Kinsmen’s Finest: How History is Reigniting Soccer in the North Shore
With over 120 years of history and four previous soccer tenants, League1 BC’s Altitude FC look to keep North Vancouver’s rich soccer tradition alive at their Jones Avenue home.
On a mild fall day in November 2021, three men gathered with a photographer on a beautiful green pitch off of Jones Avenue in North Vancouver. As the marvel that is Grouse Mountain towered over them in the background, the three men – Mark Marshall, Faly Basse, and Paul Riches – stood for photos in preparation for the announcement that they had founded the city’s newest soccer outfit.
As it would be known, Altitude FC would serve as North Vancouver’s addition to the new League1 BC, the semi-pro competition coming to the province in the spring and summer of 2022.
But there was something different about this launch.
Like many of the expansions sides we have seen in recent years within League1 Canada, they tout their intentions of building a club which will rally their community while highlighting local talent. And while Altitude did this too, they also focused quite a bit on the history of their community and, more specifically, the soccer history of their home turf, Kinsmen Field.
The Greatest North Shore Team, Ever?
The title of ‘Best Team in the Dominion’ is a hard one to live up to. Nearly 100 years ago, a group of men from North Vancouver survived through the First World War, the Great Depression, and then the Second World War all the while fielding perhaps one of the greatest soccer clubs Canada had seen to that point.
North Shore United was the area’s adult club, competing in the national soccer league hosted by the Dominion of Canada Football Association. Their woes were always exacerbated by the uneasy socio-economic realities around them, which made their continuous success all the more impressive. For example, in the run up to their eventual championship title in 1936, the club had to raise $500 (equivalent to $10,500 today) of difficult-to-come-by Depression dollars in order to pay their wages and last minute travel to Winnipeg for a tournament they thought they would be hosting.
Flash forward 87 years, and Mark Marshall, the aforementioned co-founder of Altitude FC, says that when the idea of fielding a team in League1 BC came up, they knew they had big shoes to fill.
When they began brainstorming this new team, Altitude’s three founders knew they needed to create an identity which represented the North Shore, the people, and its history. The idea was to create a club which reflected the people whom it was playing for.
When asked where the idea for ‘Altitude FC’ came from, Marshall explained that it was not necessarily their first choice:
“We had actually proposed a different name that was more tied to the older soccer history of Kinsmen [Field] and the community,” he says. That name, you may ask? None other than North Shore United itself; a revival of the once famed crest and brand.
He adds that, even beyond the history and prestige that came with reappropriating the NSU name, using the name ‘United’ as a short hand is a tried-and-true brand within the world of football. It immediately evokes images of Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex Fergusson with Manchester United, but even closer to home clubs like York United or Guelph United are two stand-outs as well.
In his eyes, the ‘United’ moniker would have made it easy for the local fan base to connect and relate to the new club all the while conveying a sense of renown and esteem.
Sadly, even with the mountains of research (pun intended) done by club staff like Marshall into the North Shore’s rich soccer history, ultimately prior branding research done by the league won out with the licensee being dubbed Altitude FC.
And though they has been pleasantly surprised with how the Altitude brand has been received, Marshall knows that there are other ways to connect his team to the community, namely through their use of Kinsman Field.
Kinsmen Is Our Home
In our conversation, Kinsmen was described to me as a staple of the North Shore, a symbol of its past, and a rallying place for the community.
With previous tenants including the aforementioned North Shore United, NorVan FC, the North Shore Colts, and the WPSL’s North Shore Girls SC, the region has been hearing the sounds cheering fans emerge from the famed grandstands on-and-off for nearly a century.
However, following a disastrous fire in the 1970’s which burnt down said grandstands, the pitch has seen little in the way of a facelift. With a cap of 700 spectators alongside only two dressing rooms needed for five teams at any given Altitude home game (home men’s and women’s, away men’s and women’s, plus a referee squad), some much needed TLC is long overdue.
Though the dream exists of one day rebuilding a more permanent seating structure to return Kinsmen to its former glory, due to the financial realities of D3 soccer in this country, any sort of capital investments into Kinsmen will need to be a joint venture led by the city.
But even in its current form, Marshall does believe in Kinsmen and how it can be a fantastic home for his franchise. With the bleachers only mere meters away from the action – unburdened by extra features like a running track – fans can experience the beautiful game in a way that is impossible at many other facilities.
On top of this, it is one of the few pro or pro-am soccer pitches in Canada that sport an all-grass playing surface, something that Marshall notes is normally reserved for MLS clubs or the National Teams.
“It’s wonderful, it’s probably one of the most intimate home fields in League1BC… and I’d put it up against any field in [League1] Canada”, adding that its grass pitch and the monumental effort put on by the club and their volunteers to ready it for game day make it a great place to play and watch soccer.
“There is a lot of competition… it’s our goal to establish ourselves”
Going into the 2023 season, while I have argued in the past that Altitude FC have very much punched above their weight off the pitch, the club does still believes that there is much work needed to take it to the next level.
While the historical connections Altitude have been making to Kinsmen and the clubs which preceded them have developed a foundation for that communal link, he believes that other aspects of the club still need to be put out there, namely the players.
“We have a lot of great characters on our team,” Marshall said, “we need to show these characters to the outside world… we want the fans to connect with them on a human level.”
Additionally, explicitly making reference to the recent TV deal between Rogers TV Barrie and the Simcoe County Rovers, he is hoping that Altitude can themselves also get coverage in the coming season both in local newspapers and online news sites. Ideas floated included weekly reports about Altitude FC matches, highlight reels, and player interviews.
Ultimately, the goal is to make an Altitude FC home game an event for all, no matter if you’re a die hard soccer or someone who knows nothing at all about the sport
“We wanna be a fun, local event [where] anybody feels comfortable coming to the match” whether you are a soccer ‘aficionados’ or not, and that you “leave at the end of the day thinking ‘that was a good experience’.”
And although he knows it will be an uphill battle going up against the likes of the Whitecaps, WFC2 in MLS Next Pro, Vancouver FC, and all the other entertainment products in Metro Vancouver, Marshall does feel that his team offers something that the others can: authenticity.
“There is a lot of competition out there for your entertainment dollar, so to make yourself stand out you have to be genuine. It’s our goal to establish ourselves as a true community club.”
For now, the field patiently waits. As the municipality takes care of the grass and readies it for public usage this coming May, work continues behind the scenes at Altitude HQ to honour the past while building the future. Recently, the City of North Vancouver erected a plaque outside of Kinsmen Field as part of a public instalment showcasing its venerable soccer history – one which now includes Altitude FC.
Altitude FC’s second season begins on April 30th vs Rivers FC with their home opener coming a few weeks later on May 28, when they host newcomers Harbourside FC in front of what they hope will be a sellout crowd.
Authors Note: I would like to thank Altitude FC and the Museum and Archives of North Vancouver for providing the images within this piece and for having graciously allowed me to explore their archived history of North Shore soccer while researching for this piece.