"Lacrosse in older than Canada as a nation," the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in New Westminster, BC proclaims. The sport may have arrived here in BC decades after it was established in the east, but it has developed a massive presence here.
lacrosse in new west
New West author Bruce MacDonald wrote a history of the sport in his hometown. The New Westminster Salmonbellies played their first game in 1889. That was a loss (3-1 to Vancouver), but soon the team was winning against the superstar teams from the east: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal.
After winning the 1908 Minto Cup (at that time awarded to the senior men's champions of Canada), MacDonald writes, the team draped a banner over the sides of train as the rode back home from Montreal. "Because they were winners and they attracted notoriety, people would say, 'Where is New Westminster?'" MacDonald told the New Westminster Record. "Everywhere these guys went they advertised the city."
The Salmonbellies have won more national championships than any other team in Canada. And it's because of this long and winning history in the city that New West received a charter to build the official Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1963. The Hall of Fame, which doubles as a museum, now resides in the Anvil Centre as part of the New Westminster Museum and Archives.
The origins of lacrosse
Lacrosse has its origins in Aboriginal history. Early lacrosse games, called baggataway or tewaarathon, involved huge teams, with players possibly numbering in the hundreds, in a field that could be more than a kilometre long. The sport kept warriors fit, strengthened social alliances, and, perhaps most importantly, honoured God. "There is a long history of speculation about where the game of Lacrosse originated," an elder says in the North American Indian Traveling College's book Tewaarathon: Akwasasne's Story of Our Indian National Game, "but as Natives of North America, this question has little significance. We do not wonder who invented Lacrosse, or when or where; our ancestors have been playing the game for centuries—to the Creator."
Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf wrote the first account of the sport in 1637; he described a game which he called "crosse" (French for cross). The first games between First Nations peoples and Europeans settlers occurred in the 1840s. It was rumoured to be the national sport of Canada since confederation, but at that time cricket was the most popular sport here. (How times have changed in Canada. Does anyone play cricket here anymore?*) Officially, lacrosse became Canada's national summer sport in 1994.
Learn more about the history of lacrosse in Canada—and see first-hand some amazing artifacts spanning from the sport's aboriginal roots to its modern variations—at the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
*The answer to this question is yes, according to a knowledgeable reader. As it turns out, the Brockton Oval at Stanley Park is a great place to check out a cricket game—I'll get to one someday. The game, though, is now mostly played by expats and immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. I wonder if cricket will return to its "Canadian game" status as more immigrants arrive and continue to reintroduce this country to the sport.