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Gerrard’s 1909 football team

Updated: May 30

I bought this photo of the 1909 Gerrard football (soccer) team on eBay last month for a song. (One song = $8 US.) The seller was in Milton, Kentucky of all places.

Gerrard was a sawmill town at the foot of Trout Lake. Today its human population is zero but 115 years ago it was able to put together a team that, according to this photo, won the Challenge Cup of Trout Lake City and the Ferguson Medal, from which we might infer that Trout Lake and Ferguson also had teams.


What else can we learn about these august old-timey sportsmen?


A search of online digitized newspapers turns up but a single reference to the club, in the Lardeau Mining Review of Aug. 29, 1907. Rather than anything to do with one of their matches, it concerns their first annual dance. 

The Mill Company’s large dining room was tastefully decorated with evergreens, cut flowers and the implements used in the mill and camp. The music was rendered by Professor Brown and was pronounced the best ever put up in the Lardeau. The supper was “a feast for the gods.” A large number of Trout Lake people went down on a “special” and all speak very highly of the hospitable treatment accorded them by the “boys of Lumberopolis.”

Boys of Lumberopolis would be a good name for a band. That “special” would have referred to an extra run of the tugboat Procter.


Searching the newspapers for “Trout Lake City Challenge Cup” and “Ferguson Medal” turns up nothing. It doesn’t help that by 1909 the Lardeau no longer had its own newspaper. The Nelson Daily News, Revelstoke Mail Herald, and Kaslo Kootenaian gave the area some coverage as far as its mining prospects, but its sporting scene, not so much.


The Kootenaian noted football among the events at the Ferguson Labour Day celebration. Possibly this is when the Gerrard team secured its medal, but the paper did not report any results. The July 15, 1909 edition did report, however, that “Over 125 men are at present employed at the Canadian Pacific Timber Co.’s sawmill at Gerrard.”


Among the team, most of the surnames are too common for us to figure out who they were, with some exceptions. 


• The 1910 civic directory for Gerrard lists team vice-president F. Jenson (back row, first from the left) as a blacksmith, but I could find nothing else about him.


• The same directory lists P.J. Hardman (front row, first from left, holding the sadly unidentified team mascot) as Percy J. Hardman, a labourer. There was a Percy John Hardman, 33, who enlisted for World War I at St. Catharines, Ont. in 1915, but I don’t know if it was him.


• J.P. Purvis (second from the left in the back row) was listed as an edgerman at the sawmill. The census the following year had him as 36-year-old railway engineer in Revelstoke, living with wife Helen and daughters Dorothy and Laura. Online genealogical sources further identify him as John Pearson Purvis, born in Jakarta in 1873. He married Helena Agnes Dunn in Vancouver in 1903 and died in Port Colborne, Ont. in 1958. 


• A newspaper mention reveals F.J. Burns (front row holding the ball) was Francis Joseph (Frank) Burns, who in 1909 was appointed a justice of the peace for Gerrard, because I guess the place was big enough to require such a lofty position. By 1911, Burns moved to New Michel (later known as Natal) in the East Kootenay, where he added notary public to his CV. The census that year found him living with wife Edith and infant daughter Frances. He was head bookkeeper in a sawmill. Don’t know what happened to him after that.


• The most prominent Gerrardian in the photo is L. Hillman, the team president (in the bowtie at the back). He’s Lance Ervin Hillman, originally from Papineauville, Que., who was co-proprietor of the Gerrard Hotel. 


According to Ernie Alexander’s Lardeau Duncan Memories, Hillman built and ran the hotel in partnership with Jack Parasian (or Persian) until Parasian bought him out. However, while Hillman and Parasian were indeed listed as proprietors in 1912, Hillman ran the hotel with a Mr. Boyd from at least 1908-10. 


Also in 1912, Hillman got married in Ottawa. They had a daughter, Katherine, and later lived at Whitewater (aka Retallack), among other places, where Hillman was involved with various mines. They moved to Ashcroft around 1932 and Lance spent 13 years operating the local power plant. He died there in 1955. His death registration said he was 78, but that means he would have been 32 at the time of the photo seen here. He does not look 32.


Aside from their identities, there’s something else I’d like to know: where did these guys play? There’s not a lot of flat land at Gerrard, and most of it would have been taken up by the sawmill. In the photo, rather than posing on a field they settle for some of Gerrard’s finest rocks.


As for the Trout Lake City Challenge Cup, it looks similar to the Cornwall Cup, commissioned the same year for the senior men’s hockey championship of the Slocan. The latter has a place of honour in Slocan village council chambers, but where is the Trout Lake trophy today? Old cups like this do occasionally turn up in unlikely places.

One final note: while the photo was the work of a professional, they are unfortunately not identified.

— With thanks to Judy Hawes

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I was thinking that without the 8-hour day legislation (thanks partly to Hume) miners perhaps would not have had the time or energy to get involved in sports.

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Once again you have succeeded in making something historically interesting out of what first appeared to be nothing. Thank you.

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