Home | Canadian Firsts in Sport | Five Sports Invented in Canada
Mini Documentary Five Sports Invented in Canada
[Footage of Ian Millar jumping his horse over a jump, image of Pierre Trudeau and Russ Jackson hoisting the Grey Cup trophy, footage of women running a race, footage of a football game and team hoisting the Stanley Cup trophy, Narrator - Scott Russell with Canada flag flying in background.]
When we watch our sporting heroes play out dramatic victories or agonizing losses, the achievements, near misses, contests and spectacles can be so dramatic that we often forget that sport was created and evolved to fulfill specific functions in society at that time. While we see competition, drama, heartache, and victory, people before us saw an opportunity to help people bring people together or solve a particular problem in society.
[Images of lacrosse, basketball, bowling pin, ringette and wheelchair rugby, early lacrosse players at CNE grounds in Toronto.]
The Canadian invented sports, lacrosse, basketball, five-pin bowling, ringette, and wheelchair rugby, all exemplify those social functions. Among these sports, lacrosse has the richest history because it developed as an Aboriginal game that was played out as a ritual rather than as a competition. With over forty variations, baggataway or towerathon, meaning "little brother of war", was played out over a few days to honour a fallen warrior, nurse a sick person back to health, or even to train for hunting or war.
[Artist rendering of Aboriginals holding early version of lacrosse stick, image of original lacrosse stick with close-up of head, team images of lacrosse players in late 1880's to 1930's, Lionel Conacher with lacrosse stick, George Beers, lacrosse team action, 5 cent stamp with image of three lacrosse players saying Lacrosse National Game, Aboriginal Lacrosse teams.]
French missionaries named the game "lacrosse" because the stick used to pass the ball resembled a French Bishop's staff, but more significant changes to the game occurred because of the nationalism that surrounded Confederation. In the spring of 1867, as well as Aboriginal populations, lacrosse was played only by the social elites in Canada's major cities. One prominent Montreal dentist, Dr. George William Beers, actively campaigned to make lacrosse the national sport that could be showcased to Great Britain under the banner "Our country, and our game". With new rules, a new association, and more competitive games that were all surrounded by a national aura, lacrosse literally took off and by the fall of 1867, there were ten lacrosse clubs in Canada with over 2,000 members.
[Action photo of basketball players, throwing basketball into a peach basket, 1901 basketball team, 1936 newspaper article of James Naismith, 1939 note about basketball written by James Naismith, 1920 invitation to hear James Naismith speak, images of YMCA teams.]
While lacrosse brought Canadian people together, basketball was invented to solve a social problem, namely the perceived moral dangers and hardships of the newly forming cities in the nineteenth century. At this time, there was a growing recognition that competitive sport could keep young men fit and healthy whilst also teaching a host of desirable moral values. The YMCA, Young Men's Christian Association, was one social institution that championed the dual cause of physical health through moral development, or healthy body, mind, and spirit.
[Numerous images of James Naismith holding a basketball, Historica footage of an early basketball game showing players playing and shooting ball into a peach basket.]
In 1891, one of the Physical Educators at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts was the Canadian James Naismith, who was also a Chaplin. Naismith was asked to create an indoor competitive game that would occupy the young men at the school in the harsh winter months when they could no longer play football. Although it may not look like it today, the virtuous and religious background of the school made Naismith design a game that deliberately avoided the aggressiveness of football, therefore he ensured the games' flow be based on passing and he placed peach baskets that were to act as goals in places that were difficult to guard on the railings high above the gym floor. It was more important to Naismith that the game adhered to moral values than sheer competitiveness.
[Scott Russell with Canadian flag flying in background, image of Tommy Ryan, ten pin bowling balls with players behind each ball, five-pin bowling ball with bowlers, Tommy Ryan bowling.]
Innovation, creativity, curiosity, adaptability, collaboration, community, and inclusiveness were all values behind the Canadian invention of one of today's most popular sports, five-pin bowling. Bowling has always been a popular sport throughout history, but making bowling accessible to all was another matter. At the turn of the twentieth century, Tommy Ryan ran Canada's first regulation Ten-pin Bowling Club. Despite its enormous popularity, however, ten-pin bowling was a very difficult sport for most people. After many experiments, alterations, and false starts, five-pin bowling gradually came to life. This is why the sport has no official start date, but rather evolved into life between 1908 and 1912 and became so popular that by the middle of the century, it was Canada's fastest growing sport that it is today played by a complete range of people from young children to seniors.
[Scott Russell with Canadian flag flying in background, image of Sam Jacks, action shots of recent ringette players on ice.]
Similarly, the sport of ringette was also invented to make sport more inclusive. Sam Jacks, the director of parks and recreation in North Bay, Ontario was concerned that women rarely had the chance to play winter team games. They had to largely skate around the edge of lakes or ice rinks while the men played hockey. It was important for Jacks that his invented sport emphasized healthy competition and that the rules enabled maximum participation for all of the sixteen members. Therefore, the game was structured to be wide open and dynamic so that success depended on skating skill and agility. The first ringette game was played in Espanola in Northern Ontario in the winter of 1963. It caught on so quickly that by 1969, the first provincial ringette association was established in Ontario. Emphasizing the inclusive nature of the sport, today ringette is played by over 30,000 Canadians.
[Images of wheelchair rugby, showing detail of wheelchairs, Crone, Dagenais and Hickling holding silver medals at 2012 London Paralympic Games for wheelchair rugby and 2012 London Paralympic Games silver medal wheelchair rugby team.]
One Canadian sport that was invented for people with limited use of their arms and hands to enjoy the speed and physical intensity of competition was wheelchair rugby. Combining aspects of basketball, rugby, and handball, players use wheelchairs that are designed to tackle and block their opponents while also strategically cooperating to carry the ball over the opponent's goal line. Following Canada's first Canadian National Wheelchair Rugby Championship in 1979, the sports international profile grew rapidly becoming a full medal Paralympic event in 2000 with Canada always at the forefront. In the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, Canada won the bronze medal which improved to the silver medal four years later in London, and then finally gold at the 2015 Parapan American Games on home soil in Toronto. Since then the game's hard hitting action has redefined wheelchair sports, thrilling spectators all around the world.