In the Fifty-Second edition of “Legends of the Game” we look at the life and career of William George Beers
William George Beers (May 5, 1843 – December 26, 1900), a noted Canadian dentist, is referred to as the “father of modern lacrosse” for his work establishing the first set of playing rules for the game.
Beers was involved with lacrosse from a young age. As a teenager in 1856 he was a member of the Montreal Lacrosse Club. At the age of 17 William was selected to be a goalkeeper for a Montreal exhibition team that played a match before the Prince of Wales.
In 1860, Beers began to codify the first written rules of the modern game. Prior to this, all rules of the game needed to be decided prior to each game.
Some of the rules established were the size of, and the use of a rubber lacrosse ball, that the lacrosse stick could be any length, but the pocket needed to be flat in the absence of a ball, length of the field to 200 yards (180 m), size of the goal and goal crease, twelve members of a team on the field at a time, and the length of a match to first to reach five goals, or lead by three.
In 1867, as lacrosse was growing significantly in popularity, Beers created the Canadian National Lacrosse Foundation. Beers published a book on lacrosse in 1869 entitled Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada. In 1876, and organized a team of players to tour England, Scotland, and Ireland to showcase the sport.
During the trip, Queen Victoria witnessed an exhibition game and was quite impressed, saying “The game is very pretty to watch.” Her endorsement was enough for many English girls’ schools to adopt the sport in the 1890s.
William Beers was a successful and notable dentist. After finishing his schooling in 1856, Beers completed a dental apprenticeship. By the early 1860s, as a successful dentist, he began publishing articles in journals. In 1868, he founded Canada’s first dental journal, the Canada Journal of Dental Science. Although this publication failed, he went on to start the Dominion Dental Journal in 1889, which eventually became the modern day Journal of the Canadian Dental Association.
Instrumental in the founding of Quebec’s first dental college – the Dental College of the Province of Quebec in 1892, Beers served as its founding dean. In 1896, this College became affiliated with Bishop’s University and later became the McGill University Faculty of Dentistry. He held the position of Dean at Bishop’s for only a short time…differences in opinion regarding curriculum and concerns over the use of untrained dental assistants led Beers to resign from the position.
Beers was a strong Canadian nationalist. Besides advocating for lacrosse to become the national sport of Canada believing it would serve as “unifying symbol for the emerging Canadian nationality,” Beers also defended the country against the Fenian Raids in 1866 and 1870. During the raids, Beers helped establish the Victoria Rifles of Canada.
Mr. Beers was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1965, the first year of inductions.
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