Helmets, gloves and sticks littered the turf as the final buzzer sounded at Canada Games Park this past August in Niagara, Ont.
More than a dozen teenage boys from B.C. had hung on for a thrilling 8-7 win over Team Ontario in the gold medal final of box lacrosse. Soon, the boys would have shiny medals around their necks. Lacrosse, it seemed, was in a good spot.
After years of being excluded at the Canada Games — since 1985, to be exact — lacrosse was finally back. Nine provinces sent teams to Niagara and, for the first time ever, girls’ teams competed at the games.
“The experience was great. It is actually bringing the sport to the next level,” said Norman Cédilotte, who used to sit on the executive board of Lacrosse Quebec and still manages the girls’ division in the province. He organized a team that represented Quebec at the Niagara games.
“To get so many great athletes together just brought an opportunity for us to change the course of how lacrosse could be. I think it was a great event to have this on a national platform being seen by everyone across Canada.”
But it looks like it is one and done for lacrosse.
The Canada Games Council released the list of sports for the 2025 games to be held in St. John’s. Lacrosse isn’t on that list. Organizers said there’s a limit to the number of athletes they can handle.
“Our reality is that there’s a greater number of sports and disciplines that apply for selection for each Canada Games than we actually have participant quota to follow,” said Kelly-Ann Paul, the president and CEO of the Canada Games Council.
Lacrosse has a long history in Canada. First Nations began playing the sport more than 500 years ago. Each nation had its own version but it always had a spiritual aspect and was called the Creator’s Game.
The sport became popular with European settlers across the country and in 1994, the federal government declared lacrosse Canada’s national summer sport.
Considering the sport’s roots, dropping it from the Canada Games, according to Mohawk Garrett Cree, doesn’t make sense.
“Canada wants to say it’s their national summer sport, so it’s pretty odd that they wouldn’t want to put that in,” said Cree, who lives in Kahnawake, Que., and is the president of the local minor lacrosse association.
While he wants to see the sport included, he said many First Nations players wouldn’t want to take part anyway unless the format is changed.
“Being Indigenous, I didn’t understand why our First Nations or our own Indigenous team couldn’t represent itself and that we have to go and play for a province. I could not wrap my head around that,” he said.
Cédilotte is baffled by the decision to cut Lacrosse.
“To me the biggest factor is culture. The sport is a way of doing some reconciliation (between Indigenous people) with the rest of the Canadian people.”
“Unfortunately, the lack of presentation of lacrosse in 2025 means that we’re, in a certain way, breaking the truth and reconciliation that we’re trying to set up for our culture to mix even more with Indigenous communities — and that’s a sad fact.”
Paul said lacrosse was a big hit at the Niagara games.
“It was tremendous. It was a terrific spectator sport. It was terrific for the development of lacrosse, it was terrific for the energy. It did increase the Indigenous inclusion in the Canada Games.”
But something that played against lacrosse’s inclusion, she said, is where the 2025 Games are to be hosted.
“The one province that didn’t send a team (to Niagara) was Newfoundland and Labrador. The next games after that are in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and the territories didn’t send a team either, so we do have to look at what meaningful inclusion looks like in those jurisdictions too.”
Lacrosse Canada looks to future
In an email, the executive director of the country’s national governing body, Lacrosse Canada, said her organization is disappointed.
“We’re working with Canada Games, the provinces and our members on how we can include lacrosse in future Canada Games,” said Jane Clapham. “We will be meeting with our members in the coming weeks to discuss a cohesive strategy to help our return to the Canada Summer Games.”
Paul said it took some lobbying to even get the sport added to the 2022 Games.
“Lacrosse was added onto the program in part as a reconciliation action plan,” said Paul.
“It’s a very, very popular sport in southern Ontario where the games were held,” she said.
“There was a request from the Six Nations of the Grand River, supported by the Canadian Lacrosse Association, supported by the Council and then funded by [federal, provincial, territorial] governments to add the sport as a pilot to ’22. That sport is being evaluated at this time,” Paul said.
She says there is still a chance it could be back on the list before the games begin.
Cédilotte isn’t giving up.
“There’s absolutely a fight. We have some time to make it happen; get it changed. As a community, a mixed community, we need to have a common voice and push to ensure that lacrosse is at the Canada Summer Games 2025.
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