Canada's Sports Hall of Fame Canadian History and Society: Through the Lens of Sport Virtual Museum of Canada


The transition from traditional custom to a national sport.

For Canadians today it would be quite remarkable to witness a traditional, Indigenous game of what we now call lacrosse. These games were often played on an open area or meadow, sometimes there were up to several hundred competitors from the two teams, and astonishingly a game could last for many days. The physical skills and endurance of the participant's was impressive, but the game was more than simply a physical activity, it was an important cultural and spiritual custom for the well-being of the players, communities, and First Nations. These Indigenous games were different to sport as we understand it today.

In 1856 the Montreal Lacrosse Club was the first organization of the sport ever formed, which was a pivotal moment in the development of the game from a First Nations cultural practice into a national sport. In the mid-nineteenth century, European Canadians began playing, other club teams were formed in Ontario and Quebec, and in 1860 the first rules of the sport were published in a Montreal newspaper.

In 1876 and in 1883, the Canadian government organized two Lacrosse tours of Britain. The government wanted to attract immigrants to move to Canada, and these tours used lacrosse as a national symbol to market Canada as a great nation. Two teams toured, one team of First Nations players and another team of European Canadian players, who wowed the thousands of British spectators at each game. One match in particular was remarkable, as it was held privately for none other than Queen Victoria at her castle in Windsor, England. These tours are one example of the ways in which lacrosse played an important role in developing our Canadian national identity, and in 2003 the federal government of Canada celebrated these early developments by identifying lacrosse as Canada's national summer sport. Today it is played as a professional sport.

photograph of George Beers seated at desk
George Beers was instrumental in promoting the game of lacrosse in Canada. He codified the rules of the sport and promoted it as Canada's national game. He promoted the game as one that trained a young man to temperance, confidence and pluck. Lacrosse was reconfirmed by parliament as Canada's National (Summer) Sport in 1994.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Olympic gold medal with figure of athlete
George Beers brought the game of lacrosse to European audiences in 1876 and 1883. Lacrosse was played at two Olympics Games, 1904 in St. Louis and 1908 in London. This is the gold medal was won by the Canadian team in 1908. Lacrosse is now played internationally by men and women.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of Lionel Conacher holding lacrosse stick
Lionel Conacher was a multi-sport athlete who played football, ice hockey, baseball, boxing, rugby and lacrosse. In lacrosse he was considered one of the greatest amateur players of all time, often dominating games by charging the field and overpowering the opposition. Part of the Conacher lacrosse legend is his participation in two championship games on the same day in two different sports. He hit a game winning double in baseball and then joined a lacrosse game already in play where he helped his team win the game. The Lionel Conacher Award is presented annually to the male athlete of the year.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

lacrosse stick with wood handle and mesh head
This lacrosse stick was used by Roy "Red" Storey when he played lacrosse in Ontario and Quebec. Red Storey was an all-round athlete and also played football, baseball and ice hockey. After his retirement as a player he was an official for many sports including lacrosse and ice hockey between 1943 and 1959. He was respected for his integrity and leadership as an athlete and an official.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of Ike Hildebrandt playing lacrosse
Ike Hildebrandt played both of Canada's national sports - ice hockey and lacrosse. As a lacrosse player he played over sixteen seasons and won the national championship four times between 1951 and 1954. He was a prolific scorer, winning the league scoring championship twice. He also enjoyed an outstanding ice hockey career, winning the World Championship in 1959 as both coach and player. His passion for both games and his leadership made him an outstanding athlete.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of modern game of lacrosse
The Canadian Lacrosse Association, the national governing body for the sport, recognizes four separate lacrosse disciplines of Box (Indoor), Men's Field, Women's Field and Inter-Lacrosse. Box Lacrosse, which is played on both the amateur and professional levels, is a uniquely Canadian game relying on speed and action. It is played with five runners and a goaltender on a standard sized arena floor.
Collection: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

Previous Next