Legends of the Game

In the thirteenth installment of Legends of the Game we look at E.W. “Billy” Evans. The article came from the Brampton Excelsiors May 2007 Legends series commemorative program.

When young Evans left his Welsh homeland and arrived in Montreal in 1929 with his wife Myra, son Gwilym, and many other immigrants searching for a new life at that time, little did he know that lacrosse in the town of Brampton would be the focus of his attention for the next 53 years. Even less aware was his family that they too would be eventually entangled in Brampton’s lacrosse web. Four generations and eight decades later, the Evans name continues to be associated with lacrosse in Brampton.

An avid rugby player and fan in Dolgellau, Wales, Bill was quick to trade one ‘sport’ religion for another; lacrosse became his game and the Excelsiors became his team. George Sproule, an Excelsior during the 1920s and 1930s and a Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer, took Bill to his first field lacrosse game in 1930 to watch Excelsior’ greats, Stew Beatty, ‘Mooney’ Gibson, Gerry Kendall, and Bert Large. Brampton’s sports writer Ken Giles later wrote, “For Bill, lacrosse on the plains of Rosalea was war. When asked how he liked the game, he had one A answer ‘his first game was to be his last, it was the most brutal and cruel thing I ever saw’.” Of course, he made the mistake of going to a second game, and later that same year in 1930, he witnessed the Excelsiors win their first Mann Cup lacrosse championship at Varsity Stadium. The fascination – part obsession – for Excelsior lacrosse had taken root. Brampton witnessed the emergence of box lacrosse in the late 1930’s and the building of Brampton’s first outdoor box lacrosse bowl, the Rose Bowl, located where Brampton’s tennis courts are currently situated. It wasn’t uncommon to have 4,000 spectators at a Saturday afternoon game, as the town virtually came to stand still. Minor lacrosse existed in Brampton from the turn of the century under the auspices of various local organizations. In 1943, the Brampton Minor Lacrosse Association (BMLA) was formed, under the leadership of Dr. Ken Hall with Walter Smart as the league manager. Next, the BMLA officially entered the Ontario Minor Lacrosse Association (OMLA) in 1946. Bill, with George 19 ‘Mush’ Thompson, Stew Beatty, Jim Clevely, Walter Smart, Lloyd ‘Baldy’ Ewles, and many others, guided this next stage of lacrosse development in Brampton.

Bill was a member of the Brampton Minor Lacrosse Executive from 1946 to 1966, serving as the President of the Brampton Minor Lacrosse Association from 1952 to 1960. He also served on the Ontario Minor League Association executive and helped to organize the Lakeshore and District Lacrosse Association in the 1950s. When the Rose Bowl came down in 1952, Bill successfully campaigned for a second outdoor lacrosse box for Brampton’s youngest players on the current site of the YMCA in Rosalea Park. Little did he know at the time that he was helping to lay the practice grounds for Excelsior greats like Bert Naylor, Bill and Bruce Wanless, the Thompson brothers (Jim, Gord, and Wayne), Don Arthurs, John McCauley and many others who would successfully lead Brampton to its first Minto Cup in 1952 (coached by Carl Madgett) and three successive Minto Cups in 1957 1958 and 1959 (coached by George Thompson).

Bill did, however, spend some time at home. With his wife Myra and their four children (Gwilym, Alun, Glyn, and Olwen), Welsh traditions were encouraged with a similar passion, as was the weekly trek down the hill to the Baptist church. Gwilym, Bill’s oldest son, won the open Rose Bowl competition at the Peel Music Festival and was followed by his brother Glyn who went on to become a well known Canadian tenor, singing with the Canadian Opera Company and teaching music at local universities. But, not unlike other families of lacrosse in Brampton, the game was quick to find its way into the family bloodline. Gwilym, Alun, and Glyn became the second generation of lacrossers in the Evans family. Gwilym, nicknamed ’88’, was to commit almost 40 years to lacrosse in Brampton as a player and builder. He played on various provincial championship teams in Brampton in the 1940s and went on to become a leading scorer with the Brampton Jr. A Excelsiors. In 1948, Gwilym was selected by St. Catharines to play in the Minto Cup final in Vancouver along with Brampton Excelsior teammate Blake Eatough. He continued managing and coaching Excelsior teams in the 1960s and 1970s and became the second-generation Evans to become a ‘life member’ of the Excelsior Lacrosse Club, in the player and builder category. In 1961, Bill was awarded the Merv McKenzie ‘Mr. Lacrosse Award’, a coveted prize of the Ontario Minor Lacrosse Association and named the first life member of the Ontario Minor Lacrosse Association (OMLA) in 1966. Throughout the 1960s, Bill continued to be a voice for lacrosse in Brampton whether at the four corners of Brampton or in Town Hall chambers. He was politically active, gaining support for the rebuilding of Brampton’s third lacrosse bowl, also in Rosalea Park. Four mayors – Bill Brydon, Russ Prouse, Ken Whillans, and Frank Russell- respectfully and respectively referred to him as the mayor of Wellington Street for his work on behalf of lacrosse in town. During the 1960s, Bill was also able to watch the third generation of Evans boys, his grandsons (Bryn and Mark), carry on the lacrosse tradition in the BMLA. Mark continued on to play at the junior ranks and coached the Jr. A Excelsiors in the 1980s, receiving the OLA Jr. A Coach of the Year award in 1985. On Mark’s team at the time, Bill caught early glimpses of future Excelsior stars, Troy Cordingley, Rick Mang, Tom Phair Jr., Jim Veltman, and Gary Walker. Mark continues to coach both box and field lacrosse in Brampton and was the first recipient of the Revis Bennet Memorial Trophy for coaching excellence in Brampton lacrosse in 1999. He became the third-generation Evans family member to become a ‘life member’ of the Excelsior Lacrosse Club, in the player and builder category in 1996.

In 1978, Bill witnessed Canada’s first World Field Lacrosse Championship over the United States with three of his favourite Excelsiors carrying the torch, John McCauley and players Bob Burke and Steve Mastine. The year following, in 1979, Bill was inducted into the builders’ section of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Stories are told about Bill’s ‘trotting’ and ‘pacing’ as he continued to follow the progress of his favourite Brampton teams through weeknight games and weekend tournaments as he moved into his seventies and eighties. At age 85, according to sports writer John McGhie, Bill was “still spry and determined” enough that he’d make his daily trek downtown, usually on his bike (he never owned a car!) until one day he had an unexpected collision with the railway tracks. The front wheel got stuck and he fell off happily (for his family) marking the end of his bicycle riding days. During his final years, many became victim to the 8:00pm lacrosse phone call. Revis Bennett and Dean McCleod, among others, had to discuss coaching and management decisions and report on new directions for the lacrosse program. Further honours were to follow as he was inducted as a life member of the Brampton Minor Lacrosse Association, the Brampton Excelsior Lacrosse Club, and the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He became the third person elected to the builders’ section of the City of Brampton Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1987, the OLA established the prestigious E.W. ‘Billy’ Evans Award (for players who play their last four Junior “A” seasons in Ontario and exemplified dedication on and off the floor to the game, sportsmanship, leadership and longevity). Its first recipient in 1987 was Excelsior Jim Veltman. Since that time only two other Excelsiors have been honoured with this award, Mike and Scott Carnegie.

Bill was also fortunate to catch some early glimpses of the fourth generation. Jeff Evans, Bryn and Judy’s son, was the first of the fourth generation of Evans lacrosse. Jeff played minor lacrosse in Brampton and captained the Brampton Midget Excelsiors to an Ontario championship in 1988. Jeff went on to play with the Jr. and Major Brampton teams, winning the Jr.A. Rookie of the year in 1989. If Bill had lived only another 10 or so more years, he would have witnessed four more great grandchildren (Mark and Pat’s four kids, Sian, Bryn, Dylan, and Morgan) carrying on the tradition, including the first Evans girl in uniform. He would have been pleased to see his great granddaughter, Sian receive the Ontario Lacrosse Association highest honour for a minor player, the Chuck Rowan Award for high proficiency in lacrosse, outstanding achievement in citizenship and high academic standards. He would have been proud to watch her play for Team Ontario and lead the University of Toronto field lacrosse team to the Ontario University Athletic Association Women’s Field Lacrosse Championship in 2002. Bill would have witnessed his great grandson Dylan’s contributions to Brampton’s first provincial and Canadian field lacrosse championship in Calgary as part of the Brampton U16 Excelsior Field Lacrosse Team in 2003. He would have chuckled to see familiar names of some of Dylan’s teammates and coaches – Bennett, Cannons, Ewles, McClelland, and McCullough – family names also etched in Brampton lacrosse heritage. He would have enjoyed following Dylan’s entry into US field lacrosse, his involvement at the NCAA championships in Philadelphia with Excelsior teammate Ryan Campbell, and another Evans playing in the Jr. A ‘maroon-and-white’ Friday nights in Brampton’s favourite barn. He would have laughed to hear his great granddaughter Morgan ask (at age 11) whether or not she would be allowed to stay in the family if she decided not to play lacrosse? He would have smiled to hear the early accounts of the fifth generation with Connor Kahler’s (Bryn and Judy’s grandson) recent entry into lacrosse, albeit in the Halton Hills system.

Perhaps, most important, he would have witnessed the continued growth of the game and the deepening of traditions that he worked so hard to nurture for youth. He would have been thankful for the resurgence of the BMLA during the 1990s, with over 1000 players, under the leadership of Tony Bennett with the usual suspects, Kevin Board, Reg Ewles, Paul Gilkinson, Doug Whillans, Stu Neil and many others. Likewise, he would have been appreciative of the hard work carried out by like Bob Bartlett Sr., Zig Musial, Herb Phillips, and Bob Sanderson of the Brampton Excelsior Lacrosse Executive and the many Mann Cups that found its way to Brampton in recent decades. He would have lamented, however, “still no Minto cup?” As you watch the game tonight, you might notice a peculiar breeze moving up and down the west side of Memorial. You might even hear a humming of a favourite Welsh rugby hymn “Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah” which is often sung at Welsh football games to the tune “Cwm Rhondda”. It contains the lines, “Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more”. It is said that when sung by the “fans” en masse, that this tune puts fear in the hearts of the opposition, causing them to lose their concentration and presumably, the game as well. Until his death in 1987, at the age of 88, Bill continued to support the Excelsiors. For Bill, lacrosse was a source of fascination, part obsession. In the end, he received many significant awards for his contributions. More importantly, he would argue, were the opportunities provided for the youth of the community, lasting friendships, and the undefinable ‘spirit’ of the GAME.

(Note: Information for this article originates from various news clippings written by Brampton sports writers’ Ken ‘Scoop’ Giles, Jack Campbell, John McGhie, and Al Best, and stories told, mostly true!)

* Of Note…

The OLA’s Billy Evans Award is presented to the most outstanding Junior “A” graduating player.

This award is presented in memory of Billy Evans, a player who travelled to Canada from Wales in the 1920’s to play for the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club. Eligible candidates must have competed for five years in the Ontario Junior “A” Lacrosse League, and nominations are proposed by each of the 11 teams in the league. One nomination is selected annually to receive this award.

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