Fame comes with a price.
Just ask Sohen Gill, the hardest-working man in BC lacrosse.
One day he’s just an eight-year-old kid playing the game he loves in secret because his parents thought this strange game of lacrosse was too violent. The next he’s on the front page of the Vancouver Sun’s sports section and, boy, there was hell to pay.
His Burnaby “Diaper League” team was the intermission entertainment at a senior lacrosse game down at the old PNE Forum, and as luck would have it, Gill went in on a breakaway and fired top-shelf just as the photographer’s flashbulb went off.
Once his parents got over the fact he’d kept his lacrosse so hush-hush for the past while, a bit embarrassed they marched him down to the local sporting goods store for a proper pair of running shoes and shorts. He’d played in street shoes and cut-off pants up to that point. It marked the beginning of a sixty-year love affair with the sport for the self-professed “lacrosse nut” as a player, coach, manager, administrator, official, volunteer, and fan.
The son of immigrants from India, Gill grew up in North Burnaby’s Alpha and Hastings area, a block away from Confederation Park. There Val Roach gave him his first lacrosse stick and where he’d eagerly await his first coach, Charlie Smith, to come pedaling in on his bicycle, gunnysack of balls and jerseys over his shoulder. His life revolved around sports at the park, practicing and playing nearly every day. Gill would develop into the leading scorer on a misfit Burnaby junior team, that under the guidance of BC Sports Hall of Famer Bill Dickinson—another key influence—gelled into BC champions, losing the Minto Cup final in 1961. Gill later married Dickinson’s daughter. Their son Chris must be considered one of BC’s best lacrosse players of the past twenty years.
The only Indo-Canadian family in his neighbourhood, he heard the occasional racial slur, but if his friends didn’t take care of the problem, Gill’s athletic ability quickly earned respect. Gill played eight seasons of senior lacrosse with Burnaby, Victoria, Vancouver, and Coquitlam racking up 141 points in 111 games. He is generally regarded as the first Indo-Canadian lacrosse player in western Canada and most likely the first in the entire country.
While still a player, Gill began refereeing at fifteen and coaching his younger brother’s team soon after. He became coach and general manager of the Burnaby junior team in 1970, moving up to the senior ‘B’ team in 1972. So successful was he in attracting Coquitlam players and fans to Burnaby, the Adanacs lured him away in 1976 to be their GM for the next decade, the highlight being the Adanacs’ 1980 world championship. In 1987, he began his first term as WLA commissioner.
The arc of Gill’s life changed forever on December 29, 1990. As a lieutenant firefighter, he was on the roof surveying a burning Kitsilano building, which then disintegrated, plunging him into a scorching inferno. Walls of flames burning his hands and legs, he miraculously dove out a window and survived. Weeks in intensive care and the burn unit, followed by nearly three years of rehab, he recovered.
Some might scale back their activities after such an experience; Gill increased his lacrosse involvement, feeling like he’d been granted a second lease on life.
“Since the fire, my days fly by in a blur—before I know it, it’s night,” he says. “I don’t remember that before.”
Through the 1990s until today, Gill spent five years coaching and managing the Maple Ridge Burrards, six years heading the CLA Box Lacrosse Sector, organizing 13 national championship tournaments, and chairing a myriad of lacrosse-related committees. He became WLA commissioner a second time in 2002, as well as BCLA president, positions he still holds today.
His dedication has not gone unrecognized: WLA, BCLA, and CLA recognition awards; three-time winner of the Tom Gordon “Mr. Lacrosse” award; 2008 Daryl Thompson Award winner; 2005 Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee; and on Sohen Gill’s 68th birthday, induction into the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
Mom and Dad would surely be proud.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.