Books: Canada’s Overlooked Outdoor Legacy

Vancouver Lacrosse Club, 1912 (Photo / public domain)

 by Boxer Journal, January 4, 2015
Baltimore, MDInside Lacrosse currently features the Denver Pioneers as its preseason choice for the best Division I team in the nation in 2015.

One of the first games I ever covered live was the Denver vs. Hopkins 2011 NCAA quarterfinals at Long Island’s Hofstra University. In that game the Pioneers upset the Blue Jays to claim a spot in the semifinals.

As Canadian midfielders Cameron Flint and Jeremy Noble sprinted past the Hopkins’ defense, the sentiment in the press box was that their dominant stick skills and open field awareness, both honed in close quarters indoors, helped them to excel on the vast expanse of an outdoor lacrosse field. Box lacrosse was the once and future king of the sport in Canada and was clearly a primary source of their ability. It’s an oft-repeated notion when listening to a broadcast of Bill Tierney’s talented Pioneer teams.

While that may be largely true, it obscures another truth: professional field lacrosse once commanded an unmatched popularity in parts of Canada, namely British Columbia, before the box game gained the prominence it holds today.

As the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) indoor season gets underway, we caught up with Canadian author, researcher and lacrosse player David Stewart-Candy. Stewart-Candy wrote Old School Lacrosse – Professional Field Lacrosse in British Columbia 1909 – 1924  and pens the blog Old School Lacrosse with entries on the same topic.

We asked about his considerable efforts in compiling the book. The interview was conducted via email and has been edited for length and clarity. – TF

Boxer Journal: What got you interested in the era?

D.S.C: It was really by a process of elimination – when I first got into doing lacrosse historical and statistical research around 2000 or 2001, the Canadian box game at the top level (i.e. Senior A, WLA, Ontario MSL) had already been documented fairly extensively by Stan Shillington and Larry Powers.

So I felt there was no point spending any more time documenting or going over what had already been found. Before I got interested and involved in lacrosse, I came from a hockey research background and was pretty used to having contact with a large network and depth of researchers all working on their various niches of the game.

But when I started bringing my interest in sports research over to lacrosse, I quickly realized that there were whole vast areas and eras of the game that no one had ever done a serious statistical examination (or any examination, for that matter) of. There were huge historical voids just waiting to be tackled. Even within the niche I’ve carved out for myself to focus on, there is still a lot of work to do.

It took me 12 years to document just a portion of a 15-year period. It’s really inspiring and yet at the same time intimidating and overwhelming when I think that there are less than a dozen people that have ever seriously documented the game in Canada. In other sports, like hockey and baseball, that number would be in the hundreds or possibly thousands.

Boxer Journal:  Has anything resulted from the book & blog that you didn’t anticipate? Any idea where most of your readers are geographically? 

D.S.C:  Nothing really surprised me with the blog, mostly because I honestly wasn’t sure how well it would do or whether people would even read it. I knew there would be some curious readers out there, but lacrosse history in general has such an oral tradition and legacy that has long been a real bane to the game compared to other sports [in terms of record-keeping].

For so many people who play and are involved with the game in North America, so few people are really aware of the game’s history or great players beyond some common oft-repeated facts (and urban legends) or the modern, current players.

Meanwhile in baseball and hockey you can find casual fans with a solid knowledge of the game’s history or groups of people here and there nitpicking about this or that game or league or player.

Lacrosse  sadly doesn’t have that depth of fan knowledge or people really that interested in the factual history, even among its own players, as in most other other sports. Or, to put it another way, lacrosse doesn’t have the geek factor that most other sports have in regard to its own history.

So that all said…I had no clue whether it would get ignored or would get picked up by those in the lacrosse community hungry for history of the game. By and large, the reader response I have had has all been positive.

As for readership, I expected the blog readership would be mostly Canadian with a sprinkling of Americans – and the readership stats support that: roughly 80% Canadian, 15% American, and 5% International. Overall, I’ve had readers from 42 countries.

Boxer Journal: I have a workable knowledge of the box game, but what of this era (1909-1924) lent itself to field prominence there?

D.S.C:  Here on the West Coast in the geographical triangle of Vancouver-New Westminster-Victoria where lacrosse took root, with our mild winters, it took much longer for Canada’s winter pastime to establish any foothold. Natural ice for skating is a rarity, so it was very easy for lacrosse to fill that void and maintain its primacy as the sporting public’s first love when Vancouver was founded in the 1880s.

When lacrosse came to town, it’s only other competitors at the time were “British” sports such as cricket and rugby and those remained in the amateur realm and sometimes restricted within certain social classes. Lacrosse was more of an everyman sport, so had more appeal.

The “Golden Age” period – which I parallel with the years when the professional game was played here between 1909 and 1924 – had a level of popularity that the modern game has yet to come close to matching. The best example is attendance records from 1911 that were not broken until the arrival of the NLL’s Ravens some 90+ years later – at which point greater Vancouver’s population was then more than ten-times what it was in 1911. However, despite those old records being broken, lacrosse remains a fringe sport in the minds of the general population. One hundred years ago, however, lacrosse was king.

I reference 1911 a lot in my work as a comparison point with the present – because I view that year as the zenith of the game’s popularity in British Columbia (still to this very day) as well as the same year ice hockey took root here with the building of the first artificial ice arena. I find the coincidence of these two events occurring in the same year ironic as well as ominous, as hockey soon went on to replace lacrosse as the primary, popular culture sport here.

Boxer Journal: What’s your playing experience, if any?

D.S.C: I picked up a stick and first started playing in 2002, at the age of 33 in what is an over-35 field lacrosse club/rec league (we call it “masters” lacrosse). That said, the playing level I was introduced to was, and still is, quite good. It included everyone from brand-new guys like myself all the way to ex-NLL and Hall-of-Famers.

Author Dave Stewart-Candy (Photo / D.S.C)

In what is unusual for most Canadians, I played the field game before box – but that’s just because the opportunities at the time for new adult players were non-existent in the box game. But that is something that I do find ironic considering where my interest in the historical aspects of the game eventually ended up.

A couple of years after I started playing field lacrosse, I began playing box lacrosse in a somewhat more competitive environment in 2004. I’m just really fortunate that despite getting into lacrosse late in life that I have lucked out on finding opportunities to get into the game and find places to play.

**Information on Stewart-Candy’s book, now in its second edition, is available at his website and by contacting him at**  

1911 Minto Cup Final, Vancouver (Photo / D.S.C., click on image to enlarge)