Alfred Lafond was born in Quebec to Joseph and Genevieve on March 1, 1849. Alfred married Azilda (b. 1863). In 1883, a daughter was born to the couple. They named her Lodivine. A son, Albert, was born in 1896.
Alfred travelled west when he was in his 50s. It isn’t clear whether his wife and family accompanied him, although Lodivine died in the Lower Mainland (she was married to Henry Joseph Allen).
Lafond first came to the attention of the Vancouver public in 1902.¹ He seems to have landed work as a “hotelkeeper” or manager (not the proprietor) of the Golden Gate Hotel (the building still stands today as an SRO with the Two Parrots bar at street level) at SE corner Granville and Davie Street. Lafond received his 5 seconds of fame that year, with some sort of new board game that he’d invented. I’ll allow the Daily World to explain:
Lafond’s Invention — Alfred Lafond, who resides at the rear of the Golden Gate hotel, Granville Street [at 662 Davie], has invented a game board, which looks likely to ere long become very popular. On the centre of the board are four gongs over a similar number of round holes. A red billiard ball is placed at the head of the table, and the game is played with a white ball. On the right side of the table is a small groove in which the white ball is placed. Then it is struck with a cue and runs up on the board, and descending finds a place in one of the holes or goes below into one of the eight pockets. Should the white ball strike the red one, it counts double. The tally is attached to the board, and the whole affair is unique. Mr. Lafond intends placing the game on exhibition in one of the city stores shortly.
— Vancouver Daily World, 23 June 1902
I don’t know about you, but I find this explanation of the game and its rules to be inscrutable. It seems as though it is a variant of billiards, and I suspect that the ‘board’ would have dimensions near the size of a pool table (and that, presumably, one would place the board atop such a table). What the “gongs” were – they are mentioned but once – is beyond me! A check of Canadian patents did not reveal an application for a patent by Mr. Lafond for this game. I think the Daily World was right: the whole affair was unique (but not necessarily saleable)!
I’m don’t know how long Lafond remained at the Golden Gate, but by 1909 he evidently had moved to a home in a lane-way just off Westminster Avenue (later, Main Street) and had started his own pool hall (Lafond’s Pool Rooms). Perhaps he’d been unsuccessful in getting local shops to accept his new board game, and decided that having his own pool room was the only way to persuade the public of its worthiness. Or perhaps by 1909, he had come to the conclusion that his inventiveness wasn’t so remarkable, and his pool room just had the usual range of games typically found in such an establishment.
His home, interestingly, was located on an alley-way named in his honour. Elizabeth Walker, author of Street Names of Vancouver had this to say about Lafond’s self-named alley:
LAFONDS ALLEY. An unofficial name, only listed in the 1909 city directory, after Alfred Lafond, proprietor of Lafond’s Pool Rooms (909 Westminster Avenue), who lived in Lafond’s Alley, which lay between Prior Street and False Creek on the west side of the present Main Street.
— Elizabeth Walker. Street Names of Vancouver. Vancouver Historical Society, 1999, 67.
I’ve tried in vain to find a photo of Lafond’s Pool Rooms or his alley. The closest I came was the CVA image above showing the 900 block of Main (taken from the rear, apparently) after the major commercial fire that destroyed the Champion and White warehouse in 1912. It is impossible to tell from this image whether or not the properties of Lafond’s alley were damaged in this fire, but I suspect not. My best guess is that the alley-way was a bit north and west of the Champion and White locale and that it ran parallel (in east/west orientation) to what today is called Millross Road (see 1912 Goad’s Insurance Map overlay on the present-day Van Map, shown below).
The only thing that can be said for sure about Lafond’s Alley, in addition to the info offered by Walker, is that there were about four other residents in the lane (according to the 1909 directory): James Haywood (wharfinger), W. Fraser (wharfinger), Michel Carriere (Vancouver city employee), and someone designated only by his surname: Cawss (laborer).
Whether the alley properties were damaged by the 1912 fire (or perhaps redeveloped out of existence shortly afterwards) or not, it is pretty clear that neither Lafond nor his pool establishment stayed for long on Main Street. By 1910, Daily World classified ads indicate that he’d moved to Steveston. Just what took him to Steveston isn’t clear. The classified evidence is summarized below:
- 16 August 1910: FOR TRADE — One good-size mare, which will foal late, sired by one of the best Hackney horses in the country; for a working horse, or will take a good fresh cow. Enquire Alfred Lafond. Steveston, B.C.
- 29 September 1910: FOR SALE — One good second-hand pool table, one box bowling alley new.² A Lafond, Steveston.
- 31 March 1911: FOR SALE — Good second-hand pool table and two pair of guinea hens. Alfred Lafond, Steveston, B.C.
- 25 February 1911: FOR QUICK SALE — Pool table, $100. Alfred Lafond, Steveston, B.C.
By early 1911, Lafond seemed increasingly desperate to sell his pool table (could this have been the same table on which he invented his un-famous board game?). He was probably anxious to sell it because he was getting ready to pull up stakes and leave not only Steveston, but B.C.
The next time we were able to track Alfred, in 1913, he turned up in the town of St. Albert, Alberta . . . deceased. I don’t know what took Lafond to Alberta. He was in his middle 60s by the time of his move; perhaps he was unwell and had gone to stay with a family member in St. Albert (which had a significant french-speaking population).
Azilda Lafond died in Quebec in 1944.
¹There was another A. Lafond in Vancouver, much earlier, evidently (by 1888). This seems to have been an (unrelated?) person named Albert. He appears as a barber and also as a jewelery repairer in early city directories.
²I think it’s safe to say that this was not a game of Lafond’s invention. Similar ads appeared in the 1907-1920s period (mainly in American newspapers). I had no idea of the cost of the ‘one box bowling alley’ until I came across an ad (which may have been self-serving to some extent) of a used version for sale, “new $450” being offered for $75.
This is entirely speculative, but it occurred to me that the miniature bowling alley which once was in St. Philips Anglican Church in Dunbar (and, according to my source, is still present there) might have been of this “one box” variety. Does anyone have further clues on this subject? (A friend who was associated with Chalmer’s Presbyterian Church – as it then was – indicated that when doing renovations of that structure, a not dissimilar bowling feature was there. It is today long gone).
Note: A U.S. patent was sought in 1890 for a “toy bowling alley“. Might this be the one box bowling alley?