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Take me out with the crowd... Canada’s Sports Heritage

Canada is known for many attributes but there are two in particular which we most commonly ascribe to our nation: the weather and sports.  In fact, former Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau once expressed that "Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts."  While it is true that discussions of the weather often dominate Canadian rhetoric, it is our long tradition of sporting heritage that we take pride in and love to analyze and debate.  For over a century this country has produced many celebrated and world-renowned athletes in a variety of amateur and professional sports. 

There is no denying it, Canadians love their sports.  Whether engaging in or being an enthusiast of athletic pursuits, it is irrefutable that sports have helped define both our sense of local and national identity.  From coast to coast, the places where this understanding of community has been and continues to be played out remain ever-present in the landscape.  A number of these sites, whether open fields or enclosed arenas, have been recognized and designated by various levels of government for their contributions and importance to the community and many are currently celebrated on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.Tecumseh Park, 1878, LAC PA-031482 / Parc Tecumseh, 1878, BAC PA-031482

Although considered the American pastime today, baseball in Canada has deep roots dating back to the game's nineteenth century development.  In fact, the first recorded baseball game in Canada was played in Beachville (near Woodstock), Ontario, on 4 June 1838.  This contest was to honour the birthday of King George IV.  Since that time, ball diamonds like Labatt Memorial Park in London, Ontario have become standard features in many communities.  Originally called Tecumseh Park, this ball park is believed to be the world's oldest facility continuously used for baseball.  It was established in 1877 and includes a grandstand, bleachers built in 1877, and a 1937 clubhouse.  

Rideau Hall Cricket Clubhouse, 2011 / Rideau Hall, Pavillon de cricket, 2011A more overlooked aspect of Canadian sporting history, akin to the game of baseball, is the tradition of cricket in Canada.  First played in colonial Canada in the eighteenth century, it was then a game popular among British soldiers garrisoned in British North America.  Throughout the nineteenth century many cricket societies were formed including the Ottawa Cricket Club who built a handsome Cricket Clubhouse on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada's Governor-General in Ottawa, Ontario.  The clubhouse and field continue to serve the cricket community.Richmond lacrosse Team, 1947, City of Richmond Archives, 1977 7 9 / Équipe de la crosse de Richmond, archives de la ville de Richmond, 1977 7 9

Lacrosse, Canada's official summer sport, has a long history, some of which belongs more to the realm of legend than of fact.  An activity originally developed by First Nations, the modern era of lacrosse emerged in the mid-nineteenth century; the first international match occurred in 1844 when Canada confronted the USA in New York City and, in 1860, the game's rules were codified by a Montreal dentist, William George Beers.  On the West Coast, organized box lacrosse, a branch of the traditional game, was a major activity at the turn of the twentieth century and this history can be appreciated at places like the Brighouse Lacrosse Box in Richmond, British Columbia. 

Sunny Brae Rink, Moncton Museum / Patinoire Sunny Brae, musée de Moncton A discussion of Canadian sports would not be complete without a reference to Canada's official winter sport: hockey.  The first indoor match took place in Montreal on 3 March 1875 among McGill University students.  Hockey rinks, whether a backyard ice surface or professional arena, are a staple facility in most communities across Canada.  One of the more unique architectural examples of this building type is the Sunny Brae Rink in Moncton, New Brunswick.  Completed in 1922, the structure was inspired by the circular arenas of ancient Rome and adorned by a conical roof which was destroyed by fire in 1928.  While in use, though, the arena was the largest of its kind in the Maritimes.

No mater your level of involvement in sports, fans of all sorts as well as amateur and professional athletes alike can appreciate Canada's storied places where the drama of competition unfolded, giving rise to scenes at times of excitement, at other times of tragedy.  While it is undeniable that sports have the power to unite us and build stronger communities, the places which support athletic activities are valued beyond their role for hosting sporting events.  Sports facilities, such as those highlighted here, have equally supported other collective events facilitating healthy and sustainable communities.  Three cheers for our places of sport; let us continue to celebrate and enjoy them.  Hip, hip, hurrah!

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