Take a moment this spring, on a quiet afternoon if you can, and stroll in to Queen’s Park Arena once the glossy, green wooden floor is in. Take in the sights—the banners, the displays, the retired jerseys, the sounds, and yes, even the smells. This is what history feels like: the living, breathing history of the New Westminster Salmonbellies. Founded in 1889, the Salmonbellies have a longstanding place of pride in this community, and to many, they are a strong representation of family—family pride, family legacy, and, most importantly, time spent together as a family.
Representing four generations of proud Salmonbellies, Bill Tyler’s family is a testament to the strong sense of family the Salmonbellies organization exemplifies. The Tyler legacy began with Bill Tyler (Bill’s grandfather and namesake) who played nine seasons for the Senior A Bellies from 1935–1944. One of Bill’s favourite stories about his grandfather took place later in his Bellies’ career. His grandfather joined the Navy during WWII and when the Bellies found out they were going to be facing a very tough, physical team, Mayor Hume (who ran the Salmonbellies organization at the time), lobbied the Navy to allow him to return home to play.
Bill’s father, Mac Tyler, grew up playing lacrosse in New Westminster and eventually joined the Senior Salmonbellies as a rookie in 1964. At 6’4”, and wearing large black rimmed glasses, he would have been an imposing figure as he ran down the floor. Mac Tyler went on to have a lengthy and celebrated career with the Bellies which included winning three Mann Cups, receiving many all-star awards, and playing as part of the World Championship team in 1968.
Bill also grew up playing for the Salmonbellies, wearing his jersey with pride and playing games on that “magical green floor” in Queen’s Park Arena. Now both his sons, Malcolm and Marcus, play for the Bellies and he has coached both of their teams over the years. Bill enjoys reconnecting with guys he grew up with who coach their kids’ teams or cheer from the sidelines.
For the Tyler family, the Salmonbellies represent a shared thread of passion that has woven its way through the generations. Many of Mac Tyler’s former teammates and their families are like one big extended family. Bill’s wife Jaymee, who had “zero knowledge of lacrosse” before meeting him, has also developed a tremendous passion for the game. “So much so,” says Bill, “ she seems determined to single-handedly keep the Bellies’ team store in business!”
According to Minor Salmonbellies Association President Rich Catton, this passion for the Salmonbellies is infectious. “For such a small community,” says Catton, “we have the third highest registration numbers in British Columbia with over 500 boys and girls playing box lacrosse and over 200 playing field lacrosse.”
When asked about multi-generational families in the Association, Catton was able to quickly list over a dozen off the top of his head, like Goss, Husband, Stewartson, Goodwin, Peterson and Porter. “There are countless lacrosse families in New Westminster that span generations and many of them continue to give back to both the Association and the community,” notes Catton.
Catton himself grew up in New Westminster playing on the famous green wooden floor and acknowledges how fortunate he was to have great coaches and supportive parents who helped with his development and created opportunities for him to play lacrosse for a long time at a high level. “Now,” says Catton, “like so many other players who have come through the Salmonbellies organization, I give back by coaching and helping with the minor executive.”
Catton currently has three kids (a daughter and two sons) playing with the Minor Bellies and hopes his three-year-old daughter will also play in a couple of years. “I love the game of lacrosse for the many things it has taught me, the things it has given me,” says Catton, “and definitely for the friendships I have made.”
It’s the ability to have everyone in your family be part of the game and Association that makes it so engaging, and doable, for so many families. Take the Deans, for whom lacrosse is most definitely a massive family affair. Dad, Geordie Dean, is a Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame recipient who had a long and illustrious career with the Senior Salmonbellies for 14 years. With three Mann Cup wins, multiple trophies, and many MVP awards, it’s little wonder his #5 jersey was retired in 2007 and now hangs proudly inside Queen’s Park Arena.
While Geordie’s Senior Salmonbellies career had many highlights, it’s the moments with his own kids that mean the most to him. Like the first time his oldest son, Hudson, put on a Salmonbellies jersey, when he coached his two daughters together on the same team in field lacrosse, as well as coaching his daughter Graceyn at the national level and, most especially, seeing all four of his kids with his old number on their jerseys.
Lacrosse season is “controlled chaos” in the Dean household. Last year alone, both older kids were coaching, all four kids played, Geordie coached two teams as well as Team BC Midgets, and both daughters played on Team BC. “My wife Michelle creates a big calendar for all the practices and games,” notes Dean. “We depend on this to know where and when we need to be. Thank goodness for Grandpa and our Salmonbellies family, who we rely on to make sure everyone gets where they need to be!”
Over the years, the Salmonbellies family has continued to be a big part of Dean’s life. “Some of my best friends have come from the lacrosse community, and a lot of them are still involved with the sport in some capacity. To this day, most of our good friends, and our children’s good friends, have come to us through the lacrosse community.”
While New Westminster is filled with families like the Tylers and Deans who have donned the famous blue and red jerseys for generations the Salmonbellies Association also plays a part in creating memories for families new to the city. You certainly don’t need to have grown up here to get caught up in the excitement and thrill of being a part of the Bellies family. Nancy Graham and her husband Ross moved to New Westminster in 2003. When their son Aidan was born, they quickly learned that lacrosse for the Salmonbellies was “the” hometown sport to play.
Last year Aidan played at the Novice level and was “lucky to have Geordie Dean as his head coach.” says Ross. “He’s a fantastic coach and was able to teach Aidan so much about lacrosse.” Both Ross and Nancy admit their knowledge of the sport was limited but found everyone really accepting from the get-go. “It’s like one big family,” says Nancy, “and there’s such a feeling of community. It’s been a great way for Aidan, and us, to get to know a lot of people from around town and make new friends.”
Brand new to New West, or a legacy name in the Bellies organization, we are fortunate to have a place like Queen’s Park Arena and an open extended family like the Salmonbellies. Being part of this organization brings us together and enhances our sense of community. The Bellies pull at our passions and let us give back and, at the same time, we become stronger and are given opportunities to thrive. Family is more than who lives within our walls and the scoreboard is only part of the story of how the Salmonbellies allow us all to win.
History and Culture
- Lacrosse is the official “national summer sport of Canada”
- Lacrosse is known as “the fastest game on two feet”
- Lacrosse has been played in Canada for over 1000 years
- In the traditional indigenous Canadian version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field from 500m to 3km long
Lacrosse in New West
- The minor field lacrosse season runs from September to January
- The box lacrosse season runs from April to June
- Tryouts for novice level and above begin in February and the provincial playoffs run into July
- Kids can start playing mini-tyke lacrosse at age five
- Registration starts in January (see www.minorbellies.com)
Want to try it out?
Each February, the Salmonbellies offer the Doug Hazelwood Clinic to players under eight and new players under ten. This free clinic teaches lacrosse basics in a fun atmosphere. This year’s clinics are on February 15 and 22. More information can be found at: www.minorbellies.com
- The Minor Salmonbellies Association hosts three popular tournaments during the box lacrosse season:
- May: Dorothy Robertson Memorial Tournament (girls tyke – bantam) and the Hyack Invitational Bantam Tournament (boys and girls)
- June: John Witt Memorial Bellie Bowl Novice Tournament (boys and girls)
Want to learn more?
The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame is in Anvil Centre right here in New West: www.clhof.org
- New Westminster Minor Lacrosse (Youth community sports league): www.minorbellies.com
- Junior Salmonbellies (Males 17-21, part of a BC League): www.jrbellies.com
- New Westminster Salmonbellies (the adult men’s league, part of the Western Lacrosse Assocation): www.salmonbellies.com
Salmonbellies vs. the World: The Story of Lacrosse’s Most Famous Team & Their Greatest Opponents by W.B. MacDonald