For a history research paper, since I am very passionate about sports I thought it would be fitting to write about a specific sport that happened in pre-confederation Canadian history. My topic of choice was to write about the Native American people and their roles in the creation and design of lacrosse. To how the game was originated, a spectators point of view from that time, and the equipment used by the Indigenous people. Lacrosse gave an identity to the Canadian culture and the Indigenous people.
The Canadian National Game of Lacrosse
Native Americans in pre-confederation Canada have made big contributions to the modern society for sports. In the Mid 1800’s, the sport of lacrosse or as it was known back then as La Crosse or stick ball, has created its own identity not only for the sport, but also for the Native American people who created it. The origin of lacrosse is unique, with it being originated in Canada and tribes from across the country would play. It was a sport like no other on how it was played and the brutality that brought. Given the point of views from people who attend these games such as William George Beers, gives us more of a general idea of how the sport impacted each community and shows the set traditions, rituals, and rules that are followed before, during, and after each match. The equipment that was used was very creative and assessable to everyone, however, it was not easy to make with the components to create the sticks and the ball. Knowing where the origin of lacrosse began and having a point of view of how the game was played, as well as what was used as equipment, we understand a deeper meaning lacrosse.
Lacrosse was created by the Native American people and was mainly played on the eastern side of Canada where the bigger tribes were. The original tribes to start playing lacrosse were the Algonquin tribe and the Objiways, with other tribes around the region of the great lakes followed suit. The rules were very simple to follow because there was only two of them: “The ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries”. With being very limited rules, the whole tribe could play at once because there was no rule of how many players could play at the same time. The distances between the goals varied from game to game with it being “500 yards to several miles apart” and the goals were generally a certain tree that was suppose to be hit. Lacrosse was a game played for religious reasons and because it helped young men develop into warriors; it also appealed to “young French males” as well because of the violent environment of the game and they were enamoured by it. Lacrosse had idiosyncrasies because there was not one specific way to play the game. However, it’s main purpose was recreation for the players and the spectators. In 1856, William George Beers founded the first the lacrosse organization called the Montreal Lacrosse Club and started to make more rules so the game had more of a purpose. Beers considered lacrosse a national Canadian pastime and found other sports “irrelevant” and promoted lacrosse to be the official national sport instead of what Europeans brought upon them. In 1860, Lacrosse was recognized as Canada national sport and was noticed around the world where others would soon play.
William George Beers is one of the most famous people of the sport of lacrosse because of the way he transformed the game into what it was. In his book, “Lacrosse: The National Sport of Canada”, he gives a good point of view on how the game was played with the Native Americans. From the way, it was viewed, it was considered as a “deadly combat” with the ongoing brutality that was being displayed. It was considered like that because players were not wearing much clothing and if someone was to get hit, significant damage could be done. The overall outcome could be between “limb and life” when a player would get hit. Beers compares lacrosse to “the gladiatorial game […] and the bull fights of Spain” with how each person was being tested physically. However, the Native American tribes brought a sense of grace before the start of a match with each tribe having rituals and traditions that were done. Over the course of two weeks prior to the match, players were only to eat a very minimum amount of food, almost to the point of fasting so that they could be as fit as possible for “the exertion and anticipation” of the game. When it was the night before the game, the tribes were to attend a “training dance” which was a ceremony that consisted of “frantic movements” and constant yelling to imitate the military dances of the Greeks”. To complete this ceremony, players afterward would go to the nearest stream and soak in it; the purpose of the dance was an “invocation to the Great Spirit for victory”. Several hours before the match was to begin, the players were not supposed to be seen by anyone as they were putting on the proper attire and body paint, so they would be in opposites forests near the field. The goal area was approximately “500 yards to several miles apart” and there have been estimates of 100 to 100,000 players playing at once.
The equipment that was used was unique with what the sticks looked like and how the ball was made. They could use resources around them to craft what they needed. The ball is made of deer-skin or raw-hide stuffed with hair and sewed together. It was an effective use of materials because it was heavy enough to throw it for a good distance. Other tribes around the Detroit River area used a heavier wooden ball, particularly a big knot from a tree and others “improvised” by using pine tree bark. The lacrosse stick was 3-4 feet in length, with a circle formed at the top that was three inches long and two inches wide, and was about twelve inches in circumference. The hoop consisted of two strings tied across to securely catch and hold the ball; usually each player carries two sticks at the same time. Only playing with one stick was far more difficult and was generally only done by the experts because it was considered a challenge. The players never wore any equipment to protect themselves, all that was worn was a “tight breech cloth”, but on certain occasions they would decorate themselves using body paint and wore “ornamental bead work and feathers”. Without wearing any body protection it was a very vicious game to play because players could easily get hurt when hit with a stick or by an another player. Not only could they could be severely injured, but this game could result in multiple deaths with how it was played and with how many players were on the field at the same time.
The origin, having an accurate point of view, and know what was used as equipment and what it consisted of gives us a nice understanding of the uniqueness and beauty the game brought to Canada. Native Americans implemented a brutally vicious game and gave themselves a sense of identity and gave spectators amusement because of the sheer violence. Young men were generally more intrigued than others about lacrosse because of the warrior like qualities that were being displayed. Having that point of view of someone who witnessed a game gives an idea what the players had to endure not only playing on the field, but what was done off the field to prepare for a long and grueling battle. Being able to craft the right equipment and have good quality from the resources, showed how much Native Americans and Canadians cared about the game and did what it took to honour the game. Lacrosse is an amazing sport with being as violent as it was and it gave an identity not only to the Native American people, but to Canada as well.
McClunney B., Eugene, “Lacrosse: The Combat of the Spirits” (1974): p.32
George Beers, William, “Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada” (1869) p.7-19
Edited by: Claydon, Jane, “Origin of Men’s Lacrosse” (November 2016) http://filacrosse.com/origin/
Robidoux A, Michael, “Imagining a Canadian Identity in sport: A Historical Interpretation of Lacrosse and Hockey” 115, 456, (2002) p.213
 Eugene B. McClunney, “Lacrosse: The Combat of the Spirits” (1974) p.34
 Edited by: Jane Claydon, “Origin of Men’s Lacrosse” (date unknown)
 Michael A. Robidoux, “Imagining a Canadian Identity in sport: A Historical Interpretation of Lacrosse and Hockey p.213
 Ibid p.215
 Edited by: Jane Claydon, “Origin of Men’s Lacrosse” (date unknown)
 Michael A. Robidoux, “Imagining a Canadian Identity in sport: A Historical Interpretation of Lacrosse and Hockey
 William George Beers, “Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada” p.7
 Ibid p.8
 Ibid p.16
 Ibid p.17
 Ibid p.19
 Edited by: Jane Claydon, “Origin of Men’s Lacrosse” (November 20, 2016)
 William George Beers, “Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada” p.13
 Ibid p.11-12
 Ibid p.12
 Ibid p.15