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Let’s set the clock back 85 years to uncover the story of two North Shore soccer lads whose sterling accomplishments must not be lost to the passages of time.
Long before Mark Watson (who this month became the first West Van-raised player inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame) and even before Jimmy Spencer and Trev Harvey (North Van stars during the 1930s and ’40s who are also enshrined in the Hall of Fame) there were two others from the North Shore who made their mark on the “fitba” pitch in grand style.
It was in 1927 during the tail end of the Roaring Twenties and with the stock market crash of ’29 not far off that a Canadian all-star soccer side embarked on an ambitious 23-game tour of New Zealand which became an unprecedented success in the annals of the sport in this country.
Canadian soccer officials had been encouraged by the results of a tour of Australia by an all-star squad in 1924 (11 wins, 8 losses and 7 ties) which culminated at tour`s end with a 1-1 draw in an additional game in Auckland, New Zealand, and which set the wheels in motion for a return to the land of the Kiwis three years later.
The players chosen for the 1927 tour hailed from across Canada, representing 18 different clubs located in 12 cities in six provinces. Five came from B.C. of which two were North Vancouverites: Don Archibald, a centre forward with North Vancouver Ex-Highs, and Dick Williams, a halfback-forward playing for Vancouver`s St. Andrews.
To piece together the lives of Archibald and Williams and their tour of New Zealand – a task that would require many hours of research – your intrepid columnist has accessed numerous city directories and marriage and death certificates, found obituaries, viewed various microfilmed and digitalized newspapers including the Wellington, NZ, Evening Post, picked the brain and files of local historian Dick Lazenby, checked out the online work of Canadian soccer historian Colin Jose, and used the always-helpful staff and the often extremely valuable holdings of the North Van Archives, in this case photos and Archibald’s own scrapbook, an absolute treasure in itself. As they say, it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.
So who were Don Archibald and Dick Williams?
Donald Gladwin Archibald was born on Sept. 19, 1906, in Truro, Nova Scotia, to Rupert and Ida Archibald, themselves both born in that Maritime province in the early 1870s shortly after Canada was formed and whose own parents – and maybe even their parents – were born there as well.
So how was it that little Donald and his parents moved to North Van in 1912? It seems Ida’s parents, Benson and Annie Gladwin (and you can see how Don got his middle name), had already relocated here, living at 225 East 10th Street. A society page item in The North Shore Press in April 1912 mentioned a visit of the Archibald family here and noted, “Mr. Archibald was very impressed with North Vancouver, will probably return.” Indeed, the family did come back shortly, living next door and then at 225 East 10th when Mr. Gladwin died in 1913. Rupert Archibald eventually became City Clerk in the burgeoning young City of North Van in 1917 until his death in 1928.
Don became a multi-sport star, winning the junior 440 yards and claiming third in the high jump for North Van High in the big Vancouver & District inter-high track meet at Brockton Point Grounds on May 23, 1921. In lawn tennis, while representing St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church where the family worshipped less than a block from home, he captured the singles and doubles (with Ford Campbell) in the 1924 Greater Vancouver Sunday School Association tournament. He also played some baseball and basketball.
But it was in soccer where he shone the brightest. He was the captain and high-scoring centre forward for North Van High, the unofficial provincial high school champions in 1924 after the local boys defeated Nanaimo 2-0 at Cambie Street Grounds with Archibald netting both goals.
In a similar role with North Van Excelsiors the same season, Archibald led the community team to the Mainland junior championship with his club’s first goal in a 2-1 win over St. Mary’s at the Cambie park “before a crowd estimated at over two thousand” according to one newspaper. Archibald “was given a shoulder-high ride off the field by supporters of the club” after he “was made the recipient of the Con Jones shield on behalf of his team.”
Not long afterwards, the North Vancouver Ex-High club was formed to provide teams in several sports for former NVHS students. With Archibald continuing to drill home goals, the soccer team was a huge success, winning the Lower Mainland’s senior third division in 1926 and moving up to top the second division in 1927 meaning advancement to the first division for the upcoming season.
It was at this point while employed as a clerk with Evans, Coleman and Evans, the building supply company across the Inlet on Columbia Street, that Don was given the opportunity to display his talents for the Canadian touring team despite not yet having shown his stuff at the top tier of B.C. soccer.
While Archibald, at 20, was the youngest member selected, Richard Lloyd Williams, at 29, was among the oldest. Dick was born to Welsh-born parents Peter and Annie Williams on Feb. 27, 1898, in Beaumaris, Wales. The family ventured to B.C. about 1913 and to North Van at some point after that though no record of Dick’s school attendance could be found. Apparently he served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the Great War as a teenager which actually helped him gain the trip to New Zealand since the team also needed a trainer on the ship while at sea for 19 days en route to Auckland.
Beginning at age 20 in 1918, it appears Dick worked for Lyall Shipbuilding at the foot of Bewicke Ave. and took up his life’s work as a watchmaker in 1921 with Henry Birks and Sons at its original site over town at the corner of Granville and Georgia while living on Chesterfield Ave. and then at 247 West St. James Road.
He played for North Shore United and Vancouver City before joining St. Andrews in 1924 and played right half for Vancouver all-stars in a 1-1 tie against visiting Corinthians F.C. of London in Vancouver on Aug. 23, 1924.
But now it was time to tackle New Zealand. Following big send-offs organized by their respective clubs, Archibald and Williams boarded the RMS Niagara in Victoria on May 4, 1927, and arrived in Auckland May 23. The trip of a lifetime was underway.
Part 2: The games in New Zealand. To be published in the July 5 edition.
This is episode 462 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.