While ice hockey is Canada’s national winter sport, Canadians spend their summer months in swapping their sticks for crosses and taking to the fields to play the cultural sport of lacrosse.
Lacrosse, the sport which was preceded by European colonization in North America, is based on a Native Americans’ game, in which players used sticks to drive a ball through the gap between two trees.
Each game could last up to 3 days and it was normal for thousands of players to take part in one game. With the goals anywhere between 500 yards and some miles apart, playing had no boundaries and only a few rules except that players could not use their hands to touch the ball.
A French Jesuit missionary, who watched a match of Huron natives in the St. Lawrence Valley in 1636, was the first European to make a record of the game. He named it ‘lacrosse’ – a French word means a Bishop’s stick – as he believed that the sport’s curved implements resembled the religious prop. It wasn’t until the 1840s that the sport caught on among European settlers, but the Montreal Lacrosse Club had been established by 1856, just three years before Britain’s Parliament declared lacrosse the national sport of Canada.
In 1867, William George Beers, a Montreal club’s member, continued to codify a set of rules that limited the number of players on each team to twelve, used ball made of hard rubber instead of the hair-stuffed native ball and modified the stick to make catching and throwing the ball easier.
Lacrosse started to enjoy event status at the summer Olympics in 1904 and 1908, with teams from the USA, Canada, and Great Britain competing. However, the game did not attract enough international interest to remain an Olympic sport, despite the fact that it featured at the Games once again as an exhibition sport in 1928, 1932, and 1948.
In 1994, the Canadian government recognized lacrosse’s cultural and historical significance as declaring it to be the country’s national summer sport.