Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada/Preface

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640140Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada — PrefaceWilliam George Beers


The following pages are designed to extend a knowledge of the game of Lacrosse, to systematize its principles and practice, and to perpetuate it as the National game of Canada. Until the appearance of my brochure, published in 1860, there had never been any attempt made to reduce the game to rule. It was barren of laws, and goal-keeper was the only player with a definite name and position.

I feel in duty bound to own to the parentage, while apologizing for the publication of the little book referred to, which was issued, without any revision, during my absence from the city. Notwithstanding the fact that it was extensively plagiarized, I trust it will be regarded, by any who had the misfortune to buy it, as one of those productions of youth, which, in maturity, we would fain disown.

The difficulty of writing practically about Lacrosse, was then, as it is now, that there had never been anything practical written on the subject. Every principle and point of play had to be laid down from personal experience and experiments, and "pow-wows" with the best players; and, at first blush, it seemed a difficult task to write anything about the game. Moore, in his Diary, however, mentions a German savant who wrote several folio volumes on the "Digestion of a Flea!" After that accomplishment, no one should despair of producing at least one volume on any subject.

It may seem to some, well acquainted with Lacrosse, as if I had given too much space to the rudiments of the game; but I intend this book for the novice as well as the expert, and wish even the latter to believe with me, that there is a gradation of learning in the use of the crosse, as there is with the rifle or the cricket bat. We may wish for the hereditary sagacity of the Indian, who plays mainly by instinct; as poor Tom, in the " Mill on the Floss," envied the people who once were on the earth, fortunate in knowing Latin without having learnt it through the Eton grammar; but the Indian never can play as scientifically as the best white players, and it is a lamentable fact, that Lacrosse, and the wind for running, which comes as natural to the red-skin as his dialect, has to be gained on the part of the pale-face, by a gradual course of practice and training. All Indians are not good players, but I never yet knew one without an aptitude for the game; and it is surprising to witness the expertness of the juveniles, not yet in their teens, in the villages of Caughnawaga, St. Regis, Oka, and Onondaga.

I have not attempted, in this work, to exhaust the practical feats of Lacrosse, though I have given all the various methods of throwing, checking, &c., in use among Clubs, as well as some original feats, and others derived from the Indians, never introduced among the whites. Some may seem impracticable, and at first, no doubt, will be found to be so, but I simply ask for them a fair trial. There is no reason why an Indian feat may not be done by a white player.

I am indebted, for many kind acts of co-operation, to Messrs. J. R. Middlemiss, W. L. Maltby and L. Cushing, of Montreal; G. H. Leslie, of Toronto; E. Cluff, of Ottawa; Dr. Allen, of Cornwall; J. B. Morrison, of Caughnawaga, and other friends too numerous to mention. Also, to the gentlemen whose photographs represent the various positions in the game, and to the "National Lacrosse Association of Canada" for the vote approving of this undertaking. For many of the facts contained in the chapter on "Historical Associations of Lacrosse," I am much indebted to Mr. Parkman's work, "The Conspiracy of Pontiac."

As I have been requested, since the body of this work was written, to give some account of the rise and progress of Lacrosse, I purpose briefly doing so here. The game first met with popularity in Montreal about thirteen years ago, when the Iroquois Indians of Caughnawaga introduced it as a field sport. The origin and early existence, thirty years ago, of the regularly organized Montreal Club—the Alma Mater of the game—and its several matches with the red-skins, only one of which it won, may make an interesting chapter in the history of Lacrosse at some future day. Among the original members of the Club, alive to-day, are Mr. N. H. Hughes, still President; Judge Coursol, Messrs. Romeo Stephens, and Wm. Lamothe, of Montreal; and Mr. Gouin, Prothonotary, at Sorel. Mr. Lamontagne was one of the crack-players of the early time; and our big friend, "Baptiste," the pilot of the Lachine Rapids, was then as great a master of the crosse as he is now of the helm. I shall be much indebted for information furnished me respecting the early matches and life of the Montreal Club.

The Montreal Club did not flourish in its early history. For a long time it was dormant, and practice was limited to a very small number. About twelve years ago the Club revived, and was followed by the "Hochelaga." On the 31st of March, 1860, the two Clubs were united, under the name of "The Lacrosse Club of Montreal." About this time the spirited young "Beaver" disputed the championship and the propriety of the definite article "The," assumed by the Montreal Club, and invariably succeeded in making drawn matches. On the 31st of March of the following year the name of the Club was changed again to "Montreal."

The visit of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales to Canada, in 1861, and a proposal to play before him, infused new life into the ancient Indian sport, and a grand match was played in the presence of H. R. H. by the "Montreal" and "Beaver" vs. Caughnawaga and St. Regis Indians, twenty-five players a side. The playing on both sides was determined and excited, and ended in a dispute,—Baptiste, of Caughnawaga, the Indian Captain, having picked up and held the ball with his hand, at a moment when the whites had a clear chance of carrying it into the Indian goal. The match was awarded to the whites. The following are the names of the white players in this ever-memorable match:

CaptainN.H. Hughes

  1. George Kernick.
  2. P. Christie.
  3. R. Gray.
  4. A. Cherrier.
  5. T. Coffin.
  6. F. Dowd.
  7. W. Brown.
  8. A. Brown.
  9. J. Bell.
  10. J. Bruneau.
  11. W. Leduc.
  12. W. Blakely.
  13. T. Taylor.
  14. J. McCulloch.
  15. W. A. Stafford.
  16. J. R. Meddlemiss.
  17. J. McLennen.
  18. W. McLennen.
  19. J. Becket.
  20. H. Duclos.
  21. W. Massey.
  22. T. Craig.
  23. C. P. Davidson.
  24. W. Noad.
  25. W. G. Beers.

After this match the "Montreal," "Beaver" and "Young Montreal" Clubs, tried to arouse an interest in the game, but the season soon closed, the Clubs were disorganized, and Lacrosse became unfashionable. In the meantime, Mr. George Massey, ("Beaver,") and Mr. W. A. Stafford, ("Montreal,") formed the nucleus of a Club in Ottawa, which flourished under the management of Mr. E. Cluff, when the game was dormant in Montreal. A match at Cornwall, Ont., between the organized Ottawa Club and some of the old members of the "Montreal" and "Beaver," who had never played together before, and most of whom had not handled the crosse for years, ended in the defeat of the Montrea1ers,—not the Montreal "Club." The spirit of young Montreal awoke, Lacrosse was revived, and the lost laurels brought back again. The game began to grow East and West. In June, 1867, the Montreal Club framed the first laws of Lacrosse; and, in September of the same year, called a Convention of Clubs in Canada, to organize an Association for the guidance of Clubs and the government of the game,—an idea which had been discussed in Committee meeting the previous year. The Convention met in Kingston on the 26th of September, organized the "National Lacrosse Association of Canada," amended the laws of the game, and adopted a Constitution. The popularity of Lacrosse now steadily increased, and Clubs sprang up all over the country. The Association met again, in Montreal, in September, (1868,) and made important amendments to its Constitution and the laws of the game.

In the spring of 1807, Mr. J. Weir, a member of the Montreal Club, organized a Club in Glasgow, Scotland.

In July, 1867, Mr. W. B. Johnson, of Montreal, took eighteen Caughnawaga Indians to England and France, and played several exhibition games. This seems to have given the impetus to Lacrosse in England. A number of Clubs were formed in London, and an Association organized similar to the Canadian Association.

The Mohawk Club, of Troy, N.Y., pioneered the game in the United States; and the "Maple Leaf," of Buffalo, and others, followed their lead; and there is every indication that our Clubs in Canada will one day find worthy rivals over the lines, and cross the crosse in friendly contest.

I have much pleasure in chronicling the generosity and public spirit of Mr. T. J. Claxton, a Montreal merchant, in the donation to the "Montreal," for competition among the city Clubs, of a set of four magnificent flags and flag-poles, costing over $250, two of which are represented in photograph No. 12. This gift not only illustrates the generosity of an individual, but the appreciation of the mercantile community, of the efforts of the Montreal Club to popularize and spread the game of Lacrosse. A healthy sign, too, of the growing favor of rational sports.

I have but little to add in conclusion, and may be pardoned for making that little personal. The practice of Lacrosse was my physical recreation; the writing of this book was one of my mental diversions, principally the result of notes made on the field. It would never be allowed to see the light of day, did I think it would get me the reputation of being absorbed in the sport, to the exclusion of more serious and important duties. When I commenced the book I felt its completion would tend to much good, physically, mentally and morally, and assist the cause of rational recreation among the young men of Canada. The popularity of the game has popularized all healthy sports; and nothing, perhaps, has won more esteem for Lacrosse than its moral tendencies, and the necessity it involves of abstaining from habits, which are too often associated with other recreations.

One of our most eloquent statesmen, in addressing an audience outside of Canada, said, in referring to the physical outfit of the new Dominion, "Young Canada would as soon fight as eat his breakfast." While not advocating pugnacity, men—and women, too—admire manly youth; and if our National game, while exercising the manly virtues, also trains the national and the moral, it will, undoubtedly, help to make us better men; and genuine "pluck" will never go out of fashion in Canada.