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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

Inducted in 1961

Member Details

Date of Birth: February 20, 1888
Place of Birth: St. Catharines, Ontario
Date of Passing: June 29, 1926
Sport: Lacrosse
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1907-08

Played for Senior Athletic Lacrosse Club in St. Catharines

Twice won Globe Shield

1909-1911

Played for Toronto Lacrosse Club

1911

Minto Cup - Vancouver Lacrosse Club

1912, 1914

Played for Toronto Lacrosse Club

Honoured Member WILLIAM FITZGERALD
Inspire

Story

Before the onset of the First World War, lacrosse was Canada's sport. Matches turned into weekly summertime spectacles to which thousands of spectators would flock to the field to enjoy a picnic, listen to a live band, and cheer on their home team. In these golden days of lacrosse, Billy Fitzgerald stood out as a legend. Fitzgerald was a lacrosse prodigy from the start. By the age of 19, he was playing for the Senior Athletic Lacrosse Club in St. Catharines, by far the best club in eastern Canada. It won the Globe Shield, the top prize in the senior amateur league, every year from 1905 to 1912. Fitzgerald joined the team in 1907, and for the two years he played with them, they did not lose a single game. Fitzgerald turned professional in 1909 when he signed with the Toronto Lacrosse Club. The sport, meanwhile, was also burgeoning on the west coast, and a fierce rivalry soon developed between teams in Vancouver and New Westminster, British Columbia. The New Westminster Salmonbellies won the Minto Cup, the top prize for the Canadian Senior Lacrosse Championships, in 1908, 1909, and 1910. After being shut out three years in a row, Conn Jones, owner of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club, decided that something had to be done. He looked eastward for talented players and soon set his sights on Billy Fitzgerald. Jones paid him $5,000 to make the move to Vancouver. Fitzgerald accepted and became one of the highest paid athletes in professional team sport. It did not take long for Jones' investment to pay off. With Fitzgerald and fellow eastern lacrosse player Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde on board, Vancouver beat the Salmonbellies and claimed the Minto Cup in 1911. The Toronto Lacrosse Club lured Fitzgerald back in 1912, however, with a salary to top Jones' highest offer. Despite this enviable income, Fitzgerald, who was also a skilled carpenter, took time off from the lacrosse field in 1913 to concentrate on his house-building business. By the time he returned in 1914, the First World War had disrupted the game as most of the league's top players had enlisted in the armed forces. Fitzgerald played another season in Vancouver before accepting a coaching position at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, in 1915. He returned to St. Catharines after the war and, in an attempt to revive interest in the game, organized a semi-professional Ontario lacrosse league. Times were changing, however, and professional lacrosse soon began to die out. Amateur lacrosse started to flourish with the formation of the Ontario Amateur Lacrosse Association, but Fitzgerald, who had played most of his life as a professional, was not permitted to play in this league. Instead, he moved further into coaching and refereeing and found that his skills were much in demand. He earned prestigious positions coaching at Swarthmore College in Philadelphia and teaching lacrosse at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Fitzgerald later returned to his hometown to help the next generation of St. Catharines lacrosse players by coaching junior teams and refereeing in the senior amateur league. Fitzgerald died in 1926 at the age of 38 from complications that arose from an operation. Former players from Toronto and St. Catharines teams faced off in a memorial lacrosse game to honour the man who had given so much to the sport.


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