This Week in History


The Father of Lacrosse

This story was initially published in 2003

On May 5, 1841, William George Beers was born in Montréal, Quebec. Educated at Phillips School and Lower Canada College, he became one of the most recognized dentists in his home city. His passion for sports and especially for lacrosse gave him the inspiration to revolutionize this sport.

William George Beers

William George Beers
© Library and Archives Canada / C-008965

Lacrosse originated with First Nation peoples and was known to them under different names, such as Baggataway or Tewaarathon. Euro-Canadians had been playing this game since the 1830s, but the masters remained the Aboriginals. Beers began playing lacrosse when he was very young and, by 19, he was a goaltender for the Montréal Lacrosse Club. In his spare time, he enjoyed studying the matches between the “Indians” of Akwesasne and Kanawake. In his opinion, the game was too rowdy and needed to be standardized. So, he published a brochure describing the basic rules, number of players per side, field size and the distance between goals. Afterwards, this sport became increasingly popular among non-natives.

In addition to codifying lacrosse, Beers promoted the game with such energy and success that it was named Canada’s National Game by Parliament in 1859. On September 26, 1867, Beers organized a conference in Kingston to form the National Lacrosse Association, which was the first national sport body in North America. Its purpose was to govern the sport, and encourage fellowship and unity across the new country of Canada, as reflected in the motto: “Our Country, Our Game.” All the clubs that joined the association adopted the rules of lacrosse created by Beers. It is important to understand that these rules not only changed the original sport of lacrosse, but also gradually excluded the Aboriginal’s involvement in it through discriminatory rules. Today, lacrosse remains popular among First Nations, especially Iroquoian players.

Mohawk Nation Lacrosse Team at Caughnawaga (Kanawake)

Mohawk Nation Lacrosse Team
at Caughnawaga (Kanawake)

© Library and Archives Canada / C-001959

During his lifetime, Beers also devoted himself to the professionalization of dentistry. He helped establish the Dental Association of the Province of Quebec in 1868. He also wrote a number of articles for American dental journals and founded the Canada Journal of Dental Science, which ceased publication in 1879 due to financial difficulties. After devoting himself completely to his career as a dentist and to the development of lacrosse, he died of heart disease in 1900 at the age of 59.

Commemorated as a person of national historic significance in 1976, William George Beers earned the nickname of the “Father of Lacrosse.”

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