I am a lacrosse mom and spouse of a lacrosse fanatic. We watch lacrosse 11.5 months of the year, breaking only between WLA season end and the start of field lacrosse season and that week at Christmas when it’s not being played in the NLL typically. My cousin plays professionally and I’m so very proud of him. My son’s admiration for his cousin turned into a love of this sport. We have made dear friends from our lacrosse involvement and watched our son’s life improve as he became more and more involved. My son even got to co-host a professional game – it’s been a while journey. It’s really changed our lives for the better. This blog post is an effort to explain the origins of the sport we love.
Lacrosse is an ancient sport in a period of rapid growth. As we look to our neighbours to the south, new leagues are emerging, players are earning income in new ways and games are even being televised more widely. Lacrosse will be played in the 2021 Canada Summer Games. While it was played in the Olympics in 1904 and 1908, the IOC has recently provisionally recognized the Federation of International Lacrosse, paving the way towards full recognition as an Olympic sport. So much is happening with lacrosse in the now, but it’s important to look at where lacrosse came from and acknowledge that in this period of growth.
On May 12, 1994, Lacrosse was declared Canada’s national summer sport in an act of parliament. It was also purported to have been acknowledged by parliament in 1859 as Canada’s National game, though the existence of evidence of this is under discussion. This is a sport with a deep and complex history. While its 150th birthday was celebrated in 2017, its roots go far deeper than that.
“Lacrosse, because of its unique history, exists as a link between these disparate components of Canadian society. It is one of the rare examples of the culture of the First Nations being accepted and embraced by Canadian society,” opines an article on the Canadian Lacrosse Association website.
It wasn’t always called lacrosse, it was “Baggataway” in Algonquin and “Tewaarathon” in Iroquois. It is also referred to as The Medicine Game or the Creators Game. It got its current name through the influence of French settlers who believed lacrosse sticks resembled a Bishop’s staff, a crozier, which in French is called “crosse” – thus “Lacrosse” was born. There are historical references and legends that discuss lacrosse being played in the 1600s and 1700s.
The game was historically used by Indigenous people to settle disputes, to keep “young men fit and strong for both war and hunting…to strengthen diplomatic alliances, support social conformity and economic equality, and honour the gods” and to show gratitude. It was a sport that became a cultural bridge between Indigenous people and settlers, common ground and common love of competition and competition. The desire to recognize this Indigenous history resulted in the Canadian Lacrosse Association’s ‘Honour Our Game Campaign’.
It had an early history of including women which was quite progressive at the time, in rules authored by William George Beers, a dentist and secretary of the National Lacrosse Association. The rules were set forth to standardize the game. The National Lacrosse Association of Canada was also Canada’s first governing body of sport. The Minto and Mann Cups, the junior and senior lacrosse symbols of achievement, originated in the early 1900s, with donations of trophies by Lord Minto and Sir Donald Mann.
Lacrosse has changed over the years, first a game played over spans of even 3 kilometres between nations to a sport played in arenas or on grass fields. It is played in different forms: box lacrosse, field lacrosse, women’s field lacrosse and a game called inter-lacrosse which a variant of lacrosse without contact. The equipment has changed to, from traditional wooden sticks to mainstream, mass-produced sticks with staffs of varying materials, with different iterations and specifications based on the form of lacrosse being played. The pockets of field and women’s field lacrosse vary from those of box lacrosse.
Lacrosse is believed by the Iroquois people as the Creator’s gift to heal the people. Their lacrosse origin story is a legend involving four-legged animals and birds. The history of the belief of Indigenous people that lacrosse can heal has particular significance given the role of the game in The Grizzlies Movie, where a community was able to work to heal themselves through sport, with this ancient belief exemplified by the change observed in a Northern community in more recent times.