Lacrosse is one of the oldest organized sports in North America. While at one point it was a field game or ritual played by FIRST NATIONS in Upper Canada, the sport has since branched into four distinct games: men's field lacrosse, women's field lacrosse, box lacrosse, and inter-crosse.
Men's Field Lacrosse
Women's Field Lacrosse
Professional indoor lacrosse is similar to box lacrosse in many ways, including the number of players per side (6), its use of the 30-second clock and the existence of boards surrounding the playing surface. Professional indoor lacrosse is played on a turf carpet.
History of Lacrosse
One of the first Canadian-recorded references to the activity of lacrosse appears in the 1636 journals of Jesuit missionary Jean de BRÉBEUF. While many accounts allege that Brébeuf gave the sport its name based on the fact that the stick resembled a bishop's crosier, Brébeuf's own writings mention nothing of the similarity, nor do they provide enough of a description of the activity to ensure that he is referring to a game of lacrosse as we know it.
Regardless, Brébeuf was not, in fact, the first to make reference to a game of lacrosse. The term appears in the 16th-century text Gargantua, by French satirist François Rabelais. There is, however, no indication that the two activities are related, and since the French term "la crosse" can also mean a club or stick, as in "golf club" and "hockey stick," both Brébeuf and Rabelais could have been referring to any other stick game played at those times. What's more, the similarity of both lacrosse and hockey to the ancient Irish ball-and-stick game of hurling cannot be overlooked.
Lacrosse is the stuff from which legends are made. One of the most famous legends involving lacrosse is PONTIAC's Rebellion of 1763, in which the Ottawa chief reportedly staged a game in order to distract British soldiers and gain entry to FORT MICHILIMACKINAC in what is now Michigan.
In the mid-19th century, English speakers in Montréal, in particular a young dentist named William George BEERS, became interested in the North American Indian pastime. Beers, a strong nationalist, went on to design a set of rules for the game, and replaced the deerskin ball with one of hard rubber. He became known as the father of modern lacrosse.
In 1867, the sport made its first appearance in England, when Captain W.B. Johnson travelled with 18 players, largely from the Iroquois Nation but comprising other bands as well, to play in Fulham, near London. In 1876, Beers and a team of 27 Canadians, including 13 Iroquois, played in front of Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. The Queen wrote in her journal, "The game was very pretty to watch."
Mythology surrounding lacrosse still abounds, particularly with respect to its status as the National Sport of Canada. Beers was so enthralled with the sport that he felt it should be the national game, even though, at the time of Confederation, cricket was the most popular summer sport in the land. In 1867 the dominion's first national sport governing body, the National Lacrosse Association of Canada, was formed, adopting as its motto: "Our Country and Our Game."
While there may not have been any official parliamentary record of lacrosse being proclaimed the national sport of Canada, it was certainly the de facto national sport for many decades. In 1994, however, a zealous hockey fan and Member of Parliament, Nelson Riis, introduced a private member's bill that declared hockey the national sport of Canada. After much debate, the bill was amended to make HOCKEY the official winter sport and lacrosse the official summer sport. The National Sports Act of Canada received royal assent in May of that year.
To many lacrosse fans, however, lacrosse has always been the only national sport -- and always will be. Visitors to the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in New Westminster, BC, will notice that the bronze plaques listing the Hall of Famers continue to be embossed with, "Canada's National Game."
Author BARBARA K. ADAMSKI
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Lacrosse Association
The official website of the Canadian Lacrosse Association.
Living Traditions: Museums Honour the North American Indigenous Games
This extensive multimedia Virtual Museum website showcases the fascinating array of athletic competitions and cultural events staged at the North American Indigenous Games.
The "Canadian Olympians" website offers a searchable images database of Canadian athletes at the Olympics, from the early 1900s through 2002. From Library and Archives Canada.
Ontario Sport Legends Hall of Fame
See brief profiles of outstanding Ontario athletes who have been inducted into the Ontario Sports Legends Hall of Fame.
Native Technology in the Fur Trade
This teacher's guide highlights innovative native technology. From the York Region District School Board.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Lacrosse: A History of Canada's Game
A CBC Archives feature about the history of the game of lacrosse, Canada's official national sport.
Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame
Check out the website for the “Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame” for profiles of prominent personalities in the game of lacrosse.
Check out the sportsnet.ca website for the latest sports news and videos.
Sticks, Balls, and Railway Ties: An Autoethnography on the Research and Writing of the History of Lacrosse
Read the full text of a thesis devoted to the history of the sport of lacrosse. Includes references to lacrosse pioneer W. G. Beers. From the website of Athabasca University Library.
In an incident reminiscent of Todd Bertuzzi, right down to the last name of the victim, Dawson's Norman Watt smashed his stick over Art Moore's head and knocked him unconscious.