The glorious 50th celebrations have past into an aftermath of Covid and who knows what’s normal. But, what of — who started it all?
Clue — he’s the oldest living Capilano. Turned 90th this past April 15th! Bucky Ellison is close but still a few candles away.
I’m talking about the originator who could be the Club’s most unsung hero, the true spirit of the Capilanos. Another hint, the Best Back Award is named after him, an honor but one short of his place in Club history, let alone Club existence.
50 years ago, there were the North Shore All Blacks, and the West Vancouver Barbarians. The All Backs languished in past glory, the scrappy Barbarians just languished. What was, was a rugby wasteland of North Van/West Van rivalry with mutual distain for what each other represented (call it social distancing), and being equally shit kicked by the Vancouver Merlalomas, the Kats, UBC, and even the Rowers.
One Barbarian (also President, coach, everything) wasn’t going to take it any more — enough scrapping bodies together to field 3 teams to meet VRU requirements to compete in the 1st Division (can you bring a friend with boots?!); enough North Shore talent constantly discounted and overlooked by VRU/BC/Canada selectors; enough mediocrity, he was driven to see the North Shore compete and win at the highest level in North America.
From this desperation and ambition the Capilano Rugby Club was born. The visionary initiator — Bill Ewing.
In the dark spring of 1969 Bill set his mind to selling the collective membership of both clubs into an immediate and immaculate conjugation — amalgamation! He stared by floating the idea past All Black Coach (“Mother” and boss) Alex Mahood who readily said why not! as an increased player pool practiced before his eyes.
Bill’s pitch so much easier than he anticipated was irresistible with Alex on side and in a blink, quickly voted a done deal by both Clubs. Alex was appointed Head Coach, with full responsibility for selection of all Division teams, Bill became the first Capilano President, Bucky, Vice President. Sidebar: the only unacceptable condition to the All Blacks was taking on the Barbarian $2000 debit. Bill paid it out of his own pocket.
Early in that first 69/70 season once our then fledgling Club found its legs, Bill stepped away to attend increasing family and business responsibilities that few at the time may have understood. Bill was confident the Club’s nurturing was in good hands with Alex and Bucky. In their tough, loving ways they bonded us as team and Club, guiding and focusing our early growth and competitiveness.
Both were quickly bestowed recognition as Life Members of the Capilano Rugby Club. The naming of the Clubhouse’s “Alex Mahood Room” at Klahanie further recognition of Alex’s relentless mothering and coaching.
Only after 40 years of oversight was Life Member recognition given to Bill’s foresight and yes, courage, in bringing the disparate North Shore rugby factions together to move from meager existence to becoming the premiere rugby club it is today in North America — a model club in all its winning ways.
Back then Bill saw the importance of a fresh start for a merged Club, to build on the base of the All Blacks and Barbarians, but not to be encumbered by the two Clubs’ past histories. He saw the value of an identity uniquely North Shore.
We were named the Capilanos, colours black and gold, our crest an Indigenous spirit — a completely new and integrative North Shore identity, all initiated by Bill.
Sidebar: the Capilano Bear carving that became the Capilano crest sourced by Bill from a tip obtained at the Tomahawk BBQ about a talented local young Coast Salish carver, David Nahanee. Cost $100!
Out of sight so early and an enigma perhaps to some, you may wonder, who is he? — a brief profile: A natural athlete, started playing rugby at age 14 with the Barbarians. They had age groups back then. Like most clubs, one guy did the coaching and all else. Not a recipe for longevity, the Barbs went under soon after Bill joined. He then played with the All Blacks for one year until track and football got more of his attention and he went on to play halfback in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders. After Calgary he returned to the North Shore, jumped into coaching football, first the West Vancouver Wildcats and then on to the North Shore Cougars. During this time he was instrumental in re-resurrecting the Barbs, playing and coaching right up to amalgamation. Bill coached and mentored scores of young football players, many who as a result of Bill’s encouragement took up the love for the ruffians game. Despite success as a football professional and coach he has always believed rugby the better team sport.
Bill has never lost track of Capilano fortunes and progress. Long settled back on the North Shore, never one to thrust himself in the spotlight, Bill has quietly watched from the sidelines — proudly looking on with inspired admiration through eyes that some 50 years ago foresaw what could be — the Capilano Rugby Club.
The 50th party has cleared the room but time remains to lift a glass, give a hearty Capilano cheer for our initiating founder, wish him a happy 90th and like the Club, many more!
Written by : Robin Dyke – Capilano RFC Past President and Honourary Life Member
(Bill was greeted on his 90th birthday by bagpipes playing Happy Birthday. This short news story can be viewed by clicking here)