Local rugby legend dies

John Cannon starred for Team Canada and overseas

John Cannon (middle) poses with teammates Ryan McWhinney (right) and Brodie Henderson (left) during a rugby tour in France in 2005.

John Cannon (middle) poses with teammates Ryan McWhinney (right) and Brodie Henderson (left) during a rugby tour in France in 2005.

John Cannon packed the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club clubhouse for one final time on Sunday.

Over a hundred people gathered to share stories, pay their respects and have a few beverages in memory of one of the greatest rugby players to ever come out of Abbotsford.

Cannon, who was named to the Abbotsford sports hall of fame in 2011 for his many achievements in rugby, died early on Saturday morning from a suspected heart attack.

He was only 35.

The death has shocked the Abbotsford rugby community, and ARFC president Tyler Adams said the club is still reeling from the news.

“We’re all in complete shock and devastation,” he said. “We’re all saddened by his passing and a lot of people are still in disbelief about it.”

Cannon’s stellar rugby career began while playing for WJ Mouat, Abbotsford Senior and the Abbotsford Rugby Club. He went on to play for Canada’s Under 17 team on tours to England and Germany; Canada’s Under 19 team in France and Wales; andCanada’s Under 23 Pacific Pride Program.

Ryan McWhinney, a member of the ARFC executive, played alongside Cannon with the Pacific Pride Program and wore the maple leaf with him inEuropean tours. He said he was a force on the pitch.

“He was an absolute beast,” McWhinney said. “He had amazing balance and was such a fierce tackler.”

He also played for Canada’s Senior National Team from 2001 to 2007 earning a total of 31 caps, competing in tournaments around the world. Cannon suited up for Canada in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, starting a game against the New Zealand All-Blacks in the tournament.

“Everyone looked up to him,” Adams said. “We were all so proud of how well he had done, coming from Abbotsford and going to the highest levels of the game. Getting to know John, he was a great guy to be around and a lot of fun at practice.His excitement for rugby was infectious.”

John’s professional rugby career began in 2001 playing for England’s Rotherham Rugby club. He moved on to clubs inCoventry and Doncaster all National Division One Clubs in the United Kingdom. In 2004 and 2005 John was named to theNational Division One All-Star team and in 2006 was described by Rugby World Magazine as “perhaps the best centre outside the Premiership in England.”

His career came to an abrupt end in 2007. While attending a soccer game in England, he was the victim of an unprovoked mugging by a soccer hooligan. During the attack, he hit his head on a concrete curb, and was advised by brain specialists not to play rugby again.

Cannon returned to B.C. in 2009 and began a career as a financial planner. More recently, he rejoined ARFC as a coach.Adams said Cannon has been a great part of the club since coming aboard.

“One of the big things that was preached to us in the Pacific Pride Program was to take what we learned and use it to help build up our local clubs,” McWhinney said. “It meant a lot to John to come back to Abbotsford to coach after playing abroad.It showed how much he cared for the community he grew up in.”

Adams said there was no indication of any health issues with Cannon, and that he leaves behind his immediate family and girlfriend.

ARFC plans to honour Cannon in some way, and Adams said he wouldn’t be surprised if there is some sort of province wide or nationwide acknowledgement of his contributions. He said the ARFC division one and division two teams, the clubs thatCannon was helping out with coaching, are both at the top of their leagues, and it would be the perfect way to remember him.

McWhinney said Cannon spoke of wanting to start a foundation to help local players excel in the sport, and would like to see some sort of award at Abbotsford Senior Secondary, where Cannon graduated in 1998.

A celebration of life for Cannon is expected to occur on March 29.

Abbotsford News