When Vancouver’s Denny Veitch travelled to Japan with the BC rugby team on a 1959 tour, he was going there to play. Never would he have imagined that he, a Canadian rugby player, could provide some hope to the Japanese people still recovering from the ravages of World War II. Moreover, that he would change the way a nation looked at individuals with a disability from something to conceal in shame to something celebrate.

Veitch lost his right arm at age six while hopping Interurban trains with friends in Kitsilano and falling beneath the wheels. He refused to let it hold him back, even while also overcoming an abusive father who abandoned his family, the death of his mother at age 13, and working several jobs to live in a boarding house while at school. He played many sports, including football, soccer, basketball, and tennis, but truly excelled at rugby.

On BC’s 1959 touring side, Veitch was a star flanker known for his toughness, determination, and explosive tackles. The Japanese press were shocked when told Veitch was a player, not management, and began spreading word of the ‘one-armed wonder’ in national news stories. Facing the Meiji University team at a packed Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo, 27,000 spectators sat silently, unsure of what to make of him. Soon after kick-off, he emerged from a muddy ruck with the ball and sped downfield before dishing off a slick behind-the-back pass to a teammate. The stadium erupted and from then on Veitch was a celebrity. Japanese newspapers, magazines, and television shared stories of the “young Canadian with one arm and two hearts.” Heaps of mail arrived addressed to him. The most heartrending moment involved a 14-year-old Hokkaido girl who travelled 400 miles specifically to see him. She had contemplated suicide over her amputated leg, but Veitch encouraged and ultimately convinced her that life was indeed worth living.

It was this kind of courage, generosity, and humility that British Columbians came to know so well during Veitch’s inspiring 40-year career as one of this province’s most influential builders in several sports.

While still playing with Vancouver Kats Rugby Club, Veitch dove into coaching, leading Kats and later Meralomas to junior football provincial titles. From 1961-66, he worked under Herb Capozzi as the Lions’ assistant general manager, helping guide the Leos to their first-ever Grey Cup in 1964. From 1967-70, he served as Lions’ general manager and acquired legendary receiver Jim Young.

For two years leading up to the 1973 Canada Summer Games in New Westminster-Burnaby, Veitch served as Games chairman, overseeing all operations. Not long after, he helped found the Vancouver Whitecaps and coined the ‘Whitecap’ moniker one day while driving over the Lions Gate Bridge. As the club’s original general manager until 1977, he built the foundation for the team’s 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl championship. Two players literally became family to him; Bob Lenarduzzi and Daryl Samson married daughters Deanne and Karen respectively. Veitch’s role in mentoring Lenarduzzi’s transition to coach, general manager, and later president of the Vancouver 86ers/Whitecaps can’t be underestimated either.

After bringing regular international soccer matches to Vancouver, Veitch did the same with rugby. In 1985, he took on the manager’s role of Canada’s national rugby team and guided Canada through the 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Sadly, Veitch passed away in 2011 at the age of 80 due to Alzheimer’s disease. He proved to the end that any obstacle can be overcome.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.