The sound of beating drums at Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre was heard for the last time on Tuesday (Aug. 10) as the North Shore Indians played their final box lacrosse game at the old North Vancouver arena.
With a sell-out crowd behind them, the Senior B team made it a memorable night for fans, defeating Ladner Pioneers in the final match of an eight-game mini summer series, 9 to 3.
"We just got stronger as the series went on," Wilson Williams, Squamish Nation councillor and North Shore Indians Lacrosse Club president, said. "Our defence and goaltending was the key to our success."
Opened in 1966, the Harry Jerome rec centre is now in need of a major upgrade and is scheduled to be closed and demolished in December to make way for a new $181-million facility.
The final game at the arena was a special and emotional night for the NSI Lacrosse Club, which has been playing at the rec centre for decades, said Williams.
“North Shore Indians have been playing out of Harry Jerome for many, many years,” he said. “As far as I can remember. I'm 43 now and I grew up playing there since I was six.”
An opening faceoff ceremony was held to acknowledge NSI's legacy and alumni and Elders, were recognized for their contributions to the team and sport.
Williams said it was inspiring to see around 500 fans (capacity due to COVID-19) in the stands with their drums for the final game at the arena.
"It was a great night," Williams said. "It was electrifying. The crowd was loud. Very loud."
While many fond memories made it sad to say goodbye to the arena, Williams said the “future is bright.”
“There is going to be a new recreation centre built in the future and we're actually working on building a recreation centre complex in the Squamish Nation as well,” he said. “We really want to highlight and share the legacy of the North Shore Indians.”
Squamish Nation has a rich lacrosse history
Squamish Nation has a rich lacrosse history, which dates back to the early 1930s, with many memorable moments, including legendary goaltender Henry Baker representing Canada in the 1932 Olympic lacrosse team at the Los Angeles Games.
It was in 1935 that the North Shore Indians came to be when lacrosse legend Andrew Paull (Xwechtáal) decided to assemble the first all First Nations lacrosse team to compete for the Mann Cup, the national title at the time. He convinced Squamish Nation players to return and play at home, and recruited from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario to build his dream team.
“They came out here and that's how our teams got stronger,” Wilson said.
The team began play in 1936 and were a smash hit. The Indians were so talented, so entertaining, so much fun to watch, that they were able to pack 8,000-plus fans into Vancouver’s Denamn arena at 25 cents a head, even during the Great Depression.
The 1936 team, guided by Paull, was later inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, honoured for being British Columbia’s “most exciting team” and credited with drawing attention to the sport of box lacrosse in the province.
As part of the final game at HJCRC, the club recognized the 1936 Hall of Fame team by giving away 36 T-shirts to the first 36 fans through the door.
Over the years, Squamish Nation has had several members inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, and the North Shore Sports Hall of Fame – including Paull in 2019.
NSI also have a record of winning many championships at HJCRC arena, including three National Senior Lacrosse Championship titles, in 1985, 1993 and 2001.
Bringing the 'medicine game' back to the community
Williams, who has now retired from the sport, said he was fortunate to be part of the 2001 championship team and would never forget how inspired he was, watching the other teams win as a kid.
“I grew up watching two championships [1985 and 1993] as well, and that's sort of where my passion for lacrosse came from,” he said.
In recent times, Williams said the team hadn't participated in the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association league for around four or five years before rejoining in 2018. Since then, he’s been working hard to get the team active in the North Shore lacrosse community and to paint a vision for the future and, hopefully, more championship wins.
With the 2020 season cancelled due to COVID-19, he said the community was thrilled to have a summer mini-series back in 2021.
“It's been quite a spectacle to witness and be a part of, and I think it's really something that the lacrosse community has been waiting for,” he said, adding that he didn’t think there was a sport on the North Shore that could draw such a big crowd.
“We have a deep culture and use of the traditional hand drums and people are chanting like the old days. If you bring a drum, we allow people to get in free to the game.”
He said players, who hadn’t experienced the crowd, because of the gap in senior lacrosse, were “so overwhelmed and happy to be a part of it.”
For Williams, the overall goal is really about bringing the “medicine game” back to the community. Historically, he said Indigenous communities used to play the game of lacrosse to heal each other.
“If there was war, they would play a game of lacrosse through ceremony to try to heal through things and overcome trials and tribulations of the time,” Williams explained.
“The whole vision around it is to really bring the medicine game back to our community of the North Shore and incorporate that with the legacy of North Shore Indians, which the Squamish Nation is a big part of.
“We really want to grow the game back to not only how it was but also evolve it to this day and time.”
He said the club, which now has a board of directors and alumni committee, was also leaning toward creating a charity or foundation for children to get introduced to lacrosse and to help support young players who can't afford lacrosse gear.
“I think this will be the big legacy that we're going to start to really attract our children and youth and families to the game of lacrosse,” Williams said, adding that he hopes his daughters will soon pick up a crosse (stick) and continue on the tradition of playing the sport.
“The approach we're taking now is building through our children and youth and making them feel part of something special for the future."
The Senior B team currently has eight Squamish Nation players and a mixture of professional lacrosse players from the National Lacrosse League and has a good foundation of young players coming up through the system, said Williams.
“We really have built strong teams through having our arms open to players to come and be a part of the club,” he said.
Eventually, the sound of beating drums will be heard at the new HJCRC. A new arena at the centre will be named in honour of Squamish Nation’s lacrosse history.
For now, it’s back to the drawing board to prepare for next season. NSI are currently looking at three possible venues to play at while the facility is built. City of North Vancouver council expects construction of the new rec centre to start in June 2022 and last until 2025.
On behalf of the organization, Wilson thanked all the fans, teams, coaches, executives, alumni, leagues, lacrosse communities and the City of North Vancouver and North Vancouver Recreation Commission for the continued support over the summer and for sharing their passion, love, and respect for NSI and helping to keep the legacy sport alive.
“NSI is finally back, alive and well in the lacrosse community,” he said.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.