Ernest C. Pinkham, who was the last surviving member of Canada's first official rugby team and was the world's oldest living international player, has died in Vancouver. He was 102.
Pinkham played on the wing for Canada in 1932, when the team made a two-week voyage across the Pacific Ocean to play a seven-game series in Japan.
Pinkham played in six of the seven games - missing the first Test against Japan's national team due to injury - and ending the tour tied for first in tries with seven.
"The trip to Japan was one of the highlights of my life," Pinkham had said of the pioneering trip. "To cross the Pacific Ocean by ship and play for my country in a foreign land was a great thrill. We had a good team and we gave a good account of ourselves. We tried hard, played well and put on a good show.
"They were a hell of a nice bunch of guys and we made friendships that lasted a lifetime."
Pinkham was born in England on March 9, 1908 and moved to Canada in 1924, playing rugby at King George High School and later the Vancouver Rowing Club.
Soon after joining the Rowing Club, Pinkham earned selection to the Vancouver XV, and in 1927 at 19 played against the New Zealand Maori side at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park.
He also played for Vancouver and British Columbia against Japan when it toured British Columbia in 1930. Japan considers the game against B.C. as its first official international Test match, since it contained many of Canada's top players.
In 1931 the Canadian government proposed that the Canadian Rugby Union, which had formed in 1929, select a team to tour Japan in order to foster trade links between the two countries.
On January in 1932, a 32-man tour party boarded the Empress of Canada for the two-week voyage to Japan. The team trained by running round the decks, and doing "gymnastic exercises" and after a week's sailing the ship reached Honolulu, Hawaii, where the team went ashore for a heavy training session.
"The ship wasn't a great place for training," Pinkham said. "It was moving around all the time, and we kept losing balls overboard."
The team played seven games over the next three weeks, compiling a 5-2 record, with the two losses coming in the Tests against Japan. Canada lost the first Test 9-8 on a try in the last two minutes and the second 38-5.
Pinkham's best game was a three-try effort against Doshisha University, which Canada won 30-3.
"We were treated royally in Japan. The Canadian government paid for the trip and we didn't want for anything. We stayed at the best hotels, and ate the best food," Pinkham said.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 fans showed up for the Test matches, including nine members of the Japanese royal family. Prince Chichibu, after whom the rugby stadium in Tokyo is named, shook hands with the teams before the final Test.
Pinkham retired from rugby soon after the 1932 tour and took up golf.
The original Canadian Rugby Union disbanded during World War ll, and it took thirty years before another Canadian team toured Britain in 1962.
Pinkham was inducted into British Columbia's Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005.
- Ian Kennedy is a rugby historian and former Rugby Canada press officer.