Mrs. Layritz with the Layrtitz baseball team at the 1958 opening of Layritz Ball Park.

Mrs. Layritz with the Layrtitz baseball team at the 1958 opening of Layritz Ball Park.

Sports history steeped in Saanich

Sports historian recounts prominent role Saanich played with local athletics

From grassroots to Olympic gold, Saanich’s history is as steeped in athletic success as it is in farming.

In recent history alone, Saanich boasts such Canadian superstars as basketball’s Steve Nash, swimming’s Ryan Cochrane and rowing’s Lindsay Jennerich.

Nash, once a Mount Douglas secondary and St. Michaels University School student, is internationally renowned with two MVP awards from the NBA. Cochrane, of Claremont secondary, retired this year with two Olympic medals and Jennerich, also a Claremont grad, won silver in Rio de Janeiro.

Those are just the latest Saanich names, as the list could go on for pages.

Longtime Cordova Bay resident Dave Unwin, 82, is a Greater Victoria sports historian and former member of the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame. He’s also the author of From the Sidelines 1896-1996: A 100 Year’s View of Vancouver Island Soccer and the Victoria West Athletic Association.

As a young man, Unwin played goal for the Victoria Shamrocks in the early 1950s. He wasn’t the most prominent Shamrock, but it led to a love affair with athletics that he shared as a teacher.

Soon after the Victoria Shamrocks started they recruited a few mainland players including Whitey Severson, who lived in Saanich, as did Archie Browning, albeit briefly before settling into his Esquimalt role.

“You can’t name all the important Saanich athletes, it would be too overwhelming,” Unwin said.

What you can do, is recognize Saanich’s impact on what is known as the Greater Victoria sports scene. Take Saanich’s role in the 1994 Commonwealth Games, which hinged on the creation of Saanich Commonwealth Place and upgrades at UVic’s Centennial Stadium.

For Unwin, the sporting history really took off after the Second World War.

“Sports here grew as Saanich grew, as I remember,” Unwin said. “I was on the Saanich-Oak Bay border, and in the 1950s Saanich was still farmland going north from the intersection of Cedar Hill Road and Shelbourne.

Gordon Head was an undeveloped territory of farms, soon to become a suburb which would provide athletes for two highly successful athletic schools, Lambrick Park and Mount Douglas. Before that, athletic activities were neighbourhood based and relied on local leadership.

In Cordova Bay, it was the Cunninghams, Chuck and Gladys, who promoted winter basketball at the 1949-built Cordova Community Centre. The Benn family (of NHL’s Jamie and Jordie) did the same in West Saanich and Brentwood Bay with basketball and softball. In Lakehill, youth gathered at the Women’s Institute Hall on Quadra Street, where there were “always games.”

“Transportation out from these areas was a problem in those days,” Unwin said. “You didn’t just jump on a bus or take the family car, so community sports was a big part of life.”With the growth of the region in the 1950s came the creation of clubs such as Gorge FC. The Hampton Park club evolved out of the Vets of France Juvenile team in 1950 and soon added players and a sponsor, Gorge Hotel, to become the association it is today. Lakehill Soccer, Cordova Bay and Gordon Head (now Saanich Fusion) also started, as did Hampton, Layritz, National, Lakehill and Cordova Bay baseball clubs. The list goes on.

Some of the bigger organizations, Lakehill and Gordon Head lawn bowls clubs are still healthy, as is the Greater Victoria Horseshoe Pitching Club. The Velox Rugby Club, now the Westshore Rugby Club in Colwood, played out of Gordon Head from 1969 to 2015.

Unwin admits how tricky it is to decipher just which athletic greats called Saanich home. “I grew up on the Oak Bay side of Foul Bay Road on Newton, while my buddies were on the Saanich side of Foul Bay on Newton,” Unwin said. “We were neighbours, I went to Willows, they went to Oaklands, that’s just how it was.”

Unwin is retired from a teaching career that started in 1958-59. He is also responsible for the creation of a cup, which became the Unwin Cup, won in 2016 by the Reynolds Roadrunners, for the boys AAA Island soccer championship.

Feel free to share your Saanich sports stories by adding them to the comments on this story or by emailing them to reporter@saanichnews.com.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

February is Black History Month. (Photo: Government of Canada)
Camosun College highlighting Black content with research guide during Black History Month

The collection includes a range of works by Black authors and creators

Amy Morrison was surprised to find a note on her windshield for parking on a public street with no restrictions in south Oak Bay where she works. (Amy Morrison Photo)
Oak Bay resident uses notes to claim street parking

‘You must have noticed, we park in front of OUR HOUSE,’ note writer says

From right: Brad Cameron, BCEHS superintendent of patient care delivery for Greater Victoria, with primary care paramedics Em Funk, Tyrone Trotter, Fiona Galvin and Peter Hill at the Leigh Road station. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore paramedics didn’t waver when faced with COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. Emergency Health Services personnel are this year’s Courage and Bravery Award recipients

Debra Sheets, a University of Victoria nursing professor, is starting Victoria’s first Memory Cafe program for adults with dementia and their caregivers. (Photo: Debra Sheets)
Memory Cafe Victoria hopes to connect local dementia community

Adults with dementia and their caregivers will participate in weekly Zoom socializing and activities

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

After nearly 10 months of investigations, Mounties have made an arrest in the tripping of an elderly woman in Burnaby this past April. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Mounties charge suspect for tripping elderly woman near Metrotown in April

32-year-old Hayun Song is accused of causing bodily harm to an 84-year-old using her walker

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Most Read