Chapter 6 Case Studies in the Growth and Institutionalization of Sport: Lacrosse and Baseball



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1 Chapter 6

Case Studies in the Growth and Institutionalization of Sport:

Lacrosse and Baseball
Lacrosse and baseball provide an excellent window forthrough which we can viewing the specific ways that sport became patterned and established in the period following Confederation and up to almost the end of the twentieth century. In many ways, the development of these two sports represents the efforts of a new nation to achieve distinction. Whereas cricket was distinctively rooted in Great Britain, lacrosse and baseball were more colonial. While there is some overlap in the periods of popularity of baseball and lacrosse, it was the latter sport that first reached a crescendo of Canadian interest in the decades following Confederation and subsequently dwindled in its allure and allegiances right around the First World War I. Baseball gathered sporadic momentum just prior to the turn of the twentieth century and all -but replaced lacrosse in cross-Canada enthusiasm by the 1920s and 1930s. For both sports, the emphasis in this chapter is on rise to popularity within the context of their sporting times. Similarly, both sports are selected in order to illustrate how a way of playing a sport was shaped into the way of playing— - in short, how these sports becamewere institutionalized in Canada.

The Native Game1


There is a powerful depiction by the American artist George Catlin (1796–-1872) of lacrosse in the early nineteenth century that conveys a distinct and profound image of the Aboriginal origins of the game. Catlin’s painting shows hundreds of athletic-looking Natives engaging in a ball-and-stick game; but more significantly, it evokes the motion and struggle of these early contestants. There were some 40forty variations of lacrosse— - also known as or baggataway or tewaarathon— - engaged in by Ojibwa, Choctaw, Mohawk, Seneca, Cherokee, Huron, Iroquois, and other tribes at least as early as the first North American explorers observed them. The best evidence indicates that inter-tribal contests were rare, perhaps because of the subtle differences in playing forms, but more likely because of the purpose of Aboriginal lacrosse: the games were ritual affairs.2 Ceremoniously dressed in colourful,
plumed head-dresses, decorated with iridescent paint, and wearing elaborate bead-work belts, Native players contested to honour a fallen warrior3, paralleling in purpose the funeral games for Patroclus in Homer’s The Iliad, or for medicinal purposes, to bring a sick person back to health. The games often lasted for days and required tremendous skill and endurance.

Although lacrosse was perceived by early missionaries and travellers to be crude and dangerous, and despite the seemingly chaotic appearance of the game, modern research has emphasized the ritualistic nature of the contests, the skills required, and the emphasis on values such as discipline, leadership, physical skill, physical conditioning, and tribal unity.4 Most often a single racket about one metre long was used, but in a few tribes the contestants carried one stick in each hand. In either case the top end of these hickory sticks was bent over to form a small hoop or crook that was netted with leather thongs. The hoop of the stick was only large enough to hold the ball, which was made of wood or buckskin and stuffed with hair. The Indian name of the game alluded to the ball, but the Europeans in Canada named it for the stick, calling it ‘la crosse’ because the stick resembled a bishop’s crosier.5

The form of the early stick suggests that lacrosse as played by the Natives must have been more of a running than a passing game. The object was to drive the ball through two sets of poles or posts erected at each end of the field, affording prime occasions for wagering on the outcome6 - —a significant aspect of the sport that was inherited by European settlers in the nineteenth century. By far the most notorious and most repeated account of early lacrosse concerns a contest witnessed by Alexander Henry during the Pontiac Rrebellion of the 1760s and described in his Travels and Adventures in Canada (1809). The game in question was played between the Chippewa and the Sauk at Fort Michilimackinac on the occasion of the birthday of George IIIthe Third’s birthday, 4 June 1763. The two teams conspired to use the contest to mask an intended attack on the British fort. Having drawn the officers out of the fort to view the game, at a prearranged signal Ojibwa charged the fort, killed over 70seventy soldiers, and took many others-—including Alexander Henry—-prisoner.6 The massacre and capture of the fort are a major feature of the folklore and history of lacrosse, and very likely perpetuated the idea that Indian lacrosse was brutal.

The Montreal Gazette on 1 August 1833, carriesd the earliest newspaper reference to lacrosse in a report on an all-Indian game that represented merely one element of an initiation ceremony for five new chiefs.7 The best-known and most visible Native centres of lacrosse in British North America were the Caughnawaga (Iroquois) reserve near Montreal and the St Regis (Mohawk)[confusing parallel between Iroquois and Mohawk, since Mohawks are Iroquois—shouldn’t these both be one or the other?good catch, use Iroquois for both] reserve near Cornwall. Although there were some attempts to package the Indian sport for white spectatorship in the mid- 1830s, there are no records of non-Natives playing lacrosse until the Montreal ‘Olympic’ Games match in 1844.8 The major thrust to competitive lacrosse came with the formation of the Montreal Lacrosse Club (MLC) in 1856.



The Montreal Lacrosse Club and the ‘National’ Game


In the early years of the MLC, members met in the field behind St James the Apostle Church, piled their surplus clothes in a heap, and played a lacrosse match among themselves before breakfast. The bond linking the men was their joint membership in, and enthusiasm for, the activities of both the Montreal Snow Shoe Club (MSSC) and the MLC.9 Although there are no formal records of matches, it seems likely that the formation of the MLC was prompted by sporadic games during the 1840s and 1850s between MSSC members and the Caughnawagas. The MLC’s leadership in the game is evident in an 1858 photograph, the first one taken of a non-Aboriginal lacrosse team.10 The stick is seen to be of floor-to-shoulder length, but the major change from the Aboriginal style of racket was a much larger hoop or crook at the top and a greatly increased expanse of interwoven thongs (made from rawhide, gut, or clock strings) to form a flat surface of stringing some 20twenty centimetreers wide at the top and tapering down to the shaft about one-third of the length of the stick. Clearly this transformed lacrosse
stick signalled major changes, such as an increased emphasis on passing the ball, for example, in the game itself.

Before 1860 there were no established playing rules. Instead, rules were understood among devotees; playing conditions and standards of acceptable conduct were mutually agreed upon by participants before a match. With only three non-Native clubs in Montreal— - the MLC, the Hochelaga (1858), and the Beaver (1859)11 - —rule formalization was not deemed necessary. In fact, the social aspect of getting together and playing the early games seemed to be stronger than the interest in winning.12 A noticeable injection of enthusiasm for the game and its standardization resulted from the visit to Canada of the Prince of Wales and his entourage in August 1860. Newspapers followed his every move. Upon his arrival in Montreal he was ushered into the grounds shared by the Montreal Cricket and Lacrosse Clubs to witness a ‘Grand Display of Indian Games.’.13 The ‘games’ were actually two lacrosse contests sandwiched between an introductory Indian war dance and a concluding Indian foot -race. Featured in the first lacrosse match were an Iroquois team and an Algonkian team, with 30 players a side. But the special event of the day - —for which the Prince asked that the first contest be halted! - —was a game between 25 selected Natives and 25 ‘gentlemen players of Montreal.’. The Prince of Wales medal was eventually awarded to the Native team.14

More important than the event itself was the subsequent publication of the first lacrosse rules in a brochure entitled ‘The Game of Lacrosse.’.15 Advertised in Montreal newspapers, beginning on 15 September 1860,16 it contained notes on the construction of a stick, sketches on methods of throwing and catching the ball, tactical points on checking, dodging, and goal-keeping, and a set of eight playing rules set out as follows:


1. No swiping is allowed.

2. No tripping, holding, or any such unfair play is allowed.

3. Throwing the ball with the hand is prohibited, though if in a struggle, and opponents around, it may sometimes be kicked with the foot.

4. Picking up the Bball with the hand is not allowed, except in extreme cases, where the Crosse cannot get it, such as in a hole, etc.

5. After every game the players change sides, unless the players who tossed up agree otherwise.

6. If a ball flung at the goal is caught by the ‘goal-keeper’ but breaks through his Crosse and enters the goal, it is in. Or, if a player of either side puts the ball in by accident, it is game for the party who were attacking that goal.

7. In facing, neither of the ‘facers’ shall attempt to gain the ball till ‘three’ is counted.

8. When a player is posted in a certain position, he must remain there, unless a favourable chance presents itself for him to leave it, and then he should return to his former position.17

These ‘rules,’ which obviously left a great deal to the imagination, reflect not only an initial attempt to formalize the sport but an embryonic stage of lacrosse development.

Before 1867, lacrosse was played on fields of varying dimensions (some were almost a kilometre in length) with teams that fluctuated between 10 and 60 players. Goal-posts with no cross bar or net, often surmounted with a single pennant or ‘flag,’, were planted in the ground at either end. With the transformation of the stick in the 1850s, lacrosse moved away from the mass attacks of the Native running game and became more of a passing game that emphasized team-work and positional play. Goals were likely infrequent since a match was won when the first goal was scored. (A goal in the terminology of the time was a ‘game’.) From all accounts spectator interest was minimal and the sport was confined to a triangular region bounded by Montreal, Cornwall, and Ottawa.

Expansion of the sport was inspired almost single-handedly by a Montreal dentist, Dr William George Beers. In 1861, lacrosse boasted nine clubs in Montreal, but the American Civil War dampened the spread and development of the game until Beers undertook the task himself. Born in Montreal in 1843, he attended Phillips School and Lower Canada College and was apprenticed to a Dr. Dickenson to complete his formal education in dentistry.18 A product of Montreal’s burgeoning sport environment during the 1840s and 1850s, Beers was picked as one of the goalkeepers for the match played before the Prince of Wales, and under the pseudonym ‘Goal-keeper’ he wrote the 1860 brochure. An ardent patriot, he was one of the founders of the Victoria Rifles Volunteers militia unit, formed during the Fenian Rraids of the early 1860s, and recruited members of the Montreal and Beaver lacrosse clubs. He retired from military service in 1881 with the rank of Captain.19

George Beers’s propagandizing of things Canadian was clearly in evidence during the decade of Confederation. By 1865 he had published three articles in popular magazines – —‘A Rival to Cricket,’, ‘The Voyageurs of Canada,’, and ‘Canada in Winter’— - all with distinct national themes.20 Within the dental profession he founded and published the Canadian Journal of Dental Science, the first attempt at dental journalism in Canada. Unquestionably, George Beers adopted a leadership posture in his vocation and avocation, and in the latter respect he was nothing short of a ‘flaming lacrosse evangelist’.21 Capitalizing on the nationalistic fervour of Confederation year, Beers provided several stimuli towards the expansion of lacrosse. In Montreal newspapers, for example, he wrote several articles under the banner ‘The National Game,’, in which he argued the merits of lacrosse over the imported, revered sport of cricket22 (see Chapter 10X). Beers was responding to an article published one day earlier under the pseudonym ‘Stumps.’, who The latter had argued that cricket alone, an established sport of the British upper classes in Canada, deserved to be heralded as the new Dominion’s national game. Beers’s lengthy response was uncharacteristically mild, very likely because he was in the throes of attempting to nationalize lacrosse by riding the crest of pro-Confederation enthusiasm.

In the spring of 1867, there were about 10ten lacrosse clubs in Canada; by the end of October there were 80eighty, with some 2,000 members, and Beers was the catalyst for this expansion. On 1 July 1867, the MLC adopted 17 rules as the official ‘Laws of Lacrosse;’; drawn up by Beers and published in the Montreal Gazette on 17 July 1867, they were made available for sale through that newspaper’s offices. The publication and dissemination of these seventeen rules hadwas a crucial impactfactor ion the evolution of the sport. Uniformity of playing regulations is a hallmark of modern competitive sport, and common rules are the very foundation on which the spread of any sport depends. Beers’s new ‘Laws of Lacrosse’ standardized the number of players at 12, the nature of the ball (India rubber), playing positions, the use of umpires (quasi-referees), and the method for determining the outcome of a match (best 3 out of 5 ‘games’ or goals, instead of the previously unpredictable system of ‘first goal wins’). Beers’s rules provided an instant recipe for competition; all that was lacking was a competitive structure.

In 1867, Beers and the members of the MLC prompted lacrossists in the Montreal, Cornwall, Ottawa, and Toronto areas to attend a lacrosse convention in Kingston, Ontario,23 in order to adopt formally a common code of playing rules and to organize a national association to promote and perpetuate lacrosse as the national sport of Canada. Kingston, a central location, was strategic in Beers’s conscious effort to expand the sport outside Montreal; it was also the site of the Provincial Exhibition. The Kingston Lacrosse Club issued an official invitation and 52 delegates representing 27 clubs assembled in Kingston’s Temperance Hall on 26 and 27 September 1867. One of the major outcomes of this convention was the formation of Canada’s first sport governing body, the National Lacrosse Association (NLA), with a mandate to administer the sport by codifying and enforcing rules, and to encourage all clubs to join the Association.24 A detailed constitution was drafted and published verbatim in several newspapers, including the Montreal Gazette on 15 October 1867.

Without question, the formation of the NLA was a brilliant stroke of promotional strategy that resulted almost immediately in the proliferation of lacrosse clubs in Quebec and Ontario. In Toronto alone, 13 new clubs - —the Maple Leaf, the Osgoode, the Toronto, the Ontario, and several military teams - —were formed and playing within one month of the convention.25 Thus the two major urban centres in Canada embraced lacrosse and effectively secured its future. Montrealers figured prominently in the executive of the NLA since the inveterate snowshoer, Nicholas ‘Evergreen’ Hughes (a founding member of the MSSC in 1843), was elected president and Beers was elected to the central administrative position of secretary-treasurer. Another testament to Beers’s recognized organizational efficiency was the virtual adoption of his ‘Laws of Lacrosse’ with only minor modifications, such as the appointment of a referee in matches and the standardization of field length to a minimum of 150 yards (approximately 137 metreers).

 In effect, the establishment of the NLA constituted an overt attempt to popularize a particular sport, at a time when sport in general was the preserve of the upper classes. Moreover, the NLA was part of Beers’s drive to enshrine lacrosse as Canada’s national game. He claimed repeatedly that lacrosse had been sanctified as Canada’s national game by an Act of Parliament, and this came to be believed. For example, Henry Roxborough, in The Story of Nineteenth-Century Canadian Sport (1966), declared: ‘Lacrosse is especially linked with Confederation Year, for the Dominion’s first parliament had proclaimed it to be Canada’s national game.’26 However, nowhere in the Dominion’s first parliamentary session is lacrosse even mentioned. And no Montreal or Toronto newspaper in 1867 reports such a proclamation or enactment. The 1894 edition of the Dictionnaire Canadien-Francais stated that lacrosse became the national game of Canada on 1 January 1859.27 Beers wrote a book on the sport, entitled Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada (1869),28 in which he made the following claim:

I believe that I was the first to propose the game of lacrosse as the national game of Canada in 1859; and a few months preceding the proclamation of Her Majesty, uniting the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, into one Dominion, a letter headed ‘Lacrosse - —Our National Field Game’ published by me in the Montreal Daily News, in April, 1867, was printed off and distributed throughout the whole Dominion, and was copied into many of the public papers.29
Beers was only 16sixteen years old in 1859. Furthermore, in a year when only three lacrosse clubs, all in Montreal, were known to exist, it seems unlikely that such an Act would have been considered. The Canadian Parliamentary Proceedings and Sessional Papers and the Journals of the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada reveal that Parliament was not even in session in either January or July 1859 and that no mention of lacrosse was made in those publications during the entire year. As for the 1867 letter, only selected issues of the April 1867 editions of the Daily News could be located; but every April and May issue of the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Herald, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Toronto Globe were combed, to no avail, to ferret out Beers’s letter-to no avail. No sporting contests at all were mentioned by the Globe and the Gazette in April 1867. Considering that the British Parliament passed the Act to create the Dominion of Canada on 29 March 1867, April would have been a good month to begin such a publicity campaign. All research30 suggests that any such campaign must have been by word-of-mouth only, or was a figment of Beers’s fervent imagination.

Beers, it would seem, invented the whole national-game concept, which nevertheless managed to gain acceptance by a kind of consensual validity: if something is claimed to be true enough times, it is often accepted as truth - —then and now. By late 1867, the sport was indeed surrounded by a ‘national’ aura; for example, the formation and acceptance of the name National Lacrosse Association had its own connotation; and the Association’s provision of a banner for ‘championship’ play bore the slogan ‘Our Country and Our Game.’.31





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