E-Lacrosse was heading to Vancouver, British Columbia in order to cover two Vancouver Ravens games against the Buffalo Bandits on January 16th and the Colorado Mammoth on the 18th. The Mammoth, of course, feature the greatest player of our time, Gary Gait. I contacted Gait to see if he might be sticking around his hometown for a few days after the game and if he wouldn't mind us taking some pictures of him in his childhood neighborhood if he was. What followed was more than we could have ever expected.
Gary explained that he was from Victoria which is really on Vancouver Island, a short ferry ride from Tsawwassen, a port just south of Vancouver. He invited us to tour the island with him and I decided that I would certainly be the one to make this trip. I arranged to take the ferry over to the island with Gary the day after the game.
All went well in Vancouver covering the Ravens' NLL games, a Western Canada Brine League All-Star field game and experiencing the scenic views, mellow days and very late-night weekend scene in Vancouver, Canada's party central. The Ravens had just traded for Curt Malawsky who sparked them to two overtime games for our enjoyment. They won the first against John Tavares and the Buffalo Bandits on Chris Gill's overtime steal from under the goalie's pads. We nearly missed it as it happened so fast on what we all thought was a covered ball. You can see it yourself, sorta, in our video coverage. The crowd went wild and most of the teenaged males went shirtless. In a town that is so cold, I am not sure why taking off your shirt and circling it in the air is the common celebration for a goal, but it is. The crowds were very supportive and enthusistic yet mid-sized as the Canucks of the NHL are king in Vancouver. The Ravens get TV news coverage and the games were on local TV which was impressive.
The second game turned against the home town crowd in O.T. as Gait drove to the goal and floated a perfect pass to Burnaby, BC native John Wilson as he was crunched by a defender. Wilson worked the keeper left and hit the open right side of the net for the win. Shirts remained on. You can see the video in our coverage. Gait ended the night with no goals but five assists, happy with the win, but not with his performance.
He credits guys like Gee Nash, Gavin Prout, Josh Sims and Jay Jalbert for the victory but I liked his output that night and you can judge yourself if you watch the video coverage.
The next day Gary and I caught the 1:00 ferry to vancouver Island. The ferry fits about two hundred cars and then buses and trucks on the floor below. There are eateries, coffee shops and even a buffet dinner for those who want to eat during the 1 ½ hour trip to Victoria.
We toured the lower and upper outside decks taking in the esoteric scenery and the haunting sound of the ferries' foghorns. The ship navigated through the Georgia Straight passing between all sizes of small islands, some with old lighthouses, all spiked with tall trees, half hidden in the hanging fog.
We arrived on the island via Schwartz Bay and checked into Victoria's Empress Hotel which is next to a building of Parliament and a huge statue of Queen Victoria, the city's namesake. As I write this I think "What Parliament? British Columbia? Canada? The old English controlled territory?" and I don't know the answer, but it is a grand old building that illuminates the whole area at night as its perimeter is lined with white lights.
The hotel is a stunning old castle or manor, covered in ivy and sitting on a scenic inlet dotted with sailboats. The individually decorated and styled rooms are regal and most impressive. My room had a 26 foot ceiling and was twice the size of any hotel room I've ever had.
Even the lobbies and the mall inside the hotel were sumptuous and richly Victorian.
We walked along the corridor of expensive galleries in the mall for a bit and then stepped into a shop that displayed large and beautifully crafted pieces of native sculpture and glass.
The store keeper asked "Where are you from?" I responded by saying "I am from Maryland, in the States, but he's from here," pointing to Gary. The man chuckled. "Most of us around here know who he is." This proved to be true. As we walked into various stores, bars etc, people tended to make small talk about lacrosse with Gary, one of at least two favorite sons of Victoria.
We set out in my rented beige Chevrolet Malibu with beige interior (a free upgrade, I was told in Seattle) to see some Gait-specific sights in the suburbs.
Our first stop was the Brentwood School; the elementary school the twins attended. The school is located just across a field and a three foot fence from their childhood home.
Gary attributed much of their early success to living so close to the fields and, of course, the school's exterior wall.
The Gait Wall, where Gary and Paul did wall drills for hours on end, has two box lacrosse-sized taped goals on either side of a back door to the school.
Gary admitted that they used to drive the people in the building crazy with the constant incongruous thumping of the wall drills performed by two hard shooters.
Across the street from the Brentwood School is the Brentwood Community Hall where Gary and Paul played youth basketball for years. A short drive brought us to the Claremont Secondary School and the field where the Gaits played rugby as kids. Rugby was the big sport in high schools at the time.
Just down the road a bit we found the outdoor box lacrosse rink where most of the Gaits' early games were played. Gary tells me about the Pepper Twins, Greg and Grant, born only three weeks after the Gaits and who also starred on the local team coached by their father Bob Pepper.
The rink's asphalt floor, wooden boards and hard steel goals are a merciless training ground that is still used by young box players in Victoria.
After the tour I took some time to relax in my room and marvel at its vastness, not feeling guilty while Gary worked out at the hotel gym. We were expected at dinner a few hours later at the home of Dianne or "Di", Gary and Paul's mom.
At dinner I met most of Gary's family and got to see what Paul calls "the Gary Gait shrine".
To be honest the room is filled with honors from both Paul and Gary, too many to number. The awards range from Canadian box to MLL. There's a MILL MVP award, a row of NCAA awards, many Canadian trophies incorporating native statues, totem poles, artwork and a closet full of jerseys from Team Canada, Victoria Shamrocks, Syracuse, Detroit Turbos and so on.
Under a table where some of the trophies stood, there are boxes of smaller awards that cannot find room on the walls.
This room and its contents are special to the twins' mom. Di lights up while she shows me the room and many of the awards for mostly lacrosse, but some for track, rugby and basketball.
In the hallway are some personal pictures. Even family members have a hard time discerning which baby picture is Gary and which is Paul.
A picture from Gary's wedding to Nicole with Paul and his wife Cathleen, both also from Victoria, hangs above a picture of the twins in the Suburban Motors team jerseys at age 7 or 8 carrying wooden sticks and wearing knee high baseball style socks with their big brother Bob. A picture of Gary performing the spectacular "Air Gait" move against Penn hangs near a photo of the twins with Roy Simmons, Jr. and a very young and mullet-sporting Tom Marachek.
As a lacrosse history buff, I was in nirvana, but I also enjoyed talking to Gary's family which is about as normal as any. Gary was given a hard time by his father-in-law Tom Black and friend Warren Blackwell, who is very funny, for not scoring any goals against the Ravens, but Gary's mom and mother-in-law Sherrie reminded us that the overtime pass was soft and sweet, setting Wilson up perfectly.
Gary's father Fred and older Sister Debbie were very nice as was her son Trevor, who is bigger than Paul and Gary and still in high school. He gave his mom some guff when it was time to leave. It reminded me of so many gatherings in the Weaver family. I almost missed Gary and Paul's older brother entirely (no picture) because he is smaller and looks younger with reddish blonde hair.
Di immediately reminded me of my mother so I was comfortable from the time we met. She is great to talk to and is the true Gait lacrosse historian without ever bragging. She "hot smoked" a Salmon that day that was heaven on a cracker and worth bragging on. She says she's saving some special jerseys for that call from the Hall of Fame when her sons are inducted. I know she meant the Canadian Hall of Fame but she's got enough stuff to supply the US Hall of Fame too when they are inducted there and maybe even the museum in Baltimore after they read this. The calls will come.
In the summertime Victoria and Vancouver are beautiful (everyone told us, apologetically) and filled with tourists as B.C. is the warmest province. Vancouver Island is even warmer for some topological reason and is dubbed the "Florida of Canada". But, in the winter, it is a poetic landscape of grays and green with an eerie and wet "Snow Falling on Cedars" quality.
It was a photographers dream.
Obviously, I also had a great time meeting the Gait family and seeing all of the spots where the famous twins learned their craft and developed their games. The town hasn't changed much since they were young, which is not something many of us can say. They walked those harbor streets as teens, played on that same steel cage at the outdoor box, and taped those walls on the school so many years ago and long before they entered our world as freshmen at Syracuse University, across the Straights of Georgia and a world away from Victoria on Vancouver Island.