Indigenous History Month - Lacrosse

Posted On Wednesday June 10, 2020

The Origin of Canada’s National Summer Sport and Its Enviable Legacy in Brampton

The Indigenous History of Canada’s National Summer Sport

The Indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America), especially from Ontario, Quebec and the State of New York, have hundreds of years of experience playing Lacrosse (or Baggataway as it was referred in as early as the 16th century).This game involving catching, carrying and throwing a ball with sticks into the opponents net was initially played on a field as large as 6 miles long by as many as 1000 men at one time. It was an excellent means for two tribes to settle disputes, toughen young warriors for combat, recreation and as a feature in festivals.

Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake (Caughnawaga)
Image: Men from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) who were the Canadian Lacrosse Champions in 1869 provided by Library Archives Canada

Rattlesnake Hunt to Hockey
Image: Book cover; From Rattlesnake Hunt to Hockey; the History of Sports in Canada and the Sportsmen of Peel provided by City of Brampton Library

The City of Brampton played a considerable role in the development of lacrosse in Ontario and Canada. Harry W. Dawson is said to have brought the first stick to Brampton in William Perkins Bull’s book From Rattlesnake Hunt to Hockey: The History of Sports in Canada and the Sportsmen of Peel. The first regular game play began at Brampton High School at the hand of second Master George M. Lee. Inspired by Henry Longfellow’s poem Excelsior, Lee suggested that the team would bear this name. From there was born the Excelsior Lacrosse Club.  Hosting many memorable contests, Brampton became a major hub for Lacrosse enthusiasts. With an enviable legacy as the longest-running amateur community owned sports franchise in Ontario, (maybe even Canada), the city of Brampton is viewed as both the cradle and nursery for the development of lacrosse in not only Ontario but Canada as well.  

Brampton Excelsiors 75th Anniversary
Image: Young Brampton Excelsiors during the 75th anniversary season of the lacrosse club 

Famous Indigenous Brampton Excelsior Lacrosse Club Member

Nicknamed Marvelous Mohawk, Gaylord Powless was born in Six Nations of the Grand River Dec 1, 1946. He possessed skills of the legendary kind. A descendant of a 200 year old lacrosse family legacy, he shattered the Ontario Junior League scoring record in his sophomore year. In 1968 he won the Tom Longboat Award as best First Nations athlete in Canada when he was 17. The same year he was awarded the National Lacrosse Association's All-Star Award. He was on the Oshawa Green Gaels from 1964 to 1967 where he was named Most Valuable player twice and the recipient of the Ken Ross sportsmanship trophy twice. After having a long and successful career in professional and senior amateur lacrosse in the US and Canada, he led the Brampton Excelsiors to the Mann Cup final in 1977. Gaylord Powless was inducted into the Canadian Sports hall of fame in April of 2017.

Quinn Powless and fans

Image: Quinn Powless (relative of Gaylord Powless) and fans

The historic details provided in this story were obtained from the following sources where we encourage you to visit for more information.

The Canadian Encyclopedia 

City of Brampton Library

Library Archives Canada

Toronto Star

Ontario Lacrosse Association

Brampton Minor Lacrosse Association

Wikipedia – Gaylord Powless

Would you like to read about some of the people that make up Peel Regional Police? Visit the People of Peel page of our website.


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