History, native origins to be highlighted when Canadian lacrosse turns 150
Canada goaltender Chris Sanderson, right, makes a save on Iroquois Nation's Brett Bucktooth's shot as he's checked by Jim Moss during action at the World Lacrosse Championships in London, Ont., on July 20, 2006. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 15, 2016 4:23PM EDT
MONTREAL -- The 150th anniversary of organized lacrosse in Canada will be a special time for Louis Delisle, a Hall of Famer who has been playing the sport for more than six decades.
The centuries-old sport will be celebrated in a three-day festival in June, 2017, with a heavy emphasis on its history and First Nations origins.
"It means a lot," said Delisle, of the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal, whose opening remarks at a news conference were in his native language, Kanienkeha. "There are world tournaments in field and box lacrosse.
"It gives us pride to say that, as part of the First Nations people of North America, we are founders of a game that is played worldwide today."
The Canadian Lacrosse Association was founded in Kingston, Ont., in the same year that Canada became a country, so both will turn 150 next year. It will also be Montreal's 375th anniversary.
In 1867, Canada's first sports governing body adopted the first official lacrosse rulebook, which had been written a few years earlier by George Beers of Montreal.
The celebration will include tournaments, exhibitions of artifacts, a lecture series on the sport's history and demonstration matches using rules and equipment from before and after the rules were written.
It will take place mostly at McGill University, whose grounds include part of what is believed to be the site of the Iroquoian village of Hochelaga, which was described by French explorer Jacques Cartier on his first visit in 1535.
Travis Gabriel of Kanasatake, west of Montreal, brought a stick in the style of the 1860s he had made himself. It had a shorter handle and much longer and wider head, with looser netting, than today's sleek sticks.
"The way they played then was a lot different than now," he said. "The ball stays in the air a lot more now."
"This stick would (be used) mostly from the ground up to the shoulder level. You get it and pass it right away. The pocket really isn't made for carrying. It's more for knocking it around."
The deerskin ball would also have been a little bigger and much softer than the one used today.
Gabriel said it took about three months to complete a stick because the hickory wood needs to be cured to hold its shape.
He was among a growing group of traditional stick makers who were each asked to make one for the game. He was glad to do it.
"Its not really a sport for me, it's more of a medicine," he said. "The fact that it's being recognized and talked about the way it is makes me feel good because this is something that is so deeply ingrained in our culture and traditions and in everything that we do."
Event organizer Jim Calder of Calgary said they originally hoped to have celebrations in four sites, but when their bid for federal 150th anniversary funds fell through they only had cash for one. They chose McGill because of its long lacrosse history. McGill's varsity team was founded in 1873 and it has had a women's team since 1921.
He said the pair of back to back games -- one traditional and one codified with rules -- will be a highlight of the weekend.
"It's a demonstration and a celebration of lacrosse," he said. "It's a bit of a scripted game to show how various things happened.
"People will get an appreciation for the (traditional) game and, once it was codified with rules, how that changed the game. I think it's important for kids to understand where the game came from and, spiritually, what it means and how privileged they should feel to play the game."