150 Years of Modern Lacrosse | Sights and Sounds
It was only fitting that the CLF hosted its event in Montreal since that is where Dr. George Beers had conceptualized a standardized form of the game. Enthralled by the vigour of the sport as he saw the local Caughnawaga communities play, Dr. Beers envisioned Canada's game.
It is no coincidence that the the 150th anniversary of lacrosse aligns with that of Canada. Dr. Beers ambition was of nation building at heart. He rejected adopting cricket — the sport of Canada's crown, England. Rather, lacrosse was a new and unique game to the rest of the world and one to which Canada could attach its identity. It did indeed just that, and not too much later a group of Caughnawaga players would play to the presence of Queen Victoria as Canada exhibited its infant national identity to the world. She said that, "the game is very pretty to watch."
Vision Lacrosse Co. had the privilege of visiting the lovely Montreal to attend the celebrations hosted by the Canadian Lacrosse Foundation (CLF). The festivities included a lecture series, a range of local tournaments for boys and girls in both box and field, a museum exhibit, as well as the main spectacle: a re-enactment of the game as it was historically played.
The lecture series featured prominent scholars and speakers on the topic of lacrosse. J. Alan Childs, author of “Minnesota Lacrosse: A History”, spoke of the typically overlooked presence of lacrosse in the Midwest through out history and how the Ojibwa migration, which had observed Iroquois lacrosse, had developed its own form of the game.
Jane Claydon, spoke of Canada's role in the worldwide development of women's lacrosse. Her presentation voyaged through the proliferation of the sport since 1883 and it beautifully concluded upon the full-circle journey which the 2015 Canadian U-19 women's team had achieved via its gold medal finish since the programs conception.
W.B. MacDonald's lectures discussed the rise and fall of Canada's initial professional lacrosse leagues from 1901 to 1924. It was fascinating to learn of the prominence that lacrosse had in Canada during this era, which attracted local crowds comparable to the NCAA championships.
Donald M. Fisher spoke of the the various forms of indigenous stick ball games, which resemble earlier sorts of lacrosse. Focusing on the the Mississippi River system, he presented an idea which had never crosse my mind before: that the thriving indigenous communities were located to the core of North America. While we are largely taught history through the lens of the colonialists who land and observe life upon the periphery of the continent, aboriginal life flourished as it penetrated deeper into the land. Here, he discusses great cities which played unique stick ball games, which differed in form to the Iroquois originated game we play today.
Daniel Ferland spoke of the Cultural role of the game of Lacrosse, which touched based on the meanings that transcend Dr. Beers' modern take.
Louis Tewenhni'tashon Delisle had a heartfelt lecture on the history of lacrosse in Caughnawaga and the role of its players on Turtle Island. He mentioned a fascinating anecdote of how a historic tribal grudge led to a brawl at an away game that he played, which then led to embrace. With eyes glistening with tears as he cradled the stick of his childhood, he also talked about the importance of lacrosse growing up in his generation — an era when his culture was rejected. He said,
"this is what kept me connected to my past. There was no teachings, no longhouse — the longhouse was considered to be pagan. The authorities had done such a good job that you felt that old stuff was pagan, it was not to be learned about. But yet, through lacrosse, through the language of my elders, that’s the only thing that you could say kept our identity at those times."
The McCord museum exhibited historical displays of lacrosse. It included a time line of the game featuring artifacts and photos that illustrate the evolution of what has become lacrosse. Legendary stick-maker, Alf Jacques of Onondaga, and Travis Gabriel of Caughnawaga hosted the venue, which also included an array of different forms of lacrosse sticks that existed throughout the years.
The keystone event of the celebration was the re-enactment games which took place on McGill's lower field. The first game was a medicine game played between the Bear Clan and the Wolf Clan as it would have been played in the region prior to colonial contact. Actors were from the Caughnawaga Survival School. Face paint colors distinguished the teams. Players wore merely traditional buckskin loincloth (and black shorts underneath, which the M.C. jokes were on sale at Walmart)— no protection. While most were bare-boot, some did wear moccasins, realistically portraying trade that would happen with the Huron peoples. The ball was made of the fine leather, which attracted much European trade of the time. The game was simulated to be a healing medicine game, so points were not necessarily the primary goal. Rather, the aim was to lift the spirit of an ill elder who sat at the sideline and observed. Nonetheless, players aimed at a wooden post which was planted in the ground of the opposing team's end to push for the lead.
The second game emulated one of the first modern lacrosse games ever to be played after Dr. Beers' conception. The referees wore three-piece suits, and drew their umbrellas out to signify a goal. Players also sported the attire of 1867 lacrosse: long johns beneath shorts, as well as a stylish cap. The team in red represented the Caughnawaga (or Kahnawake) Lacrosse Club and the Blue was the Montreal Lacrosse Club. The ball had been changed to "Indian rubber" which was a standardizing element of Dr. Beers' rules.
All in all, the festivities were an absolute blast and we were extremely excited to witness a truly historic event.