen’s Park. In 1906 open flat-bed railway cars were converted into “lacrosse cars” to get spectators to the games. Each car held a hundred men and was pulled by an electric locomotive. For twenty-five cents, fans were treated to a wild twelve-mile ride through the still forested countryside between Vancouver and New West.
In 1908 the Salmonbellies made the trek to Montreal to challenge the Shamrocks for the Cup. New Westminster won the two-game total-point series 6-5 and 6-2. Back home hundreds of fans crowded around the telegraph office and when the second match was completed, 6,000 people took to the streets to celebrate the win.
The Salmonbellies were led by Alex Turnbull, who had joined the team in 1897. Turnbull was considered the greatest player in the world and, along with teammate George Rennie, was a key member of the Canadian squad that won a gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics.
New Westminster’s Minto Cup win provided a financial foundation for the development of lacrosse in BC. Challengers from the East were forced to travel across the country, resulting in considerable savings for West Coast teams who were now playing host to their Eastern rivals. Also, the gate-money generated from the Cup matches allowed the western teams to attract the best players from the east.
The Salmonbellies defeated every challenger, except Vancouver in 1911 and 1920, until 1931 when box lacrosse became the sanctioned sport of the Canadian Lacrosse Association. The Salmonbellies’ dominance of the new game continued with twenty-four Mann Cup titles.
J. Bryson, Jas Feeney, Patrick ‘Pat’ Feeney, Charlie Galbraith, James ‘Jimmy’ Gifford, Tom Gifford, A. ‘Sandy’ Gray, Henry Latham, George Rennie, Tom Rennie, Cliff ‘Doughy’ Spring, Len Turnbull, William ‘Bill’ Turnbull, Alex ‘Dad’ Turnbull, C. Welsh (manager), Irving ‘Punk’ Wintemute.