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Review of Nancy Bouchier’s Lacrosse in The 19th Century

  • Subject: Life
  • Category: Sports
  • Topic: Lacrosse
  • Pages 2
  • Words: 982
  • Published: 25 October 2021
  • Downloads: 53
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Bouchier’s thesis is that the emergence of Lacrosse as Canada’s “national” sport in the late nineteenth-century in Ontario did not unfold in a political or cultural vacuum. Rather, the social reforming forces that drove the rise in organized Lacrosse had explicitly cultural and national ambitions. The organizers and boosters of the sport were overwhelmingly middle-class and skilled workmen, nearly entirely protestant, and sought to use Lacrosse to inculcate “manly” values in younger generations of males. Social reformers feared for the moral and masculine character of young men in newly urbanized settings. In urban-industrial areas, young men were deprived of the rugged experience of Canada’s hinterland and were exposed to lengthier periods of ‘feminine’ influence as a result of spending more time in school (instructed by female teachers) and living at home with their mothers for more years. The perceived manly and national character of Lacrosse was thought to be a remedy for these ‘problems’. Ultimately however, these aims were only partially achieved. Lacrosse propagandists more or less succeeded in achieving cultural hegemony, however the reformist/moralist motives were undermined by the pressures of competition.

Bouchier notes that the reason why Lacrosse of all sports was chosen by reformers was because it bore a “Canadian stamp” (Bouchier, 1994, 90). Lacrosse originated with Canada’s indigenous cultures, the rough nature of the sport reflecting Canada’s rugged climate and emerging national character. It was therefore supposed that Lacrosse fostered a national character and commitment in youths, hence why less rugged and individual-oriented sports were marginalized. Lacrosse had further appeal to a wider cross-section of reformers as it was very distinct from many of the urban evils of taverns, cockfighting and gambling that were perceived to threaten the character of young men.

The union between Lacrosse and the ascetics and pietists at the time is particularly interesting, as there were still conservative quarters that viewed competitive sport as an immoral waste of time. However, Bouchier describes how the propagandists of Lacrosse managed to frame the sport in terms of a “muscular Christianity”, and took steps to minimize the violence and brute force associated with he game in order to win over the approval of ascetic skeptics (Bouchier, 1994, 94). This alignment of Lacrosse with religion served to anchor the cultural hegemony of the white, protestant middle class.

The manner in which Lacrosse acted to effectuate the cultural hegemony of this group is evident in the data tables presented in the article (the executives and organizers were disproportionately non-manual labour workers for instance). But while this cultural hegemony was achieved, the character-building motive was ultimately undermined to some extent by the pressures that organically arise in any competitive arena. The pressures of winning came to push back against some of the intentions of the reformers in several ways. On-field conduct began to stretch the limits of gentlemanly play, gambling and match fixing entered the sport and communities evolved tribal allegiance to their home teams. (Bouchier, 1994, 101).

There are a number of interesting comments to make on this article. First, the rise of organized sports in the late nineteenth-century was not unique to Ontario, nor was it unique to Lacrosse. During this time organized sporting associations arose across nearly all of Canada and the emphasis was always on the ‘rugged’, ‘masculine’ sports that would imbue young men with moral character (hockey and football were very popular in Winnipeg at this time). The urbanization of Canada had many effects, one was to provide the necessary concentration of people in communities that had a critical mass of resources and leisure time to afford organized sports. So, while protestant, middle-class males across the country found problems with the softer urban conditions their children were exposed to, there is also a simple economic factor at play. Sparse, rural communities of farmers do not have the resources, population density or leisure time to engage in organized sports, urbanites do. Thus, there’s an economic angle to this issue that is missing from Bouchier’s analysis.

There is also a question that was not addressed, namely whether or not many of the claims of propagandists may actually have been true? For example, is it true that there’s value in encouraging young men to leave the tavern where the activities underway involve gambling and drinking over a cockfight? While Bouchier seems to almost criticize the ostensibly “scientific” approach to rules design that took much of the brutality out of the game, is this also not beneficial to the physical and cognitive health of players? We certainly recognize as much now. Bouchier takes a stance that does not evaluate the actual merits of these motives or decisions, framing every action as a part of the desire to attain cultural hegemony by white, middle-class protestants. While there is evident truth in this, this doesn’t obviate the value in differentiating between constructive and destructive actions or motives.

Finally, it’s interesting to note how quickly the pressures of victory began to undermine the reformist agenda. This is instructive of a larger principle. Anytime a society attaches a value to a thing, a hierarchy is created. Participants will immediately begin to compete to climb that hierarchy as status is rewarded because of the value placed on it. That gambling, unsportsmanlike play and game fixing entered Lacrosse was therefore an inevitability and not so indicative of the specifics of this case, as it is illustrative of the human character. Regardless of what the thing is that’s assigned a value, individuals will compete over it. This includes Lacrosse players themselves, but also those who stand to profit from the game, whether by legal means or not. There is a final irony then, that the reformist motive to inculcate national character ironically created the conditions under which these lesser desirable aspects of the human personality could manifest.


  • Bouchier, N. (1994) Idealized Middle-Class Sport for a Young Nation: Lacrosse in Nineteenth-Century Ontario Towns, 1871-1891, Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 89-110.

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Review Of Nancy Bouchier’s Lacrosse In The 19th Century. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from
“Review Of Nancy Bouchier’s Lacrosse In The 19th Century.” GradesFixer, 25 Oct. 2021,
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