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Lacrosse in Canada was first declared the National Game of Canada in 1859. In 1994 Parliament passed the Canada's National Sport Act which declared lacrosse to be "Canada's National Summer Sport", with hockey as the national winter sport.
Lacrosse was invented in the 1850s, when the Anglophone middle class of Montreal adopted the Aboriginal people's game of "baggataway", which was a violent game played by the First Nation teams numbering hundreds of players. The first known game between whites and Aboriginals took place in 1843.
In 1856 the Montreal lacrosse club was established; by the mid-1860s there were active teams in eastern Ontario. The National Lacrosse Association was formed in 1875; in 1880 the league became the National Amateur Lacrosse Association. By the 1880s the organized sport was found nationwide, and had become a popular spectator sport. To deal with the violence, middle class promoters spoke in Social Gospel terms about the ideal of "muscular Christianity." As working class players and spectators became more prominent, the rhetoric focused on winning at all costs.
The 1860s the Montreal Shamrocks introduced a new level of aggressiveness; it was Irish, Catholic, and fought to win. During the 1870s and 1880s the Shamrocks had bloody confrontations with the middle-class Protestant Montreal and Toronto Lacrosse Clubs. Field lacrosse was spread across Canada by Anglophone migrants from Ontario and Quebec. In February 1887, the Toronto Lacrosse Club began using hockey as a form of exercise during the winter months. By the early 1890s it was the most popular summer game in Canada; the 1900s were the golden years, as two professional leagues were set up. Escalating violence led to the collapse of the professional leagues in 1914, and the game's base of support shrank to Montreal, Victoria, Vancouver, New Westminster, and a few small-towns. Its failure to establish a solid base derived from a thin organizational infrastructure; for example, it was not played by schools or churches.
In 1931, big city hockey promoters introduced "box lacrosse" to turn winter hockey fans into a year-round audience. Box lacrosse was played in a smaller indoor arena space, and competitions could also be held in baseball stadiums, and again, the play was violent. Not enough cities could support teams, however, and the hard times of the Great Depression in the 1930s reduced the number of fans. Entrepreneurs, while failing to make a major commercial success, transformed Canadian amateur lacrosse, making it quite different from field lacrosse as played in the United States, Britain, and Australia. In 1987 the National Lacrosse League began; it has clubs in twelve cities in the United States and Canada.
The Canadian Lacrosse Association, founded in 1925, is the governing body of lacrosse in Canada. It conducts national junior and senior championship tournaments for men and women in both field and box lacrosse. It also participated in the inaugural World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in 2003.
The CLA along with 5 other National sporting association had their charitable status revoked in June 2010 as part of a Revenue Canada crackdown on Parklane Financial's tax shelter scheme, in which charitable organizations issued receipts far in excess of any material donations. The fact that the CLA Board of Directors agreed to participate in such a scheme may in part be due to the fact that the CLA Board of Directors is largely made up of elected lacrosse representatives, with no particular expertise in legal or financial matters of governance.
At the provincial level, the Ontario Lacrosse Association controls the majority of lacrosse in Ontario. The OLA is governed by a larger Board than the CLA, though also populated largely by members with a strong lacrosse background. OLA lacrosse officials are sanctioned by the OLA, and represented by the Ontario Lacrosse Referees Association (OLRA). Unlike typical referee associations, the OLRA has a governing structure that is open only to Box lacrosse officials who officiate Junior/Senior/Major-series games, though the vast majority of officials do not officiate at that level. The OLRA is an extension of the OLA, and does not represent an independent officiating union.
The National Lacrosse League is a professional box lacrosse league, with franchises in Canada and the United States. The 2006 World Lacrosse Championship was held in London, Ontario. Canada beat the United States 15-10 in the final to break a 28-year U.S. winning streak. One of the best lacrosse players of all time, Gary Gait was born in Victoria, British Columbia and has won every possible major lacrosse championship. Great achievements in Canadian Lacrosse are recognized by the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
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