In the early 1980s, Prince Rupert was home to a modest assortment of friends who decided they liked playing the game of Snooker enough that they’d form a competitive league together.
The game, similar to pool but using a larger 12 ft. by 6 ft. surface, with one white cue ball and 22 Snooker balls, was very popular in the North Coast city, often with beer helping or hindering the various players’ performances.
Four different teams made up the league and they played out of the old Royal Canadian Legion location where Chances now occupies, and they also made frequent appearances at the Elks Lodge, using just one table for all four teams.
Drinking suds and sinking balls seemed like one of the greatest ways to spend a Rupert evening and the game quickly grew.
Expanding from four teams to 15 and comprising 150 players as the city burgeoned with activity in the late ‘80s, come the fall of every year, the old Snooker league would start up and often it was Legion members who led the way in organizing and winning the coveted championships. They would fill the old “8-Ball” pool hall and gaming centre on Third Avenue regularly.
But as the Prince Rupert Legion location fell on financial troubles with low membership and problems with creditors, the Legion gave up their old building and property on First Avenue and the last competitive game of Snooker was played in 2004.
“What people have said to us over the years is that for the size of the community here, Snooker is huge,” said Legion member Tobbi Gjelsvik last week.
“Snooker is more of a dying sport in most places because kids don’t want to play on an air-field. They want to [sink a ball], so when [they’re used to tables that are] 4 ft. by 8 ft. Or 4.5 by 9, it’s hard to get them interested on something this big. But we have had kids come in here and say we’d like to learn this game, so what we’d look at doing is putting on some sort of clinic to help get them interested in playing because this is a game that grows on you. I tell them if you can play on this, you can go into the bars with your buddies and play anything. The angles are all the same,” said Gjelsvik.
The gang has even hosted world-class players such as Cliff Thorburn, a former world champion and world number-one ranked player (and also a British Columbian) who has strut his stuff on the North Coast.
“We treated them like royalty, having these guys here,” said Gjelsvik.
Now, the Prince Rupert Snooker community is about to explode.
The sole reason why is sitting on the corner of Third Avenue and Seventh Street.
Gjelsvik, along with the help of Legion members Bernie Alexander, Dave Walker and countless Prince Rupert community members who donated their time, expertise and materials, have collectively rebuilt the Legion’s Games Room over the past two years, located directly beside the Legion Museum on Third Avenue.
You can read all about Thorburn and other dominant players who have played in Rupert in the archived news clippings, photos and trophies that line the walls of the Games Room, bringing the game and its ambassadors back to life.
“There aren’t many people that don’t know about ‘The Room’ now,” said Gjelsvik.
“There’s probably 80 people or so on our list who would like to [come in and play]. They’ve been checking in on us on a regular basis and word goes out.”
From a concrete floor of an old laundromat that was “by no means level” as Walker pointed out, countless hours of work has gone into the room, including many from Barry and Carrie Cunningham who levelled the floor and installed carpeting and a hardwood floor entrance. The Ladies Auxiliary group provided curtains for the windows and a whole two-column list of contributors immortally hangs on the wall beside the dual tables.
With Gjelsvik and Alexander themselves having extensive expertise on building, revitalizing and recovering Snooker tables – from laying the cloth (“100 per cent wool, Hainsworth English cloth – the best you can buy”), everything old is new again.
“When I was 16, that’s when I learned how to do everything. I’d go to school in the day and at night, I’d work in the pool hall,” said Alexander.
Two light fixtures hang over both tables. Dual trophy cases hang on the walls opposite each other, framed pictures adorn the room and a bulletin board of past achievements and old photos hangs to inform newcomers of the history of the sport they’re getting into. Darts, whisk, rummy, eight-ball and all kinds of card games are available to be played in the room. Coin machines sit beside the tables and you can’t play a game without ponying up a couple quarters to turn the lights on above the tables.
“It’s how we make something back. You’re not allowed to play with the lights turned off,” said Gjelsvik.
“There’s probably less than half a dozen games played on these tables,” added Alexander.
The Games Room is not only a communal place to catch up, challenge your buddies to some billiards or perhaps even down a few beer (the Legion is working on its licencing capabilities), but it will be a catalyst to boost membership to the Legion and cultivate more interest in the institution by the community.
“We can see the end of all [of everyone’s work now], finally. There are a few things like an apron for the table and then Bernie stained the tables and matched it as close to the rail colour as we could and just a couple more odds and ends things [left to do],” said Gjelsvik.
“There are a lot of guys out there, like Shane Foreman – he’s got his own pool table, so a lot of these guys I talk to they go to Shane Foreman’s place,” Alexander added, saying that since 2004, the billiards community has been migrating from place to place.
“[Everyone] understands what’s gone into this room and they’ll support the room. It doesn’t matter what table is at home … they’ll come down here. I think it’s a good atmosphere. It’s small enough and big enough to work for everybody,” Gjelsvik said.
While the room hasn’t officially opened yet, the Legion has a rough idea how they’d like to operate it – mainly through volunteers who keep track of who comes through the doors through a sign-in system (approved for Legion members and their guests).
“When we get going there will be lots of people signing up because they want to come here and play,” said Gjelsvik.
“The plan now is to get to Remembrance Day and show it to all the people here and pass the word out to the guys who used to play in the league before … We’re going to have a separate call for members as to how they want to play it – singles, doubles or teams.”
If members miss the chance to see the new room on Remembrance Day, they can check it out on Saturday, Nov. 21 for the Legion’s fourth Steak Night of the year. The first three saw increasing attendees from 21 people to 50 to 80. The Legion is expecting to crack those totals for the night of the 21st.
Right now, membership sits at roughly 75 members, but those numbers will rise as well. Application forms are available at the Legion Museum from Thursday to Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. or by calling Djelsvik at 778-884-9270 or Alexander at 250-627-1064, or attending Remembrance Day festivities or Steak Night.