Down Memory Lane - Caughnawaga
by Stan Shillington
When lacrosse was in its infancy as an organized sport, competitions were dominated by an Iroquois team from Caughnawaga.
Lacrosse for Canadians of European descent began in Montreal in 1856 but teams were no match for their Native adversaries. In those days, a goal was known as a game and it took three games to win a match. Some matches lasted only a few minutes while others were so hard-fought that they had to be postponed due to darkness.
It wasn't until 1867 that a Montreal dentist, Dr. W. George Beers, formed a set of rules with the assistance of his Montreal Lacrosse Club teammates; a ball of hard rubber replaced the Indian ball of hair stuffed in deerskin, the stick was enlarged and the number of players was standardized at twelve a side.
In 1869, Dr. Beers wrote a book entitled, "Lacrosse, the National Game of Canada". The lofty proclamation caught on, although, despite popular belief, it was never enacted as such by parliament. During this period of lacrosse history, it was the team from Caugnawaga that ruled. The team often played shorthanded just to give opponents a chance. Then, on August 28, 1860, Caugnawaga, bolstered by St. Regis, played a unit of Montreal and Beaver players at the Montreal Cricket Club before the Prince of Wales. Dr. Beers, incidentally, was the Montreal goaltender.
On the day of Confederation, July 1, 1867, Caugnawaga was featured against Montreal defeating the locals 3-2. Later that year, Captain W.B. Johnson took Caughnawaga to England for a series of exhibition games.
Lacrosse was now played in England but growth was slow; however, it was given a successful boost in popularity in 1876 when Dr. Beers took Montreal and Caughnawaga back to the British Isles. Matches were held in Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol and London. Highlight of the tour was a command performance before Queen Victoria on June 27 and June 28.
So popular were the Caughnawaga athletes that in 1883 Dr. Beers took them back to England for another exhibition tour under the auspices of the Governor-General of Canada.
The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame has introduced a new "Team" category in 1998. Each year, an outstanding field or box lacrosse team will be honoured by the sport's national shrine in New Westminster.
It is fitting, then, that Caughnawaga be named the first to enter the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame's new "Team" category