Friday, April 14, 2017

L - The Deadly Lacrosse Game at Fort Michilimackinac

Fort Michilimackinac was an 18th century French fort and trading post on the northern tip of the lower peninsula of what is today the state of Michigan. It still exists as a popular tourist attraction . I'm including this in Canadian history because prior to the US war of Independence, Michilimackinac was actually located in what was called by the British "Upper Canada."

Also, because Lacrosse is the national sport of Canada.

Bet you didn't know that, right? You assumed it was hockey, right?

(Okay, fine. Hockey is Canada's official "Winter" sport, but that's a relatively new development. From 1859 to 1994, Lacrosse was the country's only recognized "official" sport. Yeah, I don't get it either.)

Pictured: Not hockey.

Pictured: Girls playing not hockey. Notice how they don't need any wussy helmets or gloves.

Michilimackinac (God I love that word) was ceded from France to Britain in 1761 following their loss in the Seven-Years War. The fall-out from this war actually had far-reaching consequences across Canada that are still felt today and are too complicated to get into in this post (basically it's the beginning for much of the English/French/Native tensions in the country). The important point for this story, however, is that while Britain controlled the fort with a handful of troops, the population of the area was still predominantly French and Métis, and they did not get along with their new British landlords.

The young English Major in charge of the fort, George Etherington, is what historians call "a bit of a twit." He patently ignored warnings from the French Canadians that the local tribes were planning an attack. When a huge contingent of Objibwe and Sauk arrived at his gates on June 2, 1763, asking the British to come watch their game of baaga'adowe (also called baggatiway, the forerunner of modern Lacrosse) in honour of the King's birthday, the Major heartily agreed. In fact, Etherington was so oblivious to the dangers that he actually left the gates open and sent his men out to watch unarmed.

Did I mention that the Objibwe and Sauk outnumbered the British troops 500 to 35?

"There's no way this is going to work."
"It will. Trust me. The British are REALLY dumb."

The Attack at Michilimackinac is a bitchin' band name. It was also part of Pontiac's Rebellion, the famed war in which numerous indigenous tribes banded together to oppose the new British rule. The Rebellion ultimately did not drive out the British colonists, though it did force them to renegotiate some of their policies, and led to lasting respect and goodwill between the First Nations and the Colonist governments.

That last part was a terrible joke, by the way.

The Rebellion may have ultimately failed, but Michilimackinac was a resounding, if empty victory. The tribes stormed the fort and slaughtered any Englishmen they could find, sparing the French. Etherington and his lieutenant were taken hostage, and the fort was abandoned and taken over by the French traders. Eventually those very same French traders helped negotiate Etherington's release, and by the next year a battalion of English troops had reclaimed the fort, which the Ojibwe had never really wanted anyway.

Bonus fun fact? A few years later, the British and French colonists and indigenous tribes in the area were forced to band together against a new common enemy. Need a clue who it was? The year was 1776.

Further reading:

My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

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