|A Short History of Lacrosse in Canada
Lacrosse, which the Native People of North America knew under many different names such as Baggataway or Tewaarathon, played a significant role in the community and religious life of tribes across the continent for untold years. Its origin lost in the antiquity of myth, Lacrosse remains a notable contribution of the Native culture to modern Canadian society. Native Lacrosse was characterized by a deeply spiritual involvement, and those who took part did so with dedicated spirit and with the highest ideals of bringing glory to themselves and their tribes, and honour to the participants and the tribes to which they belonged.
In the 1840s the first games of Lacrosse were played between the townsfolk and the Native People. Though it was many years before any significant wins were logged against the Natives, the game of Lacrosse was quickly winning the loyalty and interest of the newest North Americans. Lacrosse was named Canada's National Game by Parliament in 1859. In 1867 the Montreal Lacrosse Club, headed by Dr. George Beers, organized a conference in Kingston in order to create a national body whose purpose would be to govern the sport throughout the newly formed country. The National Lacrosse Association became the first national sport governing body in North America dedicated to the governance of a sport, the standardization of rules and competition, and the running of national championships to promote good fellowship and unity across the country. The unforgettable motto of the organization was:
"OUR COUNTRY - OUR GAME"
Lacrosse, because of its unique history, exists as a link between the disparate components of Canadian history, First Nations and European Settler. It remains the rare occurrence in which an element of native culture was accepted and embraced by Canadian society. The European concepts of structure and rules were added to the religious and social rituals of the first North Americans, and together produced one of the first symbols of the new Canada, Lacrosse.
The advent of the 20th century saw Lacrosse as the dominant sport in Canada. There were extensive amateur and professional leagues across the country and teams routinely travelled from Quebec and Ontario to B.C. and vice versa to challenge for supremacy in the game. In 1901 Lord Minto, the Governor General of Canada, donated a silver cup to become the symbol of the championship of Canada. The Minto Cup, today the symbol of supremacy in the Junior ranks, remains one of the proudest prizes of Lacrosse. In 1910 Sir Donald Mann, chief architect of the Canadian Northern Railway, donated a gold cup to be awarded to the national amateur senior champion. Today it is the championship prize of the best Senior team in Box Lacrosse in Canada.
The coming of the 1930s brought innovation once again to the sport. Promoters married the two most popular games, Lacrosse and Hockey, and created Indoor Lacrosse, also known as Box Lacrosse or Boxla. The game was built upon speed and action and very quickly won massive support within the organization. By the mid 30's the field game had been completely replaced by Boxla and the box version became the official sport of the Canadian Lacrosse Association.
The Canadian Lacrosse Association today recognizes four separate disciplines in the game of Lacrosse: Box, Men's Field, Women's Field and Inter-Lacrosse. Box Lacrosse is uniquely a Canadian game and is best described as a game of speed and reaction. Men's Field Lacrosse is a game of patience and strategy which focuses on control of the ball. The Women's Field game has stayed truest to the original sport in its play. It is a game based on the skills of passing and ball control. Inter-Lacrosse is a non-contact version of the sport designed to be adaptable to the various age and skill levels of the participants.
Lacrosse was re-confirmed by Parliament as the National (Summer) Sport of Canada in 1994.
Did You Know About Lacrosse
"There is a long history of speculation about where the game of Lacrosse originated, but as Natives of North America, this question has little significance. We do not wonder who invented Lacrosse, or when and where; our ancestors have been playing the game for centuries B for the Creator." (from Tewaarathon, Akwesasne's Story of Our Indian National Game)
The earliest European record of Lacrosse dates back to 1863, when the French missionary, Jean-de-Brébeuf wrote of seeing Native people playing a game with sticks and a ball. He called it Ala crosse because the sticks reminded him of the Bishop’s crozier or Acrosse".
Roots in Aboriginal Culture
Virtually every nation in North America had some form of ball and stick game and each had its own name for the game. The Ojibway played Baggataway while the Mohawk played Tewaarathon. The sport of Lacrosse is a direct descendent of the Mohawk game played outside Montreal. It was there that the first Europeans became involved in the sport, and it was from that form of the game that Dr. George Beers codified the rules of Lacrosse.
Growth in the 1800s
By the end of 1867 there were 80 clubs across Canada. By 1877 there were 11 clubs in Montreal, 7 in Toronto, and more than 100 clubs in towns and communities across Ontario. By 1893 every province of Canada had clubs playing Lacrosse.
One of the first night games to be played under the new "Electric Light" was in August of 1880 at the Shamrock Lacrosse Field in Montreal. This was fully 3 years before the same feat was attained by baseball in the USA. In order to help the fans follow the play, the ball and the players' numbers were coated with phosphorous.
The Olympic Games of 1904 and 1908 included Lacrosse, a very popular sport in Canada, the USA, and England, as part of the program. The Olympics of 1904 was the first Games to which Canada sent a delegation. Records indicate that the first Olympic medal won by Canada was a gold medal in Lacrosse.
Games in the 1880s were commonly attended by 5,000 or more fans, and it was not unusual to see as many as 10,000 at games in the larger cities. In 1910 a Montreal team travelled to New Westminster, BC to challenge for the championship of Canada. The game was attended by more than 15,000 fans. The total population of New Westminster at the time was less than 12,000.
In 1901 Lord Minto, Governor General of Canada, donated to the CLA a silver cup to be the symbol of Lacrosse supremacy in the country. In 1910 Sir Donald Mann, chief architect of the Canadian Northern Railway, donated a solid gold cup for the senior amateur championship of Canada. Both of these trophies remain the pinnacle of success in Canadian Lacrosse. The “Mann” is the Senior AA@ Box championship trophy and the “Minto” Cup is the Junior AA@ Box championship trophy.
Many greats of the golden era of Hockey were also stars and organizers of Lacrosse. In 1908 Cyclone Taylor was paid almost $2,000 to play Lacrosse for the summer with the New Westminster Salmonbellies. In 1917 Newsy Lalonde made more than $3,000 while playing for Vancouver. In WWII, Conn Smythe's 30th Light Anti-aircraft Battery, dubbed "The Sportsmen's Battery" included every member of the Mimico Mountaineers who won the 1941 Mann Cup. Box Lacrosse was created largely at the instigation of Hockey promoters who did not want their arenas to sit idle during the summer months.
Prime Ministerial Players
Two of Canada's most famous Prime Ministers were also well known for their Lacrosse backgrounds. Pierre Trudeau played the game during his school days in Quebec. Lester Pearson played and starred with the Oxford team. Later Mr. Pearson was to become the Honourary Chairman of the Canadian Lacrosse Association, and the lifetime achievement award for the CLA is the Lester Pearson Plaque.
In 1978 a mixture of very experienced Box players and a scattering of experienced Field players represented Canada at the World Championships in England. After suffering a heavy defeat against the US (24-3) in the round robin portion of the tournament, the never-say-die Canadian team defeated the US in overtime in the championship game to become the only country to defeat the US for the World Championship since its reinstatement in the 1960s.