Professional Baseball in Vancouver: 1910s
Athletic Park was the third baseball diamond of the streetcar era, the first having been the Cambie Street Grounds/Larwill Park between Beatty and Hamilton north of Georgia, the second Recreation Park, between Smithe, Nelson, Homer and Hamilton Streets.
The prime mover behind baseball in the city was “Ruby” Bob Brown, a shortstop who later earned the nickname “Mr. Baseball.” Originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Brown was a natural athlete who played football for Notre Dame before becoming a professional baseball player in 1900, and leading the Spokane Indians to victory in 1908. In 1910, Brown bought the Vancouver Beavers for $500, after having played against them in years preceding, and moved to Vancouver to play for his new team as shortstop.
When the CPR did not renew the lease for Recreation Park in 1912, Brown turned his sights to south False Creek, leasing land once again from the CPR, and he began clearing it for development himself. Athletic Park opened April 16, 1913, occupying the block northeast of the corner of 6th and Hemlock; home plate and the grandstand were near the corner of 5th and Hemlock. Complete with 6,000 squares of turf from the Fraser Valley and a crowd of 6,000 fans watching, the Vancouver Beavers beat the Tacoma Tigers 6-4 on Athletic Park’s opening day. The Beavers were league champions at Athletic Park in 1913 and 1914, and played in the Northwestern League and the Pacific Coast International League before disbanding in 1922.
Amateur and Professional Teams at Athletic Park: 1920s-40s
Although Vancouver’s team disbanded in 1922, and professional baseball was not to return to the city for 15 years, the park was kept busy with senior amateur level games. Brown and others started a semi-pro league, called the Vancouver Senior City League which included teams like Home Gas, the Arrows, United Distillers and the Vancouver Asahi – the now-famous Japanese-Canadian team based at the Powell Street Grounds (Oppenheimer Park) which dispersed when all people of Japanese ancestry were forced to evacuate or enter into internment camps in 1942. Teams played the first ever night-game west of the Mississippi under Athletic Park’s new lights in 1931. On October 20, 1934, Athletic Park hosted a rainy exhibition game played by the All Americans, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who were about to set sail from Vancouver to Japan to play a tour. Commenting on Vancouver’s rainy weather, Ruth reportedly told his teammates “if these people can take the weather, so can we. We’re gonna give ’em a ball game.” During the depression and war years, attending a baseball game was a cheap activity available to most, and Nat Bailey could be found roaming the stands as a food vendor. In addition to baseball, Athletic Park was also home to soccer, rugby and football, and UBC played its first varsity football games here.
Professional baseball returned to Vancouver in 1937 when a team called the Maple Leafs played at Con Jones (now Callister) Park near the PNE, as part of the Western International League. Two years later, Brown, alongside brewer Emil Sick bought the team, renaming it the Vancouver Capilanos after Sick’s Capilano Brewery at 1445 Powell Street, and moving games to Athletic Park. Brown, as vice president and general manager, helped lead the team of a pennant victory in 1942 (and again in 1947). In 1944, Sick bought the land from CPR for $35,000, and Athletic Park was rechristened Capilano Stadium. The grandstand burned down and was rebuilt twice during these years, first in 1926, and again in 1945.
A New Bridge and Stadium: 1940s-Present
In 1946, the Town Planning Commission announced that it would need to acquire the stadium land for the new Granville Bridge and Sick agreed to sell it to the city for $25,000 in return for considerations when it came time to build a new stadium. The last game at the park was played on June 7, 1951, when the Vancouver Capilanos beat Washington’s Wenatchee Chiefs. Nat Bailey Stadium was built in 1951 (called Capilano Stadium until 1978) to replace Athletic Park, and has been home to professional baseball in Vancouver ever since, and the home field of the Vancouver Canadians since 1978.
Over his 60 year career, Brown made a significant contribution to the development of professional baseball in Vancouver and saw the city’s team climb from the Class B Western International League to the Triple A Pacific Coast League. In 1966 he was the first inductee into the Vancouver Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1989 he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sicks’ Capilano Brewery moved to a new plant at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in the early 1950s; when Molson’s took it over in 1958, the era of big independent breweries in BC ended, leaving drinkers a choice mainly between Molson’s, Labatt’s and Carling-O’Keefe, until the micro-brewery era began in 1984 with the Granville Island Brewing Company, a stone’s throw away from the Athletic Park site.
Related Places That Matter:
- Baseball in Vancouver Website
- “Bob Brown.” Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Hawthorn, Tom. “Baseball Thou Art Mine.” In The Greater Vancouver Book, edited by Chuck Davis, 548. Surrey, BC: Linkman Press, 1997.
- Hawthorn, Tom. “The Day Babe Ruth Played in Vancouver’s Rain.” The Tyee. 21 Oct 2014.
- Kluckner, Michael. Vancouver The Way It Was. North Vancouver, BC: Whitecap Books, 1984.
- Kluckner, Michael. Vancouver Remembered. North Vancouver, BC: Whitecap Books, 2006.