Down Memory Lane - Salmonbellies - a Sports Legend
Article - by Stan Shillington



Quite often, in the emotional world of sport, profane epithets are hurled about in an effort to intimidate or degrade that hated enemy - the opponent. Sometimes the derogatory term sticks and, instead of being demeaning, becomes tradition.

Such is the case with the Salmonbellies of New Westminster.

What was shouted out by an irate fan to vilify the lacrosse team from the Royal City actually vivified a name that has become synonymous with the game of lacrosse - a pseudonym steeped in the history of the game, much like the Yankees in baseball.

Folklore along the mighty Fraser River has it that, during the 1980's, New Westminster was the center of the fish canning industry.

Ah, salmon was so plentiful; So much so that is was considered a food for native Indians but for the white folk, only the bellies of the salmon were considered a delicacy.

One day, the New Westminster team trudged over to Cambie Grounds in Vancouver to take on some Glassy Jack bruisers. During the bitter contest, a bruiser, in and effort to put down those hated swells from the Royal City, shouted: "Git there, salmon bellies!"

The crowd pickled up the chant but instead of being offended, the New Westminster boys liked the name. They rationalized that calling them salmonbellies was calling them the best.

In the century that followed - 100 years that witnessed two world wars, buggies to motor cars, balloon flights to space travel - one thing has remained constant: the existence of the name Salmonbellies in any serious discussion about lacrosse.

And rightly so! After all, hasn't it been written on the Mann Cup a total of 24 times. The closest competitors are Peterborough with nine, the Burrards with eight and Brooklin with seven.

Salmonbellies began the engraving chores in 1915. During a13-year span, New Westminster captured the senior amateur field lacrosse championship of Canada 10 times.

Powerhouse Salmonbellies teams continued through the transitional years that took lacrosse from the field into an exclosure called a box.

Loaded with a lineup which included the likes of Henry and Ray Baker, Louis Lewis, Alfie Davy, Willis Patchell, John Vernon and Jack Wood, the Salmonbellies took part in the Mann Cup playdowns in 1933 and 1934. But the title eluded them.

When half the team departed to form the North Shore Indians in1935, the Bellies's fortunes also slipped away. Times were lean, local talent sparse. Only four wins were recorded.

Then, local sportsman Fred Hume stepped forward with an open billfold. He traveled East in search of talent and where better to start his hunt than Orillia, home of three successive Mann Cups(1934-36).

In goal, he hired Pete Anthony. To aid home heroes Alfie Davy, Pete Meehan, John Vernon, Jack Wood, Jack Hughes and Bill Tyler, Mr. Hume brought in Bill Wilson, Bill Wilkes, Ed Downey, Hank Munro and Bill Mulliss. By 1937, the Mann Cup was again resting by the banks of the Fraser River.

But unlimited raiding was obviously not the answer to a successful future and, so, one of the country's top minor league programs was developed. The winning formula was set - homegrown talent interspersed with the occasional import.

The 'Bellies again won the national title in 1943 but hard times were ahead, not just for the Salmonbellies but for lacrosse in general. By 1951, the names Adanacs and Salmonbellies were mothballed in favour of one team - the Commandos - and the Richmond Farmers team was folded in hoper that new entries form Victoria and Nanaimo would bolster lacrosse's sagging fortunes.

It wasn't long before several sportsminded individuals, including Jack Fulton and Harry McKnight, resurrected the Salmonbellies'and adopted the Hume formula for success. The local talent was there - Cliff and Don Sepka, Doug McRory, Jack Barclay, Ivan Stewart, Bill Jobb and Ken Oddy among them. With the addition of Jack Bionda from the East and Stan Joseph, Jack Byford and Mario Crema from Vancouver, the Fishmen walked off with the 1958 Mann Cup title. Virtually the same lineup captured the cup in 1959 and 1962, but under the name of the sponsor (O 'Keefes).

It was 1965 when the Salmonbellies' name once again went on the coveted trophy, a feat repeated in 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1989 and 1991. Oh yes, the 'Bellies were also finalists another 12 times.