Old + New West: Salmonbellies

Tomorrow marks the 130th anniversary of the New Westminster Salmonbellies’ first ever game. Although Lacrosse originated in eastern Canada, in the late 19th century the sport gradually made its way West and grew in popularity among the early settlers of the province of British Columbia. In 1880, two young lacrosse players from Ontario named Joseph and Frank Reichenback moved to the city of New Westminster with their family, bringing their lacrosse sticks with them. The Reichenback brothers are considered to be two of the earliest lacrosse players to enter the city of New Westminster, but it was not until 1888 that a team was officially formed. Earlier in 1886, both Vancouver and Victoria organized lacrosse teams of their own, but it was not until the CPR completed their line to the city of New West in 1886 that it was possible for the city to form a team.

1909: the face off in the last game between the New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Toronto Tecumsehs in a field lacrosse game at Queen’s Park. Photo Courtesy of New Westminster Archives.

On Saturday, May 12, 1888, a meeting was held on New West’s cricket grounds that brought the New West lacrosse club into existence. Membership in the club was set at $2. Although the club was formed in 1888, it was not until almost a year later at a meeting held in late April 1889 when the lacrosse club met at Hyack Hall to talk about the future of their team. They began to recruit players, and their very first game ever was held on June 8, 1889, almost exactly 130 years ago.

The club didn’t originally call themselves the salmonbellies, but the name instead arose from a taunt given by an opposing team’s fan during an early game. The taunt was meant as an insult, referring to the fact that salmon was considered a lowly food at the time. But the players themselves liked the name, stating that the belly was the prime portion of the fish. The name was adopted and has stuck for over a century, continuing today.

1922: Salmonbellies team stand in front of the Agricultural Building at Queen’s Park. Photo Courtesy of New Westminster Archives.

Throughout the team’s history, they’ve won the Mann cup 24 times (most recently in 1991), more than any other lacrosse team in history. In 2004, the 1968-1972 teams were collectively inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. The team continues to compete, with games held regularly at their home arena in Queen’s Park. The Salmonbellies compete next at the Q centre in Victoria on June 14, before they return to their home turf at Queen’s Park on June 20.

1937: A portrait of the team that won the 1937 Mann Cup. Photo Courtesy of New Westminster Archives.

Like what you’ve read? If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating chapter in New West’s history, consider picking up W.B. MacDonald’s book Salmonbellies vs. The World: The Story of the Most Famous Team in Lacrosse and their Greatest Rivals.

May 23, 2019: A recent Salmonbellies game played at Queen’s Park Arena. Photo taken by Louisa Hsu of Tourism New Westminster.

Ticket Information: http://salmonbellies.com/about-us

Link to the upcoming game: