Warm temperatures may have spoiled some of Winterlude’s icy activities, but it had little effect on Canada’s national summer sport at Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park.

Hundreds gathered during Winterlude’s second weekend to get their hands on lacrosse sticks and balls, many for the first time.

Their introduction to the sport came at an opportune time. On Feb. 21, just days after the 2024 edition of Winterlude and its lacrosse demonstration ended, the National Lacrosse League announced that the Ottawa Black Bears will join the NLL — North America’s top professional league — in the 2025 season, playing at the Canadian Tire Centre, the home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa’s team is being formed from the relocated New York Riptide franchise. The NLL has 15 teams, and Ottawa will be the sixth in Canada, joining clubs in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto and Halifax.

Ottawa has had a team in the NLL. The Rebel lasted a few years before ending in 2003.

Kealon Pilon, Lacrosse Canada’s communications coordinator and a volunteer at the Winterlude event, said the warm weather was not an impediment to enjoying a sport that is typically played in the summer heat.

“The good thing is lacrosse isn’t something that was really made to be played on snow anyway, so it doesn’t really affect anything too much.”

“Just some wet socks,” he joked.

A child holds a lacrosse stick as two adults observe at a snowy activity space
Lacrosse Canada communications coordinator Kealon Pilon (left) gives a lesson at Winterlude’s Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau. [Photo © Janson Duench]

For six-year-old Téo Vanier, the experience was riveting and kept him around the nets for nearly an hour.

“I like to learn some tricks,” Vanier said. “It’s really fun to handle the ball and make some shots and tricks.”

Daniel Vanier, Téo’s grandfather, said the experience of playing lacrosse with his grandson in the snow was nostalgic.

“It’s always fun,” Vanier said. “It reminds me of the good old days when I was playing goalie at high school.”

Vanier said the novelty of playing a sport outside its usual environment made for a memorable playing experience.

“It’s almost like when people are playing soccer with the colourful, spongey ball on the ice or on the snow, so it’s interesting.”

Pilon was adamant about spreading the fun of lacrosse, regardless of time of year or anyone’s familiarity with the sport.

Demonstrations of lacrosse were organized throughout the Winterlude festival by Lacrosse Canada. [Photo © Janson Duench]

“We think it’s important for everyone to get to experience the game,” Pilon said. “It’s Canada’s official summer sport, but it was actually originally Canada’s official sport before hockey took over.”

Lacrosse — which can be played outdoors on a soccer-sized field or in arenas as “box lacrosse,” like the NLL version — originated with North America’s Indigenous peoples. Lacrosse Canada represents 85,000 players, coaches and other participants across the country, and says its mission is “to honour the sport of lacrosse and its unique nation-building heritage” by fostering the game’s popularity.

Despite lacrosse being one of Canada’s two national sports — hockey is the country’s official winter game — most visitors at the Winterlude demonstration had never held a lacrosse stick or even knew of the sport.

“It’s just a really great experience to get people who have never played before, get the stick in their hands and just see what lacrosse is all about,” Pilon said. “It’s been a great weekend.”

For some participants, a new passion was born.

“You have some people that stay for five minutes and learn how to throw,” Pilon said. “And then we’ve had some kids in here that have stayed for two hours because they can’t leave.”

Luckily, Pilon and his partners came prepared to help those kids take the next step. Pilon said they had sign-up sheets available for parents to register their children for organized lacrosse leagues.

“There actually has been a couple people that have said they’re going to join lacrosse this year,” Pilon said.

Even for those who might never pick up a lacrosse stick again, fun was the name of the game.

“It’s been really fun just seeing a lot of smiles on faces,” Pilon said.