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Young field lacrosse players today | © Kasey Eriksen / Flickr
Young field lacrosse players today | © Kasey Eriksen / Flickr
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A Brief History of Lacrosse in Canada

Picture of Hayley Simpson
Writer
Updated: 1 April 2017
Known as Canada’s only official national sport from 1859 to 1994, the game of lacrosse has been in the country since the 17th century. By the turn of the 20th century, it was the most dominant sport in the country. Keep reading to find out more about its history and how it became so popular in Canada.

First Nations beginning

The First Nations, Canada’s indigenous people, were observed playing the game of lacrosse back in the 17th century by European settlers. The Algonquin people named it Baggataway, while the Iroquois Nation called it Tewaarathon. The First Nations played the game for their Creator, as it was a way for them to show their gratitude to the Great Spirit.

The name came from French settlers, who believed the stick looked like a Bishop’s crozier or staff. Crozier in French is “crosse,” which is why they began calling the game La Crosse, and the term obviously stuck. It wasn’t until the 1800s that Montreal residents became interested in the sport, and they began playing games against the First Nations.

1908 Canadian Olympic Lacrosse Team | © Library and Archives Canada
1908 Canadian Olympic Lacrosse Team | © Library and Archives Canada

Our Country, Our Game

Patriot William George Beers is known as the father of modern lacrosse. In the 1860s, he produced a pamphlet that detailed the rules and instructions for the sport. He also replaced the deerskin ball with one made from hard rubber. Dr. Beers’ Montreal Lacrosse Club organized a conference in 1867 to create the National Lacrosse Association (today known as the Canadian Lacrosse Association).

It was North America’s first national sport governing body. Its goal was to standardize rules, organize national championships, and “promote good fellowship and unity across the country,” according to the CLA website. The organization’s motto was “Our Country, Our Game.” By the end of 1867, there were 80 lacrosse clubs operating across Canada.

Playing for the MANN Cup and to become Canada's Senior Men Champions | © Kasey Eriksen / Flickr
Playing for the 2015 MANN Cup and to become Canada’s Senior Men Champions | © Kasey Eriksen / Flickr

Modern lacrosse

At the turn of the 20th century, lacrosse was the most dominant sport in Canada. The CLA now recognizes four separate disciplines: box, men’s field, women’s field, and inter-lacrosse. Box became popular in the 1930s, as teams took advantage of vacant hockey arenas in the summertime. It’s still the most popular form of lacrosse in Canada, whereas Americans have dominated in field lacrosse competitions.

Inter-lacrosse is a newer discipline, which is non-contact and very skill-oriented. “Its main function is to introduce a wide range of young athletes to the skills of lacrosse and to provide an education tool to help develop conditioning and coordination in young athletes,” CLA says.

Young field lacrosse players today | © Kasey Eriksen / Flickr
Young Canadian field lacrosse players today | © Kasey Eriksen / Flickr

National sport

Lacrosse was declared Canada’s national game in 1859. However, in 1994, Canadian Parliament passed Canada’s National Sport Act, which made lacrosse the national summer sport, and hockey the national winter sport. The Canadian Lacrosse Association was formed the same year Canada became a country, so they are both celebrating their 150th birthday in 2017. A three-day festival in June 2017 at McGill University in Montreal, which has a long lacrosse history, will celebrate the sport.