The Pirates have gone on several tours through the decades, Winnipeg, Hawaii, Ireland, Kalispell, Saskatoon, etc. Each tour is special and will live on in the memories of those who journeyed, due to the friendships formed, the adventures experienced, and the games played. Remember ~ what happens on tour, stays on tour!
The Pirates have had a very special affiliation with the Winnipeg Wasps. It all began when Bryce Dzenick, who had played for Winnipeg, moved to Edmonton. He suggested that the Pirates travel to Winnipeg to play a game and tip back a few pints. On the inaugural trip, they traveled by CN Rail in 1967. The following year, Winnipeg came to Edmonton, doing reciprocal visits each year since. In May, the Wasps come to Edmonton to what is now Rugbyfest (which didn’t officially begin until 1969) and the Pirates go to Winnipeg in August to a tournament that is now called SNAFU.
These are important events to the members of both clubs with many lasting friendships and traditions having been formed over the years. How many groups do you know that will drag an old branch from a tree across the country every year just to stir the punch at a barbeque? Special jerseys have been made for important anniversaries of the exchange and plaques engraved to commemorate each club’s milestones. Indeed, it is a very special affiliation, a tradition that has persevered more than 35 years.
A Pirate ship was not available, so Blaine Cassios, Mark Spellicy, Mike Rixon, John Dzenick, Joe Normandeau and David Metcalf, joined the Winnipeg Wasps and took Ward Air to Hawaii for the Pan Am Rugby Tournament in 1975 (this being the first of a few tours to Hawaii). In true Pirate form, Ward Air stopped serving liquor saying they had run out and threatened to confiscate the duty-free stuff, if anyone even thought of looking at it. So, the last couple hours of the flight, the players slept in anticipation of staying up all night Hula dancing.
A most tragic incident occurred during the first week. After a game, the group went to a house the Wasps were renting with a private beach. After the sun had set, some went to “wade” in the water. The group, numbering about 12, walked along the beach for about 30 minutes and then went back to the party.
A short time later, John Dzenick could not be found. The last time anyone could remember seeing him, was when the group had been walking in the water. The fire department was contacted and John was reported missing. The Fire Department called in the Coast Guard and they started the search.
His body was found the next morning in one of the tidal pools that the ocean creates inside the reef. The coast guard said it could have easily happened to anyone, as tidal pools can appear anytime. John Dzenick was the kind of person everybody liked. His family donated a memorial trophy in his name, which is to be awarded to the player who exhibits a sportsman like behavior both on and off the field, just as John had done before his untimely passing.
An interesting and important aspect of rugby life has been hosting tours from other parts of the globe. Back in early September 1979, the club’s first and one of the best efforts ever was Bristol University, who had come with two sides. Everyone was billeted and our guests were taken on tours around town, including the museum ~ there was no West Edmonton Mall then. Several games were organized; opposition included the Pirates, Fort McMurray and the Tigers. Part of the entertainment consisted of festivities at the Sport Ex, a barbeque at Ellerslie, and a party at Con Dragu’s home.
Since then, the Pirates have hosted several school boy teams, most notably the combined effort of Glenstal Abbey and Royal School Armagh from Ireland on two separate occasions. The Pirates have also hosted other senior sides, mostly from Great Britain.
Each of these tours is memorable in it’s own way, but particularly in the wonderful new acquaintances and friendships formed.
In the winter of 1987, the Pirates Rugby Club started training indoors and outdoors for a three-week tour to Ireland. The tour was planned as a learning and conditioning program to show the Canadians a little of the Irish culture, rugby traditions, entertainment and the joining of Paddy Lamb and Laura Jackson in marriage. The tour was ready thanks to Gordon King for his organization.
On March 18, 1987, the Pirates landed in Dublin in a snowstorm, where the first five days of the tour would be spent. They were whisked off to their new home at the charming “Wynn’s Hotel” where the water ran cold in most rooms; the heat only went to the top four floors and the pubs closed at 10 pm. The first test match was against Trinity College, who hosted and treated the Pirates to their first keg of true Guinness beer. The Trinity players also took the tour members to Lansdowne to watch an International match between France and Ireland. Paul Clinch, one of the centers for Ireland, was formerly a player for the Trinity Team and the Edmonton Pirates.
March 23 was the start of the bus tour around Ireland aboard a modern, luxurious bus that transported the group to the old and quaint “Kilkea Castle” in Carlow. The next day, the Pirates played the Carlow R.F.C. in a well-contested evening match under the lights. Wilk Mah received the player of the game and the traditional mug of beer, but it must have been from a bad batch, as the next day he looked a little Irish green.
The tour moved on to Cork where the nightlife was much more exciting and after dinner most went dancing, some until the wee hours. The next day, the Pirates played the Dolphin R.F.C. in a torrential down pour with at least four inches of standing water on the field. While in Cork County, the tour members went to the ancient ruins of Blarney Castle, where some kissed the Blarney Stone.
In Limerick, the tour members spent a wonderful evening at a Medieval Banquet in well-preserved Bunratty Castle. Gareth Jenkins, the only true Welsh import, escaped from the dungeon, got up on stage and entertained the whole house with his marvelous Welsh voice. While in Limerick, the tour members visited the 800-year-old King John’s Castle and played a hard-fought match against Shannon R.F.C., which taught the Pirates how to play the ten man rugby system.
Ireland Tour 1987
The Pirates were in Galway on March 30 and had a pleasant social evening with the university boys of UCG, who tried to teach the group a couple of rugby party games. These university boys were the best partiers the Pirates had come across, so they thought they had UCG right where they wanted them before the test match. However, the club received a spanking from those UCG boys, and discovered after the game, that six of the UCG players had been selected to play in the County Finals the following week.
The tour moved east and up the coast to Armagh, where the tour members were billeted with private families. Many stayed with Quakers and found them great hosts, full of fun with their homemade wine and great stories. On the day of the test match between the Pirates and the Armagh R.F.C., as the bus entered Armagh and was stopped at a red light, three heavily armed guards crossed the road with their Browning Machine Guns aimed at the front of the bus ~ Welcome to Northern Ireland. The Pirates thought they had an ace in Paul Clinch, but the wild card seemed to excite the Armagh boys and the Pirates lost a close contest. Jim Bulmer will remember this game forever, not only for being chosen player of the game, but ask him about his stitches.
Finally, on April 4 was the wedding of Paddy Lamb and Laura Jackson. The event pulled the whole tour together for the players and their friends from Canada. The Pirates had come to Ireland to learn and experience this culture that many knew very little of, except from the stories the “spuds” had told. Having spent three weeks immersed in this old and rich culture, the joining of two friends seemed to bring closure to the whole Irish experience.
As with any rugby tour abroad one’s appreciation for the game, the talents of the other players and the way they live and play the game of rugby has greatly enriched the tour members. Not only do we love this game, so do rugby players in all corners of the world.