Jack Farley may be one of the most under-recognized, underappreciated figures in the history of BC sport.
At least three organizations are alive today—the BC Lions, SFU football, and the BC Sports Hall of Fame—largely due to his efforts. Humble and modest to a fault, Jack was content to work quietly in the background without recognition. Nevertheless, he simply got things done, big things, and in the process built a rock solid reputation and a stalwart career resume that remains among the most respected in the BC sport and business communities.
Born in Kamloops where his parents worked at the Tranquille Sanatorium, a large tuberculosis hospital, Jack and his family moved to West Vancouver at a young age. He would live in West Van for the bulk of his life.
Jack had a passion for sports from a young age, playing virtually every sport possible at one time or another.
“Didn’t matter which sport it was, I loved them all,” he said in a 2008 interview.
At West Vancouver High School, Jack played rugby, basketball, and badminton. To make a few extra bucks, he set pins at the bowling alley and worked as an assistant groundskeeper at the West Vancouver Tennis Club. It was tennis that Jack particularly excelled at. By age 18 in 1951, he was the number-three-ranked junior player in all of BC.
After earning his degree as a chartered accountant at UBC, Jack began worked at a Vancouver-based transportation company, Cottrell Forwarding, which he later owned and operated.
With the arrival of the BC Lions in 1954, Jack fell in love with football and with four friends became Lions season tickets holders during the club’s inaugural season. He remained a season ticket holder for decades after.
In 1975 Jack joined the BC Lions board at the same time as the financially-beleaguered Lions hired Bob Ackles as the club’s new general manager. The arrival of Jack and the promotion of Ackles was a critical turning point for the franchise as they became the two key figures in righting the Lions fortunes on the field and in the bank statements. In his nine years on the Lions board, Jack served as treasurer from 1975-76 and team president from 1977-78.
Jack oversaw a series of debentures which provided the Lions some cash to pay off massive debts and allowed some breathing room while he went out and fundraised through other sources. It saved the club from financial collapse and allowed the team to build toward a new Surrey training facility and a move into the new BC Place Stadium. Ackles said in his 2007 book The Water Boy: “Jack was the former director and president most instrumental in turning the Lions franchise around in the wake of the financial disaster of the mid-1970s.” When Jack stepped off the Lions board in 1983, to honour his contributions, the Lions retired jersey number 83, a unique tribute for someone who never stepped foot on the gridiron.
In 1978, Jack served as president of the CFL’s board of governors and began working to unite the CFL’s Western and Eastern Football Conference which had their own by-laws and constitutions. He continued to work towards this when serving as president of the Western Football Conference in 1979. Ultimately, the league would unite under one constitution after Jack’s term ended, but he was given a good portion of the credit.
“That’s my legacy as far as the CFL is concerned,” Jack said. “That was just great.”
After saving the Lions, he already had a reputation as a miracle worker and he seemed to go from one fundraising project to the next. A fundraising master who people trusted, legendary Canucks broadcaster Jim Robson once said, “Who could say no to Jack Farley?!”
In 1982, when Simon Fraser University’s football program was slated to fold due to large financial debts, Jack assisted SFU athletic director Lorne Davies by serving as chair of the newly-formed SFU Football Fund Program. They ended up raising a $250,000 endowment fund that sustained the football program long-term. For his efforts, Jack was awarded the Fred H. Dietrich Memorial Award by SFU Athletics.
Jack served as general chairman of both the 1983 and 1986 Vancouver Grey Cup Festival committees, each of which sold out with over 59,000 fans in attendance. He also later served as a key director for the 1994 and 1999 Grey Cup Festivals in Vancouver. Some say Jack’s infectious enthusiasm for the game was all that was needed to sell tickets. He could often be found at community events in his characteristic ‘Captain Vancouver’ costume promoting and selling with that familiar Farley smile.
Few individuals who played more critical roles than Jack in elevating the BC Sports Hall of Fame’s mandate and profile while also ensuring the organization’s survival. From 1982 until 2006 he served the longest uninterrupted term of any Hall of Fame trustee in the organization’s history. During that 24-year period, he also served as the chair of the BC Sports Hall of Fame from 1992-93. Later, he was one of the key founders of the BC Sports Hall of Fame Foundation.
Jack also brought his fundraising and ticket-selling talents to the Hall of Fame by leading the annual ticket sales drive for the Banquet of Champions induction dinner for many years. Working with the BC Amateur Sports Council, he raised the funds to create the magnificent statue of the great Vancouver sprinter Percy Williams that stands just outside the Hall of Fame’s front entrance.
He also invested an unprecedented amount of time and energy raising over $5 million dollars to relocate, design, and build the new BC Sports Hall of Fame at BC Place, which opened in 1995 as the most interactive sports museum in North America. This included raising over $1 million in one meeting of a hastily-formed group he dubbed ‘The Finish Line Team’ that allowed the Hall of Fame to finish the final phase of its’ construction, while stabilizing a precarious financial situation for the organization.
Jack received several honours later in life that recognized his contributions to sport and the community. In 2003, he was a charter member of the BC Lions Wall of Fame. In 2006, he received the Sport BC President’s Award, and in 2008, he was the recipient of a BC Community Achievement Award. In 2012, upon his induction into the BC Football Hall of Fame he received the CFL Bob Ackles Award. In 2015, David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, awarded Jack the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.
For over twenty years, the Jack Farley Youth Sports Achievement Award scholarships were given by the BC Sports Hall of Fame to two graduating BC high school student athletes. Named in Jack’s honour, the scholarships were created and funded as a tribute to Jack by long-time friend Norm Fieldgate for all that he had done to help the BC Lions and BC Sports Hall of Fame while receiving little recognition.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
For a more in-depth look at Jack Farley’s career, please see the April 2021 Curator’s Corner feature article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/a-tribute-you-couldnt-say-no-to-jack-farley/