Category Archives: Lacrosse culture

The Earliest Lacrosse Action Photograph?

first lacrosse photo
This photograph, in the collection of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, was apparently taken of a lacrosse game in action, played in Montréal, Québec in August 1864 – and as you can read, the caption claims it was the “first instantaneous snapshot ever taken”.

It is unknown whether the description implies it was the first-ever snapshot in photographic history – or just the first-ever photograph of a lacrosse game. On the back of the photo is the signature of AE Macnaughton (d.1937), who seems to be describing and verifying the nature of the print and its date. The author of Old School Lacrosse has frequently come across Archie Macnaughton’s name in his research from the 1890s to 1920s, a well-known individual involved in the game – first as a player in the 1890s for the Victoria Lacrosse Club and then later as manager of the Vancouver Lacrosse Club, as well as a referee and an association executive.

It is suspected the print copy in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame collection is a re-print that dates from before the 1930s and certainly not an original print from the 1860s.

However, based on what little the author knows of photography history, there are some serious doubts whether this photo actually does date from 1864.

The clearness and lack of blur of the players in motion in the image is unusual for photography of the era. The earliest snapshot cameras did not come along until 1888 with the introduction of the Kodak No.1 camera. The next latest occurrence of actions shots of lacrosse matches does not happen until the first five or so years of the 1900s.

Therefore, Old School Lacrosse suspects the photograph’s origins are likely three decades later, say 1880-1890s range. Perhaps 1864 is a typographical or lapse of memory error for 1894?

(PHOTO SOURCE: CLHOF X994.29(1))

From Cigarettes to Salmon Tins

Lacrosse Brand Salmon
Lacrosse Brand Salmon

Unusual and novel to the fans of today, as we saw with popular music of the era, lacrosse was so prominent in the Canadian mainstream mentality a century ago that sometimes the game’s imagery, real or fanciful, was used to sell commercial products to the general masses.

In 1910, Merrill DesBrisay purchased the Wales Island Cannery and rebuilt it. For the next 14 years, DesBrisay and Company operated the plant before selling to the Canadian Fishing Company in 1925. One of their brands of salmon was “Lacrosse Brand” and the tin sported artwork showing typical lacrosse imagery of the day.

Since DesBrisay’s name has not been found associated directly with lacrosse, the reasoning and inspiration behind the brand name is unknown. The game was so popular at the time he acquired the cannery that the brand name probably appealed to the patriotic and popular sentiments of the time, as lacrosse was fully regarded as Canada’s “National Game”. Many salmon brands from those same years would utilise stereotypical Canadian motifs to promote their products in the marketplaces of the Dominion and throughout the British Empire.

The green colouring on the label is fairly unique and stands out – as almost all salmon brands at the time produced in British Columbia opted for bright red as the main colour, probably intended as a subtle association to the red colour of salmon flesh. DesBrisay distribution was based in Vancouver and one has to wonder if the green colour was a deliberate nod to the Vancouver lacrosse teams whose primary colour was traditionally green – or simply coincidental?

Merrill DesBrisay was born in New Brunswick in 1866 and along with the cannery on the north coast, he operated a grocery business in Mission, British Columbia from 1893 until 1940. DesBrisay passed away on April 23, 1949 in Vancouver. His old cannery continued to operate on Wales Island until 1949, the same year as his passing, the last of eleven canneries which operated in the Nass River-Portland Canal area.

* * *

Lacrosse was so popular it was referenced in local cigarette adverts.
Lacrosse was so popular it was referenced in local cigarette adverts.

Tobacco smoking had a close association with lacrosse during the game’s strongest years prior to the Great War.

There were the sets of lacrosse player cards produced by the Imperial Tobacco Company which were inserted into cigarette boxes; three series of cards were produced from 1910 through 1912.

Both professional clubs had tobacco money directly involved with funding their operations. Con Jones, with his famous “Don’t Argue” smoke shops, was associated with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club while Fred Lynch, a member of the New Westminster Salmonbellies executive, had his own tobacco business advertised on billboards at Queens Park.

“Black Cat” brand cigarettes, which was a trademark of Carreras & Marcianus, Ltd. of Montréal, used lacrosse imagery in one of its adverts printed in the Vancouver Daily Province in 1910.

(PHOTO SOURCES: City of Richmond Archives; Vancouver Daily Province 1910)

Special thanks to the Nine O’Clock Gun Company for inspiration for this article.

Lacrosse in Victorian popular music

our national game sheet musicAs strange as it may seem to modern audiences of both popular music and the game of lacrosse, almost as soon as lacrosse took hold over the young Dominion of Canada in the late 1860s, composers were inspired to write music whose melodies were deemed reflective of the qualities exemplified by its game play.

Clearly the best known music composition would be the song La Crosse, Our National Game, words by James Hughes and the music arranged by Toronto teacher and choirmaster Henry Francis Sefton (ca.1808-1892) in the mid-1870s. Various dates of publication have been given for the piece, with 1872 being the most common.

While the song would predate the birth the game in British Columbia by a decade or more, when the game did gain traction on the Pacific Coast, this song too made the journey west as well and was not unknown to lacrosse fans here. In the 1890s, one of the local newspapers published its lyrics in the form of a poem.

La Crosse, Our National Game was dedicated to Lord Dufferin, the Governor General of Canada, with its typical Victorian-era ‘huzzah’ lyrics inspired no doubt by the extolling of Dr. William G. Beers, the ‘Father of Modern Lacrosse’ in Canada. Himself an adroit voice for the young Dominion of Canada, the song mirrors Beers in proclaiming the various merits of ‘the national game’ played up at the expense of the British and American sporting pursuits which would have also been on the minds of many Canadians in the 1870s and later years of the 19th century. With ice hockey years away from being organised, lacrosse was viewed as the one athletic pastime unique to Canada and the new nation established in 1867, in contrast to imported sports such as cricket and rugby from the Old Country or baseball from America.

Canadian opera soprano and comedian Mary Lou Fallis recorded a modern rendition of the song for her 1997 album Primadona on a Moose, a collection of early Canadian songs. The album and related show tour was inspired by old song recordings unearthed by her and McGill University researchers in the mid-1970s.

The Library and Archives of Canada has this modern vocal recording of La Crosse, Our National Game.

There are at least three other known pieces of music composed in Canada for “lacrosse” audiences:

La Crosse Galop or The Lacrosse Gallop composed by J. Holt and “dedicated to the La Crosse Clubs of Canada”. Inspired by the sudden popularity of the sport in Toronto, this dance piece was composed in 1867 or 1868 and was the first song written with lacrosse in mind. A galop is a lively dance forerunner of the polka in 2/4 time; often it would be performed as the final dance of an evening.
– The piano piece Lacrosse Jersey (for Piano), written in 1892 by Nellie Smith and dedicated to the Toronto Lacrosse Club.
Lacrosse Polka (For Piano) written by L. Fred Clarry of Millbrook, Ontario.

None of these three compositions had lyrics written so it is unknown what exactly inspired their composition – apart from perhaps the need for appropriate music and performance pieces on hand at lacrosse club social functions in an era when the dancehall would be the primary venue.

(MUSIC & PHOTO SOURCES: Library and Archives Canada)