Origins & Connections to Sport

Lacrosse, the game the Iroquois believe was given to them by Creator, is Canada’s oldest organized sport, dating back hundreds of years before Canada even existed as a country. From the beginning, lacrosse was considered more than just a game, as First Nations people played it to settle disputes, assist in the healing process and to prepare for war. This is the story and legacy of Gaylord Powless, the young Mohawk lacrosse player from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, where his family has lived and played lacrosse for over 200 years.

In 1964, at 17 years of age, Gaylord Powless (centre) won the Tom Longboat Award and the National Lacrosse Association’s All-Star Award.
Courtesy of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Gaylord grew up watching lacrosse from a young age influenced by his father, Ross Powless, was also a lacrosse superstar. To say Gaylord was born with a stick in his hand is an exaggeration, but by age two he received his first stick and quickly learned under the tutelage of his father how to pass, shoot, and make plays. Under his guidance, Gaylord and his siblings learned to love lacrosse.

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Lacrosse stick used by Gaylord Powless during his playing career with the Oshawa Green Gaels. Lacrosse sticks were originally made of hickory wood with the netting made of deer sinew and also included hawk feathers to bring strength of vision and wolf fur to bring speed and agility.
Courtesy of the Gaylord Powless Family

By the time he was 12, he was already a very gifted player and became the target of hard physical play and racial taunts. He would face this throughout his career. In these early years, Gaylord often retaliated with rough play and fighting and either spent too many minutes in the penalty box or was thrown out of many games. It was at this time in his life that his dad taught him the greatest lesson of all. Ross Powless shared the historical Seneca legend with his son, which states; “One who rejoices in the pleasure of any game does not act or respond with an angry spirit.” In short, his lesson was that even a rough full-contact sport like lacrosse could be played fairly and with integrity. Gaylord worked at this ideal, and in learning to control his anger, he got himself on the path to becoming one of the greatest players of all time. If Gaylord could play clean when being fouled, the other team would get a penalty. His team would then get a power play, and with Gaylord playing it was a good bet their team would score.

In 1967, Gaylord Powless was referred to as the “Gordie Howe of lacrosse” by local media due to his dominant and high-scoring play.
Courtesy of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Gaylord Powless in his Oshawa Green Gaels jersey, ca. 1967. He was a key member of his team which won the Minto Cup four years in a row. Courtesy of Mario Geo/Toronto Star via Getty Images

From the beginning of his organized playing days all the way to becoming pro, Gaylord was a champion. In his youth, he led the Oshawa Green Gaels to the National Junior Championship four consecutive years and personally won the national skills competition, the sportsmanship trophy, and the Most Valuable Player award each of these years. As an amateur and professional, he set national records for scoring and assists and winning every honour in the game. His numbers and accomplishments were extraordinary, but you had to see him play to truly and deeply appreciate his greatness.

Gaylord Powless was recruited by the Oshawa Green Gaels as a centre, scoring three goals and five assists in his first game.
Courtesy of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Sportswriters say Gaylord’s instincts for the game were uncanny. Chuck Miller, chair of the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame, used to call the best players in the game crafty. In the case of Gaylord’s play, he said he was “unbelievably crafty.” Even though the opposing players knew he was coming, Gaylord Powless had more unexpected and tricky moves than anyone could counter.

Lacrosse ball from the 1971 season signed by Gaylord Powless. All balls produced for league play are made of solid rubber. Courtesy of the Gaylord Powless family

In 1977, Gaylord’s career was cut short by injuries forcing him to retire at age 30. Though his competitive playing days were over, Gaylord continued to market the sport playing in various arenas around North America to promote the game. For over 20 years, he also gave back extensively to his community by coaching lacrosse, ice hockey, figure skating and promoting activities for Elders.

Gaylord Powless’ performance on the field earned him the nickname of “the Marvellous Mohawk”. Courtesy of Audrey Powless-Bomberry

These are just some of the ways the Magnificent Mohawk will forever be an icon to his sport, community, and country.