City should mark lacrosse meet­ing

Kingston City Hall was site of in­au­gu­ral ses­sion of Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of La Crosse in 1867

Kingston Whig-Standard - - FORUM - PA­TRICK KENNEDY

Kingston’s long, rich his­tory is pep­pered with all sorts of “firsts.” It also finds re­flec­tion in its many her­itage homes, im­pos­ing gov­ern­ment build­ings, plaques, stat­ues and, of course, on the tube ev­ery Satur­day night dur­ing Coach’s Cor­ner. Now we can add one more first to that list of dis­tinc­tions — and make no mis­take, Ol’ High­col­lar, a.k.a. Don­ald S. Cherry, is as dis­tinct as it gets.

Yet this isn’t a story about Wolfe Is­land’s fa­mous sea­sonal res­i­dent, but rather about a piv­otal meet­ing that took place at City Hall in the early au­tumn of 1867. This was just months af­ter our own Johnny A. Macdon­ald and the other Dad­dies of Con­fed­er­a­tion tied the coun­try to­gether. That Kingston meet­ing, which drew sports-minded gen­tle­men from Mon­treal, Toronto, Lon­don, and parts in be­tween, marked the in­au­gu­ral ses­sion of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of La Crosse (NAL) — the first na­tional sport gov­ern­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion on this side of the At­lantic.

When you think about it, that’s no small pota­toes, dis­tinc­tion wise. Kingston al­ready bills it­self as the birth­place of or­ga­nized hockey, a boast con­tested and rou­tinely scoffed at by in­hab­i­tants of Wind­sor, N.S., who be­lieve the first body­checks and break­aways oc­curred on nearby Long Pond. For sake of ar­gu­ment, let’s say the first con­test oc­curred here, square puck, funny sticks and all. Now comes ev­i­dence that Canada’s first cap­i­tal city also served as the launch­ing pad for or­ga­nized lacrosse. That gives lo­cals un­prece­dented brag­ging rights to the or­ga­nized ori­gins of both of the coun­try’s na­tional sports. (In 1994, the House of Com­mons de­creed hockey to be the na­tional win­ter sport and lacrosse to be our na­tional sum­mer sport — which was in­vented and played by Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple long be­fore there was even a Canada.)

Both na­tional pas­times kick­started in the Lime­stone quar­ter? That’s akin to rock ‘n’ roll Cleve­land find­ing out it’s also the home of jazz; like baseball-batty Coop­er­stown dis­cov­er­ing that bas­ket­ball pi­o­neer Jimmy Nai­smith first put up bot­tom­less peach bas­kets in their quaint vil­lage; Liver­pool learn­ing it’s the birth­place of the Rolling Stones, too.

It’s also a story of de­ter­mi­na­tion, drive, de­tailed re­search, pal­pa­ble pas­sion for sport and — at least for the time be­ing — bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment.

Ed Grenda cops to the lat­ter feel­ing. Last sum­mer the noted lo­cal sports his­to­rian and long­time com­mu­nity vol­un­teer headed a sport-con­scious con­sor­tium propos­ing to have a plaque erected in­side City Hall to com­mem­o­rate the 1867 meet­ing at which the NAL was founded. The city’s Com­mem­o­ra­tive Pol­icy Com­mit­tee re­viewed the pro­posal and sub­se­quently re­jected it. The com­mit­tee in­stead sug­gested al­ter­na­tive venues for a plaque such as a Kingston Re­mem­bers in­ter­pre­tive panel to be lo­cated in City Park near where lacrosse was reg­u­larly played in the mid-19th cen­tury. Or a tem­po­rary ex­hibit on lo­cal lacrosse his­tory in one of City Hall’s niche dis­plays, or in the new gallery to be de­vel­oped in the Mar­ket Wing.

The re­jec­tion left 78-year-old Grenda stunned, but not speech­less. Months later he’s still cheesed and prone to sound­ing off on the topic.

“Here we have Kingston be­ing in­stru­men­tal in the devel­op­ment of both our na­tional sports — a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment in it­self — and the city doesn’t give a toss about it. It’s dis­gust­ing,” Grenda fumed as qui­etly as pos­si­ble over a Sun­day morn­ing cof­fee in a mid­town eatery. “There are plenty of cities that would kill for the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing played an in­te­gral role in the or­ga­ni­za­tion of both of Canada’s des­ig­nated na­tional sports. Not here, though.

“For a city that thrives on, and sup­pos­edly strives to hon­our, its his­tory, to com­pletely ig­nore this pro­posal is a shame, a real shame.”

Paul Robert­son, the city cu­ra­tor who sat on the Com­mem­o­ra­tive Com­mit­tee and au­thored the re­jec­tion re­sponse, said that while no one “de­nied the sig­nif­i­cance of the event ... it was just one meet­ing, the (lacrosse) head­quar­ters were still in Mon­treal, and there was re­ally no other con­nec­tion to Kingston, other than the fact there were a few teams op­er­at­ing in the area.”

At any rate, he said City Hall is done adorn­ing the in­te­rior with plaques and such. In fact, the cu­ra­tor and co­horts have been strip­ping the walls of old pic­tures, pho­tos, and cer­tifi­cates over the past few years. “A con­certed ef­fort,” Robert­son wrote, “to re­move much of the clutter from City Hall.”

Still, Grenda felt his pro­posal was given short shrift.

“I was in­sulted,” he said, his dan­der inch­ing up wards .“I con­sider the city’ s re­jec­tion to be egre­giously lame and patently lack­ing in his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge of early Kingston and the role that sports has played in Kingston shortly af­ter Con­fed­er­a­tion. The Com­mem­o­ra­tive Com­mit­tee con­sists of city staff with no in­volve­ment by the pub­lic. It ap­pears that sport is viewed as a pariah en­deav­our and does not merit se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion.

“The in­au­gu­ral NAL meet­ing was a sig­nif­i­cant, in­no­va­tive, so­cio­cul­tural un­der­tak­ing in Cana­dian and in­ter­na­tional sports his­tory. Yet, un­for­tu­nately we have too many peo­ple in Kingston who don’t con­sider sport as part of so­cio­cul­tural his­tory. It is!” he thun­dered. “It’s as much a part as theatre, lit­er­a­ture, the arts, etc.”

The peo­ple push­ing the plaque pro­posal are no slouches in the fields of lacrosse, sports his­tory, or both. Grenda is a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Kingston His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and one­time chair of the Pro­vin­cial Sport Or­ga­ni­za­tions Coun­cil. In ad­di­tion to hav­ing sat on roughly 30 lo­cal com­mit­tees, he was the first pres­i­dent of the His­tor­i­cal Hockey Se­ries (1980), a found­ing mem­ber of the Kingston Triathlon (1984) and was in­stru­men­tal in or­ga­niz­ing the an­nual Carr-Har­ris Cup hockey game (1986). He is also a found­ing mem­ber of the So­ci­ety for In­ter­na­tional Hockey Re­search. Oh, yes, and he played lacrosse back in the day when he was one of Burn­aby’s top multi-sport ath­letes. (Grenda even has his own baseball trivia ques­tion: Name two past Na­tional and Amer­i­can league bat­ting cham­pi­ons whose fa­thers Grenda played against in a B.C. semi-pro loop. An­swer: Larry Walker and John Olerud.)

The other mem­bers of Grenda’s group in­clude lacrosse his­to­rian Jim Calder, au­thor of two books on the sport, a for­mer na­tional field lacrosse player, cur­rent direc­tor of the Cana­dian Lacrosse Foun­da­tion, and coach of the Univer­sity of Toronto women’s team; Bill Fit­sell, in­ter­na­tion­ally known hockey his­to­rian, ex Whig-Stan­dard re­porter/colum­nist and past pres­i­dent of the Kingston His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety; Rusty Doxtda­tor, Indige­nous Direc­tor of the Cana­dian Lacrosse As­so­ci­a­tion; James Burke, chair of the Cana­dian Lacrosse Foun­da­tion; Stan Cock­er­ton, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Lacrosse As­so­ci­a­tion, past pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Lacrosse Fed­er­a­tion (New York). That’s a for­mi­da­ble unit in­deed, yet one that was pit­ted against the most feared ad­ver­sary of all: gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

The La Crosse Plaque Project sought to salute the for­ma­tion of the NAL, which hap­pened in what is now the Loy­al­ist Room a City Hall. The NAL was the first na­tional sport gov­ern­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion not only in Canada, but in North Amer­ica.

Per­haps the Com­mem­o­ra­tive Com­mit­tee mem­bers were leery of the plaque’s $1,500 price tag. Nope. Cost was never an is­sue, not with the Cana­dian Lacrosse Foun­da­tion of­fer­ing to foot the bill for the plaque.

The 52 del­e­gates who vis­ited Kingston on that Septem­ber day 151 years ago were feted and fed and ac­corded hos­pi­tal­ity usu­ally re­served for vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries. This from a Daily Bri­tish Whig ed­i­to­rial: “Ev­ery­where the La Crosse Con­ven­tion is meet­ing with warm sup­port . ... We are sat­is­fied that it will be many a year be­fore as large and en­thu­si­as­tic a con­ven­tion is as­sem­bled in Canada.”

So just who does one side with in Plaque­gate? On one hand there is the city’s pol­icy and its un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to spruce up the old ed­i­fice that is City Hall. And Robert­son is no slouch in his field of ex­per­tise, hav­ing logged 30 years in the mu­seum busi­ness, the last seven as city cu­ra­tor.

On the other hand, we have a sig­nif­i­cant piece of lo­cal sports his­tory brought to light and pre­sented by a man whose forte is dogged re­search and who, in­ci­den­tally, has prob­a­bly done as much as any­one to pro­mote and hon­our his adopted city’s won­der­ful past.

Next time you pop in to City Hall, skip up to the sec­ond floor and have a look at the mayor’s chain of of­fice. Have a glance at the city’s coat of arms while you’re there. Grenda chaired the com­mit­tees tasked with re­design­ing both.

Is Plaque­gate a dead is­sue? Not by a long­shot. Grenda said he’s taken the mat­ter di­rectly to some mem­bers of city coun­cil in hopes of hav­ing a mo­tion put forth sup­port­ing the plaque project. “If coun­cil passes (the mo­tion), the plaque will hap­pen, pol­icy or no pol­icy.”

If one day ap­proved, the plaque is un­likely to be dis­played in the room that ac­tu­ally hosted the in­au­gu­ral NAL meet­ing. The Loy­al­ist Room has been closed to the pub­lic, save for spe­cial events, for sev­eral years.

IAN MACALPINE/THE WHIG-STAN­DARD

Ed Grenda, with a lacrosse stick at the Queen’s Ath­let­ics and Recre­ation Cen­tre on Fri­day, wants the city to erect a plaque at City Hall to com­mem­o­rate the form­ing of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of La Crosse, which took place in Kingston City Hall on Sept. 26, 1867.

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