Revisiting the rebrand of the Salsa to the Grizzlies


It’s been fifteen seasons since the Victoria Salsa rebranded as the Victoria Grizzlies. In those fifteen seasons, the team has seen many star players play for the team.

Players like Jamie and Jordie Benn, Tyler Bozak, Tyson Barrie, and Alex Newhook have all gone on to play in the National Hockey League. Some may have started as Salsa but several of them finished as Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies have also experienced many highlights. In 2009, the Grizzlies hosted the RBC Cup and recently, they won the Island Pod championship in the Port Alberni pod.

The Victoria rebrand was part of a series of team rebrands in the last three decades. BCHL teams like the Vernon Lakers became the Vipers and the Langley Chiefs became the Rivermen.

While the rebrand didn’t take effect until 2006-07, the Salsa formally announced it in August 2005. In a press conference at Bear Mountain Resort, several changes were announced.

In this article, I want to review that press conference. What happened, who was involved, and how it related to the team. I also want to look at the impacts that came from that announcement. Before that, I want to talk about the origin of the Salsa name.

When Victoria joined the league in 1994, the team’s owners were the Kowalko family. At the time, the Kowalko’s owned every Taco Time restaurant on Vancouver Island. When picking the team’s name, they wanted something “different, and highly marketable”.

The reaction to the name was mixed. While some liked it, others did not.

Bob Cross, who was the mayor of Victoria at the time, thought the Salsa name was more appropriate for a city like Tijuana, Mexico, or Tucson, Arizona.

Enter Len Barrie

In February 2004, the Salsa moved into the team’s current home at The Q Centre (then called Bear Mountain Arena). Len Barrie joined the ownership group 19 months later.

Barrie is a former professional hockey player whose playing career took him everywhere from Philadelphia to Frankfurt to Florida. After retiring from playing, he became a real estate developer and his signature project was Bear Mountain Resort in Langford.

At a press conference at Bear Mountain Resort, Barrie announced he was joining the Salsa ownership group. At that same press conference, they announced the name change.

Majority owner Mark Wagstaff spoke about the name change in a news release put out by the BCHL at the time. “It was a unique name, but it’s run its course. This is a step up to something new. The nice thing about this name is you can work so many things off it. It’s pretty hard to put a mascot together for a Salsa.”

When Barrie told his friends about his involvement in the team, they all had one reaction. “You’re going to change the name, right? It’s important that kids like the name.”

Immediate impacts

As stated above, the rebrand took effect for the 2006-07 season. It was announced too late to take effect for the 2005-06 season. Despite that, the minor hockey association in the area did have time to change its team names.

At that same press conference, it was announced that all Juan de Fuca MHA teams would adopt the Grizzlies name, colors, and logo.

That change came from Barrie’s involvement. He said the ownership group is buying all new jerseys for the minor hockey players. Barrie also mentioned the Salsa hadn’t had new jerseys in a dozen years. “They’ll actually be putting on jerseys that don’t have holes in them.”

One of Barrie’s motives was wanting players to have the best of everything when they came to Victoria.

The name lives on

Despite helping introduce the name, Barrie later left the Grizzlies ownership group as well as Bear Mountain Resort. Several legal disputes prompted his exit from the Grizzlies and the resort.

Along with Barrie, there have been several ownership changes over the years. Mark Wagstaff left the ownership group after the 2014-15 season. Despite the changes at the top, the team still plays in Victoria and still calls itself the Grizzlies.

The name has outlasted every other BC Hockey League team that came before it, whether it was the Cougars, Capitals, Whalers, Warriors, or Salsa. The Grizzlies’ name has staying power, and it doesn’t appear that will change any time soon.