Doug Sturrock’s history of Canadian rugby is a labour of love, a half-century in the making.
It started in 1967 with research for a master’s thesis at the University of Alberta — at the suggestion of the late Max Howell, a former Australian rugby international who spent time teaching and coaching in North America. Sturrock completed the project in 1971 but kept delving into the sport’s history when he was asked to be Rugby Canada’s honorary historian in 1972.
After retiring from teaching in 1998, he co-wrote a history of the Meraloma club in Vancouver. That got the research juices flowing again.
While Sturrock had the support of several Rugby Canada executives, he said the organization ultimately did not help with helping get the book out.
So a group of rugby friends raised some $40,000 to finance a book, which resulted in “It’s a Try! The History of Rugby in Canada.” The tome, which weighs in at more than 1,000 pages, came out in 2017 and is now in its second edition.
In researching the thesis, Sturrock spent hours going through microfilm and almost a month travelling from Edmonton to Halifax, interviewing people and visiting libraries.
He hit the road again years later, visiting Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Halifax over four summers for more research. He started writing the book in 2001.
“The travelling, research, I really enjoyed it,” said Sturrock, an 82-year-old native of Vancouver who now makes his home in nearby Fort Langley. “It probably took a little longer than I originally anticipated. Because I was reading microfilm and looking for rugby, but it’s easy to get sidetracked — if you’re looking on a sports page — on a hockey game or baseball game or some other sporting event, maybe horse racing, that you’re interested in.”
His books covers the beginning of rugby in Canada, with British military and immigrants believed to have brought the game across the Atlantic. It runs through 2011, capturing the upheaval in Rugby Canada as the sport turned professional.
“As we have marched towards the new professional age, others in the top 12 of world rugby have been sprinting,” Keith Wilkinson, former director of national senior men’s teams, said at the time in a comment that remains true today.
The book also serves as an exhaustive record of teams coming to Canada and Canadian sides touring abroad, with pages of photos and scores.
Sturrock, a former scrum half and wing, played rugby at the University of British Columbia before serving as a high school coach for 39 years. He taught at four schools, ending his teaching career at Vancouver’s Magee Secondary School.