VELOX HISTORY 101
written by the First club President and founding member Jim Hume.
In the final stages it didn’t take long. Just a kindly request from a son to his dad, an easy response from the old man and a meeting with a group of teenagers with an old dream of a new rugby team.
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
The teenagers had played rugby together for a couple of years with two high school championships under their belts in the name of Mount Douglas High. When not playing for the mountain men they were the heart of a James Bay Athletic junior squad, fit, well trained but unhappy playing what they called “pack rugby”. They were looking for a more open game with good hands, speed, and intelligent running its main feature.
They met frequently to discuss the dreams then early in 1968 called a “final decision” meeting -– this time with a potential coach attending. It was to this I was asked to attend and “maybe offer some advice.” No harm in that, I thought as my son Mark (Hume) and I strolled down Gordon Head Road to the home of another young rebel “to hammer out a few details.”
Two or three hours later when we strolled home I was the president of an as yet unrecognized rugby club. And not at all sure as to how that had happened or in full understanding of what it meant.
Memory is a dangerous foundation for accurate recollection of events close to 50 years past and becomes downright hazardous once you roll past 90 as I had when daughter-in-law Christel Hume commanded me to write a brief story on how the Velox-Valhallian Rugby Club came to be. Wisely, I thought I should turn to younger minds for help.
I canvassed four former players who had been involved in the launch of the new club. All had been involved in the idea, three were present at the fateful meeting that elected a supportive but unsuspecting father president of a rugby club with no name, no home field, no strip, not a match ball between them – and a potential coach who wanted some essential things in place before he made a final commitment.
All four could remember the meetings leading to the decisive final session. None could recall the month or year other than to note that UVic had not dismissed its student body for the summer “because we discussed the pros and cons on campus.” The three who were in attendance that evening placed the event in different locations – and each one had a different roster of people present.
I wish to make it clear that you are reading MY memory of events. One day, maybe for a 50th anniversary project, the club will persuade a more fastidious historian to tell the full story. I could name two possible Velox alumni capable of finding their way through dusty newspaper files and Victoria Rugby Union records and who could track down more members of that intrepid and quite courageous original group. Alone or together they could tell a more precise and fascinating story, not just of the birth of Velox, but of its sometimes tumultuous years and of the strengthening of its sinews when it became the double V’s – Velox Valhallians.
While waiting for one – or both – to volunteer, here’s my version of times past and things remembered – a first chapter only.
Half-a-dozen players, one innocent father and potential coach Gordie Hemmingway were present at that 1969 meeting in a house on Gordon Head Road close to the Cedar Hill X road intersection just before Christmas break. The agenda included asking Gordie to formally commit to coaching the new team. “No problem”, he said but quickly added, with expletives deleted, that a few things needed to be done before he could agree to what was being asked.
Well, a team name would help, as would a field to play on. Team colours would need to be decided and provided, a few games balls would be required, a well-equipped medical chest was essential – “and” he said “you’ll need a president to make the official application to be recognized and accepted in the league.”
It was then that son Mark Hume smiled at me and said with seductive confidence: “You could do that, couldn’t you Dad?” The other players chorused “that would be great!” and the trap was sprung. A round-baller all my life I was, suddenly, the president of a rugby club without a name, a home field, team strip, game-balls – and an essential well stocked medical kit.
The next order of business was a team name. Several had been tossed around at earlier meetings and Velox – Latin for speed – had emerged as a favourite. It appealed to Gordie, probably because it had a familiar ring to Vindex, the team of his youth. Gordie had played for Vindex in his teens and with them won three consecutive championships between 1951 and 1954. It was during those glory years that he played against the vaunted New Zealand All Blacks and scored a never to be forgotten try. Google translates Vindex as “avenger” or “champion”. It was later made evident that Gordie played and coached Vindex style.
The two or three UVic students among the new team recruits didn’t have Google to click instant translations. On campus they sought advice from Latin student Susan Mayse who confirmed Velox translates to “speed” but suggested it would sound stronger if incorporated in a motto. I remember Gordie asking what the motto might be and think it was Jackie Clarkson who answered “Velox Omnia Vincit – Speed Conquers All”. It was obviously thought best that no mention be made to Gordie of the feminine input. There was what the best of clichés describes as a pregnant pause before Gordie barked: “Speed conquers all! Okay! But just remember, first you need the f***ing ball.” It became an early team shout – and still holds true.
As the meeting was breaking up I asked Gordie, if he had any advice for his rookie president. “Yeah, stay out of the (expletive repeated) coaching. That’s my job. You just get the club everything it needs. The medical kit is important – and don’t forget corner flags.”
Sounds silly, but it was typical Hemmingway. His English vocabulary was basic, his rugby knowledge voluminous – and when it came to the game he commanded attention to detail.
And so we began.
The first game balls (first practice balls were brought to the field by players) were donated by Victoria lawyer Ian Stuart. Cash for the first uniforms – they were fragile black T-shirts good for maybe two or three games because we couldn’t afford real rugby shirts – came from the players or their parents and friends who looked with kind amusement on my pathetic fund raising efforts but never failed to respond. The “medicine chest” was a thing of envy among other clubs. Donated by the late Mike Griffin of M.Griffiin and stocked with everything thinkable. And the first corner and other sideline flags were of sturdy timber not the slender wand-like markers of today.
Our home field was at Lambrick Park – then an emerging Saanich park with the old Lambrick Farm residence park headquarters and the original cow barn our – and visiting team – dressing rooms. There were no showers that first season of 1969-70. We were not a pleasant fixture for visiting teams and, to be honest the most loyal Velox players didn’t enjoy the wet times when the east-west slope of the field left a two inch deep pool of water in one corner and the muddy slop of a baseball base path in the other.
We almost lost Tommy Carson one Saturday afternoon when he was swarmed and buried, facedown, in “the swamp”. True story and far from laughable at the time.
On practice nights those of us who could afford the gas lined our cars on one side of the field headlights on high beam. I can proudly claim to have attended every practice for the first and second season, but cheerfully admit that for most I was wearing winter clothes with a flask of hot scotch not far away. And I sat in the car a lot.
I can’t remember when we finally got real change rooms and showers at Lambrick, but I can remember the joyous celebration when they were finally available. We were proud to be able to send visiting teams home clean
For the record we lost only two games in our first two seasons. Sadly both were provincial finals and both lost by three points. We made the provincial finals again in our third year but lost again.
And that’s the way – as I recall – it all started. Just the first few bricks in a fragile foundation which others have more than strengthened and continue to build on. I am proud to have been the first, but salute and thank those who followed: presidents, captains, players, coaches and those who never took the field of play but worked, and still work, to keep strong and alive the dreams of new generations.