COURTESY TEWENHNI’TATSHON LOUIS DELISLE
This article was written by Tewenhni’tatshon Louis Delisle, special to The Eastern Door.
The year was 1969, the Caughnawaga Indians had just won the Quebec Division of the Ontario – Quebec Inter – Provincial Lacrosse League, and the right to challenge for the President’s Cup, emblematic of the Senior B Championship of Canada.
It was August and the team needed to play in order to keep sharp for the upcoming September series against the winner of the Nanaimo Luckies/Wallaceburg Devils, who were playing in the semi-final series.
This was a battle between the Ontario and British Columbia champs.
Player-manager John (Breezy) Brisebois went into action. He used his contacts with Sports and Culture Canada to propose a series between the east and west coast Native lacrosse champions of 1969 to play in a best of three game series to establish a true champion of Turtle Island.
The funding was approved and The Thorpe-Longboat Trophy was born in honour of two great Native athletes, Jim Thorpe and Tom Longboat.
The series was scheduled for late August in North Shore, BC, one week before Caughnawaga would host the President’s Cup. The team flew to Vancouver to face the North Shore Indians.
It is important to list the roster of Caughnawaga, as a number of players would end their careers after this monumental series.
The goaltenders were Robert Scott and Ronnie Kirby; the defenceman were Joe Curotte, Walter Goodleaf, Joey Montour, Big Al Jacobs, Jimmy Flo McComber, Peter Brisebois and Ron Racette (a Drummondville pickup); the forwards were George (Pidgy) Norton, Wally Deer (series MVP), Irvin Goodleaf, George Hemlock, Joe (Siki) Two Rivers, Allan Dickson, Louis (Tewenhni’tatshon) Delisle, John Brisebois and Claude Perrault (Ville St. Pierre pick up); Coach – Billy Two Rivers and medical trainer Bob Jack.
In the picture, a number of players were missing because of news interviews. It is important to note that Ralph Alfred and Barry Delisle did not accompany the team due to work commitments. This is the squad that represented our community in the first transcontinental lacrosse game in our history.
The first game of the series was a fast-paced, hard-hitting affair, with each team trying to show that their style of lacrosse was superior. The North Shore Indians were a bigger team that relied on a tight, punishing zone defence.
Many a Caughnawaga forward ended up on the seat of their pants, as they cut through the zone looking for passes.
The west coast rules allowed crosschecking on the non-ball carrier but Caughnawaga was able to adjust because of their quickness and overall team speed.
A fast-break system was implemented by coach Billy Two Rivers. As soon as our goalie Ron Kirby made a save, the ball was passed quickly up the floor. North Shore had no time to set up their zone defence. Caughnawaga trailed in the first half of the game but came on strong for a 10-8 win in game one.
In between games one and two, a field game was scheduled. Most Caughnawaga players had never played in a field game and to no one’s surprise, North Shore pummeled our side by a score of 17-9.
Ron Kirby played attack as Robert Scott played in his last lacrosse game. North Shore gained a lot of confidence with this win and our team was worried that our lacklustre performance on the field would give them a confidence boost for game two.
The second game was one of the most intense games that I have witnessed as a player.
North Shore adopted the tactic of crosschecking every one of our players as they tried to move up the floor. This was tough west coast lacrosse, meant to intimidate and take away your will to continue playing with a purpose.
However, as the game progressed, the speed of our team tired out our opponents as they were chasing us all over the rink to deliver crosschecks. This tired out North Shore and they began to take holding penalties to keep the faster team in check.
Also, in this game, Stan Joseph, who was already in the BC Lacrosse Hall Of Fame, tended the nets for North Shore. He had a very unorthodox style that our shooters had never seen.
He stayed stationary against one goal post, and being a big man, he covered half the net. He used his stick, moving it up and down to cover the other side.
He could read you if you were blasting it toward the open side and would just step over to block that whole side. The game went into the final minutes with Caughnawaga down by a goal.
Pidgy Norton tied the game on a fast break with his patented over the shoulder backhand shot. Wally Deer followed with a spectacular goal that led to him being named series MVP.
It is hard to explain the goal, but Wally jumped and caught a pass while holding his stick in one hand and was able to twist his body and get off a shot with one hand, and behind his head.
Stan Joseph had never seen this type of shot creativity and later said, “I couldn’t see their eyes, so I had no idea where the shot was coming from or where it was going.”
In all my years of lacrosse, I have never seen a similar goal scored. Caughnawaga eked out a 9-8 win to capture the first Thorpe-Longboat Trophy.
The series would continue until 1975, with Six Nations, Akwesasne and other BC teams participating.
It was a short run but some of the finest Native lacrosse was witnessed.
On the social side, lasting friendships were forged, especially with Jimmy Flo McComber visiting the BC waters for salmon fishing yearly, with friends he made during this lacrosse tournament.
Also, thanks go out to Betsy from Pyke who organized many of the activities that kept the team busy and entertained throughout its stay.