The Bulletin chronicles an early rugby game in Kimberley.

The Bulletin chronicles an early rugby game in Kimberley.

Rugby Revival in Kimberley

The early days of rugby in Kimberley in the 1960s recalled by Peter Moody

By Peter Moody

In 1961, a recent immigrant to Canada, I found myself in Kimberley teaching boys’ physical education at McKim Junior High School. My curriculum included gymnastics, track and field, and a variety of team sports. Soccer, the most popular and most played game in the world, was familiar to my students. But rugby, although played in Britain and other Commonwealth countries, was not.

So, having learned to love the game in England, I introduced rugby to my PE classes, starting in grade 8 where we concentrated on basic skills, rules and teamwork. By grades 9 and 10 we were playing scrimmages, but for the next few years that was as far as the game went because there were no other rugby-playing schools in the East Kootenay to compete against.

I should mention that back then, more than 50 years ago, school rugby was for boys only. Girls weren’t even playing soccer at that time. How times have changed – for the better.

In 1965, after several years of practicing, we finally got to play “real” rugby. The spark was Pieter Sevensma, a Selkirk student who did his grade 11 at Brentwood College, a Vancouver Island boarding school that was similar to British boys’ private schools in that rugby was the major sport. Pieter began playing and found that he really enjoyed it.

Returning to Kimberley in 1965 for grade 12, Pieter came to me at McKim and proposed that we get rugby going as a regular sport in town. It was a wonderful idea. I got my McKim students on board while Pieter spread the word up at Selkirk. Then we put an ad in the Bulletin inviting men to come and join our after-school practices.

Kimberley had miners, engineers, geologists and others who knew rugby from their native countries. In just a few weeks we found ourselves with 40-plus keen fellows who wanted to train and play.

As coach, I handpicked four 9-a-side teams, comprising men and boys, and on Sunday, November 7, 1965, we played a round-robin tournament on McKim field. It was a gratifying success, played with great enthusiasm and sportsmanship, and enjoyed by quite a gathering of spectators. The Bulletin was there to record the historic event.

Good news travels fast. A few days after the tournament, I heard from Craig Andrews of the Trail Colonials Rugby Club – they wanted to come to Kimberley to play us. I said we were very much a beginning team, but sure, we would welcome them. The following weekend Trail arrived for a game on Coronation field.

McDougall Hall up on Townsite had the nearest changing rooms so the teams kitted out there then trotted down the hill to Coronation. Kimberley lads gave it their all, but the Colonials were much more experienced and won the game. Afterwards it was back to the hall for showers, refreshments and camaraderie among winners and losers, all part of the romance of rugby. The game was verbally dissected, songs were sung, toasts were raised, and a return game was arranged to be played in Trail the following week.

For the return match we ran into a couple of problems. First off, we were short of players so I enlisted two grade 8 lads, Brian McKenzie and Randy Marchi, who didn’t need much convincing to make up our side. Then, when we arrived for the game after a drive of 170 miles, we found the whole field under four inches of snow. No problem – the two teams spent the first half hour kicking snow off the touch lines and goal lines, then played with much gusto to keep warm.

Kimberley never gave up, but once again Trail were the winners. As gracious victors, they followed the rugby ritual of forming a corridor and applauding while the losers ran between their ranks. Our players quickly caught on and performed the same honours for Trail.

It wasn’t long after this that I left Kimberley for further education. My last season of rugby was played at Washington State University – the game was just too hard on my dodgy knees. I took up soccer again when I returned to Canada and played for a few decades. But I’ll say this: playing rugby gave me the most fun and satisfaction of any sport I’ve ever experienced.