Lacrosse, together with hockey, shares recognition as one of Canada’s two official National sports. Its origins date back hundreds of years. Lacrosse has had lasting influence on the culture of the province of Ontario. Ontario has, by far, the largest and most active number of registered participants of an organized lacrosse body in Canada. Even though there is a Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the number of annual Inductees is limited by a quota and thus there are many deserving of recognition who will never be inducted.
The need for the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame & Museum is not limited to having a place to recognize Ontario lacrosse greats. There is a need to recognize, display and educate Ontario residents and all our visitors to the historical, cultural and athletic influences Lacrosse has had in Ontario.
In 1992, a core group of recognized and dedicated Ontario lacrosse people initiated the development of the Hall of Fame & Museum. With the support of the Ontario Lacrosse Association and whole hearted backing of the Ontario Lacrosse Community, a Hall of Fame Steering Committee was formed. The ultimate goal of this group was the creation of a permanent facility to house the Hall of Fame and Museum.
Written and Presented by Dustin Moore of Markham, Ontario
Student at Acadia University, Nova Scotia
Lacrosse in Canada has seen a tremendous uproar over the past decade, but the history of the game dates far beyond the recent success. Lacrosse has its roots firmly placed in Canada and has grown from a Native pastime to a televised spectacle filled with incredible athletic ability and toughness. Lacrosse was re-confirmed by Parliament as the National summer Sport of Canada in 1994. Today, the Canadian Lacrosse Association recognizes four separate disciplines in the game of lacrosse: Box, Men’s Field, Women’s Field and Inter-Lacrosse. Box Lacrosse may be the most widely played lacrosse game now in Ontario and is a uniquely Canadian game that is best described as a game of speed and reaction (www.lacrosse.ca, 2002).
Lacrosse was first played by the Natives of Canada. The native roots of the game are fairly diverse. There were many different variations of the game amongst the different tribes. Tribes like the Mohawk, Seneca, Cherokee and Ojibwa were seen playing lacrosse when the North American explorers arrived. The name lacrosse was first coined by the Europeans, naming it “La Crosse” after a bishop’s crosier. Lacrosse was also know as “Baggataway” and “Tewaarthon” by different Native tribes (Morrow,1989). The name Baggataway was derived from the Ojibwa word for ball. Interestingly, the Europeans named the game after the stick and sometimes called it Racket (Salter, 1995). The end result would see lacrosse become the official name of the sport.
Today, many consider lacrosse to be a violent sport. However, the ritualistic view of the Natives emphasized the benefits of the physical abuse. The Natives firmly believed that lacrosse was closely tied to leadership, discipline and the physical conditioning (Morrow, 1989).The physical game aided in the development of the players becoming stronger, faster and with improved hand-eye coordination. These skills were valuable as the men could be better hunters and be stronger warriors in case of battle. These cultural beliefs and the sheer joy of the game made lacrosse one of the favourite pastimes of the Natives. The game quickly spread across the tribes and eventually the Nation (Mott, 1989).
In the early days of Canada, the migration of Europeans to Canada was happening at a fairly rapid pace as Canada was becoming colonized. Immigration changed the lives of the natives and the influence of the Europeans would also take its toll on lacrosse. The Europeans were fascinated by the game and became active participants. The Europeans brought with them their own set of ideals and ways of living, which were not similar to the intense spiritual beliefs of the natives. This resulted in the game of Lacrosse becoming less spiritual and ritualistic and the game began to be more of a show. The value of the game increased as lacrosse became an important part of the economy for trading and gambling. Lacrosse also became led to increased trade routes and European-native contact. The Europeans also influenced the structure of the game as they introduced different types of sticks and balls and other different pieces of equipment (Salter, 1995).
The first official non-native display of lacrosse was said to have been from the Montreal Lacrosse Club in 1856. Following in suit were two other non native teams, the Hochelaga in1858 and the Beaver in 1859. There were no written rules for the game at this point, but that would soon change. In 1860, the first eight rules of lacrosse were introduced. The major infractions included tripping, holding and no touching the ball with the hand. These and other rules added clarification to the game. The game was progressing at a fantastic rate, but the American Civil war would slow the growth for a while (Morrow,1989).
The renewed interest in Lacrosse during the civil war came largely due to the work of one man. George Beers, a Montreal dentist, published several articles with strong national themes about lacrosse. One article titled “The National Game” was his most blatant push to tie the game to growth of confederation. Beers also wrote the 17 laws of lacrosse, in 1867, which the MLC adopted. His enthusiasm and advertising for the game relit the interest in lacrosse and got the game growing again (Morrow,1989).
Lacrosse continued to grow, yet there was no governing body for the sport. A convention was held in Kingston, Ontario in 1867 in order to codify the rules from one area to another. The major result of the convention was not only the codification of the rules, but also the formation of the National Lacrosse Association. The following years saw the game grow and expand. Competition was becoming a much larger part of the game than ever before as the skills were improving and the game was now attracting large crowds. Lacrosse was becoming so popular that it was used as a way of recruiting immigrants to Canada, as a team toured Europe in 1883. The tour was not only selling the game, but also selling the country (Morrow,1989).
As the game continued to grow in popularity, the structure surrounding the game also had to improve. The first league in Canadian Lacrosse came in 1885 with formation of the National Lacrosse Union. The NLU started with 4 teams, the Ontario’s, Toronto and the Montreal AAA’s and Shamrocks. The first season was short and consisted of double play round robin with teams playing each other once at home and once on the road. In 1886, Cornwall entered the league and the schedule increased to 12 games with a 3 game round robin. Lacrosse was expanding at a tremendous rate, especially in southern Ontario (Dundas,2002).
Many teams would enter and the exit the league over the coming years. However, some teams have successfully made it to present day. A team such as the Brampton Excelsiors, which were founded by TW Duggan in 1870, has survived the long haul. As competition grew stronger between Ontario and Quebec the game of lacrosse continued to expand. In 1887, the Ontario teams formed their own league called Canadian Lacrosse Association (Morrow, 1989).The league consisted of senior and intermediate divisions which could compete with the NLU. Two of the major teams (Toronto and Ontario’s) left the NLU to join the senior loop of the CLA. This would be a major loss to the NLU, but the league would survive (Dundas,2002).
In eastern Ontario, the teams from Ottawa along with Cornwall and Brockville were striving at the Canadian game. In southern Ontario, St.Catherines and Brantford had become dominant forces and they would start a long legacy of lacrosse in their respective towns. In 1900 the NLU was the only active league, but more significantly this year also marked the debut of the Minto Cup. The Earl of Minto was the Governor General of Canada. He donated the trophy that would represent Canadian lacrosse supremacy (Morrow, 1989). The first winner of the Minto Cup was the Ottawa Capitals. The following year the CLA was alive again as it made a triumphant revival with 7 teams rejoining the league (Dundas,2002).
In 1902, the Minto Cup became a much more valuable prize. In the previous years the Minto was only contested by Ontarians, but with the introduction of challengers from the west, the prize would be much more difficult to obtain. The game was once again progressing at a rapid pace and competition was becoming more intense. The growth saw the arrival of a senior team in Oshawa and Port Hope in 1903. Oshawa would grow to be a major lacrosse center in Canada and continues to be so today. The competition also sprouted new rules, such as the allowance of 3 imports per team to help the local teams gain the advantage over their rivals. By 1905 the competition had gone to the point where players were offered money. Montreal A.A.A. was the first to announce that they would pay players, spelling the end of the amateur era.
Lacrosse had now become a professional sport and with the professional status came a new trophy for the national champion. The Mann Cup was donated by railway entrepreneur Sir Donald Mann (Morrow,1989). The Young Toronto’s would be the first to win the CLA with its professional status and they would be honoured with the Mann Cup in 1910 (Powers, 2002). The Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) would continue to recognize the national amateur champion and the winner would still be given the Minto Cup (Dundas,2002).
The growth of lacrosse even sparked the interest of several athletes who were well established in other sports such as hockey. Notably, a well established hockey player would now establish himself in the lacrosse world. Newsy Lalonde, from Cornwall, would quickly be recognized as an offensive threat, much like he was in hockey (Lanken,1984). Lalonde set the record with 31 goals in his first season and would continue to dominate through out his career. Lalonde was later named the player of the half century. The transition of professional athletes between hockey and lacrosse would be a frequent affair from this point forward. Many great NHL players such as Lalonde, Conacher and more recently Adam Oates would make their mark in both hockey and lacrosse (Dundas, 2002).
The next several years would slow for the game in Ontario. In 1912 NLU split and formed Dominion Lacrosse Union. Lacrosse would soon be heavily influenced by the war as lacrosse would see a rapid decline like many other sports. The decline may have also been due to the low revenue from the games, as the fans were to spread out to attend (Morrow, 1989). For some cities the damage done during this slow period was irreversible. The city of Montreal would be one the most effected and would never truly regain its passion for lacrosse (Dundas,2002).
The slow times of the economy continued to hinder lacrosse. Although the Mann Cup was a valuable prize, teams could not always afford to travel from Ontario to British Colombia to compete for the prize. This led to teams winning the championship several years in a row, such as the New Westminster Salmonbellies, who held the prize from 1920 until 1926 (Power, 2002). It was decided in 1926 that the Mann cup would be held in Ontario and would then alternate from east to west each year to ensure that a true national champ would be crowned (Dundas,2002).
The popularity of lacrosse began to benefit many of the players in different ways. The 1927 Mann Cup champions would have the honour of representing Canada at the1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Other perks of the game would come as gifts from sponsors. An excellent example was the birth of senior lacrosse in Oshawa in 1928. When General Motors moved to Oshawa they sponsored the team and enticed some of the best players to join with incentives from GM (Dundas, 2002).
Although the situation appeared to be improving, Lacrosse would once again hit a serious hump as the great depression set in the 1930′s. The great depression took a toll on lacrosse as the number of teams in the OLA declined from 133 in 1923, to 55 in 1931 (Dundas, 2002). This would not be the end of lacrosse, as a major change that would revitalize the game was just around the corner.
The major change would come in the location of the games. The idea of moving the game into the unused arenas in the summer created the site for the game of box lacrosse. This concept was accepted and the International lacrosse league was formed in 1931. The high paced game of box lacrosse officially began. The new game revitalized the passion for lacrosse and even brought several players out of retirement (Lanken, 1984).The transition to the new style was quick, and the schedule was easily increased. The field era had games only on Saturday; however, games could now be played 6 nights a week. The new format allowed some lacrosse centres to become more powerful, such as Mimico. The Mountaineers had jumped to the senior level with box lacrosse, and quickly became powerful and won the Mann Cup in 1932 (Powers,2002). At this point in time the junior league was not overly popular; however, it was crucial for the success of the demanding senior league. Box lacrosse was flourishing in Canada, but the new format was still not accepted by some of the purists. The purists did not agree with the indoor game, but many changed their opinion if they witnessed the exciting 1933 final between Hamilton and New Westminster (Dundas, 2002). Box lacrosse was here to stay!
Many of the lacrosse centres in Ontario were on the rise. Orillia and St.Catherines had become dominant teams in the senior loop. Toronto was still strong, and many Toronto teams, such as the Blue Bombers and Young Torontos had the added benefit of playing in Maple Leaf Gardens. Maple Leaf Gardens was also used as a neutral site for other Ontario teams. Peterborough, Ontario had yet to put itself on the lacrosse map. In 1951, they would do just that becoming a powerhouse in the senior loop. They would win the Mann cup that year and three more times in a row after that (Powers,2002). Peterborough would continue to grow and prosper as lacrosse city and continues to do so today. Peterborough would try several different names such as the Petes, Javelins, Filter Queens and finally the Lakers (www.ptbolakerslacrosse.net, 2002).
The distinguishing characteristics of the box game would be further separated from the field ancestor as the “Rover” position was abolished. This limited the number of runners on the floor from six to five. Along with the change in numbers came the idea to, reduce the nets from 4 1/2 x 4 1/2 to 4 feet by 4 feet to balance the removal of one defender. This was first imposed by the ICLL and then the OLA. The net size today for box lacrosse is still 4 feet by 4 feet, but the field lacrosse net has grown to 6 feet by 6 feet (Official rules of box lacrosse, 1978).
Lacrosse was filing into smaller towns from the larger hot spots. In 1964, the village of Brooklin won its first Ontario championship. This would mark the beginning of a strong lacrosse tradition. Most of the talent was imported from Oshawa, Peterborough or Whitby but still this was a great accomplishment for a community of less than 2,000 people (Dundas,2002).
The next event in Ontario Box Lacrosse would be a major change. The National Lacrosse Association, formed in 1968, nearly ended all the established leagues. Out west all four ICLL clubs abandoned their league and turned to the NLA to be professional. Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster formed the Western Division of the new league. In Ontario, Peterborough jumped to the professional league; however Brooklin and Brampton loyally remained in the OLA. They were joined by a Hastings team (near Peterborough) and a Mississauga club (Dundas, 2002).
In 1972, Senior A lacrosse in Ontario experienced a transformation with the creation of the OLA Major League. With frontrunners Peterborough and Brantford, this league would become the dominant league in Ontario during the summer. The OLA major league continues today in the year 2002. The Junior A loop was now also running strong and continues to do so today. There have since been several different layers added to the steps toward the professional level, as the game continues to grow. The Man Cup, Minto Cup and the Founders Cup (Junior B) are the prizes awarded to the Canadian Champions at their respective level still in 2002.
There was still room for one more box lacrosse league. The Senior and Junior season were in the summer, but there was no winter lacrosse to keep the game going. This would change in 1986 when Chris Fritz and Russ Cline Incorporated the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. Fritz was named President and Cline Executive Vice President. The game created was hybrid of the Canadian box game and also had some aspects of field lacrosse. The League began with four teams: Washington Wave, Baltimore Thunder, Philadelphia Wings and the New Jersey Saints. The four teams played a six-game schedule, with three games at home and three on the road. A total of 124,536 fans attend Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League games in its first year, but that number would soon be shattered.
In 1988 the league becomes known as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL). The league was a hit and so the winter league expanded. In 1989 the MILL added the Detroit Turbos and the New England Blazers. The league would see several teams come and go but all the teams were still American. In 1998 the league once again changed it’s name to the National Lacrosse League (NLL). It was in 1998 that lacrosse in Canada would be forever changed as pro indoor lacrosse expanded in Canada with the addition of Ontario Raiders from Hamilton (www.NLL.com, 2002).
The following year, the Ontario Raiders headed up the road and set up shop in the Maple Leaf Gardens, as the Toronto Rock. The Rock was an instant success as they were plastered all over the sports media. The Toronto Rock finished the season with a perfect home record, with a combined 8-0 record (regular season and playoffs). The Rock had a 13-10 win over the Rochester Knighthawks in the Championship Game, in front of a sellout crowd of 15,691 in Maple Leaf Gardens. The game was televised throughout Canada by CTV SportsNet, and in the United States on ESPN2 (www.NLL.com, 2002). Lacrosse would have one of the greatest increases in registration that summer as the number of new players almost doubled.
In the year 2000 the growth of the game in Ontario led to the second Canadian NLL team, the Ottawa Rebel. The Toronto Rock overshadowed the Rebel in their first season as the Rock would go on to defend their title in front of a sell out crowd of 19,059 at the Air Canada Centre. The fans packed the ACC as the Rock defeated the Columbus Landsharks 11-8. The crowd set a new League single-game attendance record.
The growth of the game has seen several other Canadian teams enter the NLL. The Vancouver Ravens, Calgary Roughnecks, and the Montreal Express would all survive in the league, except for Montreal who dropped out in 2002. In 2001, the Rock would lose in the final, but came back to win the championship in 2002. The popularity of the game in Ontario continues and the Toronto Rock now hold three of the top six single-game attendance records of all-time (www.nll.com).
The game of lacrosse has come a long way. Lacrosse has grown from the pastime of the Natives to a televised battle of professional athletes. The structure of Lacrosse has progressed from a game that was played with hundreds of players over kilometers of land, to 21 players in a condensed arena. The fast paced and exciting game of lacrosse has a vivid background, however the future of the game may be even more exciting as the game continues to mature and develop.
Author, Unknown (1978). Official rules of box lacrosse / issued by the Canadian Lacrosse Association. Ottawa, Ont.
Canadian Lacrosse Association (2002). A short history of Lacrosse in Canada. Retrieved 10/15/02. http://www.lacrosse.ca
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Salter, M.A.(1995). “Baggataway to Lacrosse: A Case Study in Acculturation.” Canadian Journal of Sport 26(December 1995): 49-64.