With all due respect to the good people of Peterborough, Ontario, but Paul Parnell, the ‘Gordie Howe’ of Canadian lacrosse as he’d become known, couldn’t get to BC fast enough.

Don’t believe me?

Right there on page two of the first of seven painstakingly compiled Parnell scrapbooks you’ll find a speeding ticket issued by the Province of Alberta dated April 14, 1960. He was driving 74mph in a sixty zone near Calgary. You could look it up.

In all seriousness though, Parnell had a right to be in a hurry. There was a lot waiting for him out here on the West Coast. He’d recently transferred from the Peterborough club to Norm Baker’s Victoria Shamrocks of the Inter-City Lacrosse League. A year earlier, while playing with Peterborough in the 1959 Mann Cup at Queens Park Arena, he fell in love with a beautiful New Westminster girl named Joan and was engaged five days later. Married by the time Victoria called, they obviously couldn’t wait to get back to the coast. Here in BC the transplanted Ontario boy would develop into the man who could collectively score, defend, lead, coach, and play better than any other player of his generation.

Born with clubfeet, continual massages by Parnell’s mother cured them. Learning the game in lacrosse-mad Peterborough, he grew up firing balls at a target on the concrete wall of the local hardware store. He played whatever sport was in season sharing fields and ice with friends and fellow future Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famers Cy Coombes, Larry Ferguson, and Pat Baker.

His stellar play in the junior lacrosse ranks earned Parnell call-ups to the senior Peterborough team for the 1956 and 1957 Mann Cups while still a teenager. After his season in Victoria, New Westminster Salmonbellies’ managers Harry McKnight and Jack Fulton acquired Parnell for $200 and a song—one of the biggest swindles in the history of Canadian sport. Exaggeration? Imagine a young Gordie Howe traded to the Rangers. My point exactly.

It was in New Westminster that Parnell, teamed with Cliff Sepka and later BC Sports Hall of Famer Wayne Goss, developed into one of most prolific scorers of all time. It was also here that Parnell got his first job in the fire department, years later serving as New Westminster fire chief.

The life of a Canadian lacrosse player in those days wasn’t easy. In 1968, the Salmonbellies joined a North American semi-pro league and won the ‘world’ championship. Any money earned went to the airlines however; the players ended up taking home about a $1.80 a game. “Our babysitters made more money than we did that year,” he laughs. Most years, the pay was minimal.

When Parnell retired in 1975 after 15 seasons with the Salmonbellies, he held 23 WLA longevity and scoring records, 13 of which still stand today. At present, Parnell stands second in games played, 587; first in goals, 921; third in assists, 880; and second in points, 1801. Twelve times he was named an All-Star, seven on the first team. He played in nine Mann Cups winning five, twice earning Mann Cup MVP honours. In 1980, he was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Parnell has the hall of fame stats, but it’s also the intangibles that set him apart. His determined work ethic was legendary. Goss remarked that “once he made up his mind that the ball was his, which was all the time, he went out and got it no matter who was also chasing it.” He was durable, playing 195 straight games between June 1961 and September 1965, this in an era of ‘two-way’ lacrosse with wooden Martin sticks, no helmets, and homemade fibreboard padding. Parnell also took on the difficult task of playing-coach for two seasons in the early 1970s, both times earning coach-of-the-year honours.

Listen to Paul Parnell and he says it often: lacrosse in BC has been good to him—countless lifelong friends, a job, hall of fame career, meeting the love of his life. It probably didn’t seem like it at the time, but that speeding ticket may have been the best $38 he ever spent.

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