Jean de Brébeuf (25 March 1593 – 16 March 1649) was a French Jesuit missionary who travelled to New France (Canada) in 1625. There he worked primarily with the Huron (Wyandot people) for the rest of his life, except for a few years in France from 1629 to 1633. He learned their language and culture, writing extensively about each to aid other missionaries.
In his journals of 1636 Brebeuf wrote of witnessing a game being played by the Huron. When reporting what he observed to his superiors Brebeuf named the stick the people were playing with “la Crosse.” While many subsequent writers have suggested that this was a reference to the “crosier” carried by bishops during religious ceremonies, no such indication is actually given in Brebeuf’s own notes. Other writers feel that it seems more likely that he was making a reference to a stick and ball game of similar to modern field lacrosse (choule à crosse – crosse meaning ‘stick’) that was played in Normandy at least since the 1400s.
Brebuf wrote of the cultural significance of the game this way:
“Of three kinds of games especially in use among these Peoples, — namely, the games of lacrosse, dish, and straw, — the first two are, they say, most healing. Is n not this worthy of compassion? There is a poor sick man, fevered of body and almost dying, and a miserable Sorcerer will order for him, as a cooling remedy, a game of lacrosse. Or the sick man himself, sometimes, will have dreamed that he must die unless the whole country shall play lacrosse for for his health; and, no matter how little may be his credit, you will see then in a beautiful field, Village contending against Village, as to who will play lacrosse the better, and betting against one another Beaver robes and Porcelain collars, so as to excite greater interest.
Sometimes, also, one of these jugglers will say that the whole Country is sick, and he asks a game of lacrosse to heal it; no more needs to be said, it is published immediately everywhere; and all the Captains of each Village give orders that all the young me do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great misfortune would befall the whole Country.”
In 2011 Canada issued both a large silver coin, and a similarly struck gold coin, to commemorate the 375th Anniversary of this occasion. The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame has on display in our museum one of 600 silver coins minted.