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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Iroquois Lacrosse Arena - Six Nations Chiefs

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Iroquois Lacrosse Arena

3201 Second Line

Hagersville, ON N0A 1H0

Stadium: 2004

Capacity: 2,300

The Home of Lacrosse

It is difficult to fully describe the relationship between the Indigenous People of Canada and the game of lacrosse. It is more than sport. It is not quite religion, but there are definitely religious aspects to the game. It is entertainment. It is culture. It is really beyond description.

Sports fans who are looking for the purest form of the sport and are interested in lacrosse must consider catching a game at one of the most unique facilities to watch the sport. In most cases lacrosse is the second, third or even fourth in the pecking order at a given venue. At the home of the Six Nations Chiefs, lacrosse is not only at the top of the pecking order, but there are no other sports even on the list. On the Six Nations Reserve, south of Brantford, Ontario, near the towns of Ohsweken and Hagersville, is a temple for lacrosse. The Iroquois Lacrosse Arena is not lacrosse first, it is lacrosse only. Built with no ice making plant, the ILA only houses the various indoor lacrosse teams of the Six Nations, and there are a ton. The top semi-pro team that calls the ILA home is the Six Nations Chiefs of Major Series Lacrosse. The MSL is a semi-pro, Senior A lacrosse league where many of its players spend the winter months playing for various National Lacrosse League teams. Some players also double down in the summer months playing in both MSL and Major League Lacrosse. The Chiefs have been a part of MSL since 1993.

Built in 2004 and owned by lacrosse magnate and owner of the Halifax Thunderbirds, Curt Styres along with Delby Powless, the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena is not only a temple for lacrosse and its connections to Indigenous culture, it is a hub of the Six Nations Reserve and important part of the community. The Six Nations include the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora.

Food & Beverage 3

Concessions options at Iroquois Lacrosse Arena centre around the Bowhunter Brothers Convenience. The store and cafe is attached to ILA and there is access from the inside. A food counter that serves fries and other larger items is available. Soft drinks and ice cream are also available for purchase along with other confections.

Atmosphere 4

From the outside, the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena is not overly aesthetically pleasing. White siding dominates the exterior and there is not much to differentiate the ILA from a warehouse. Fans should not get hung up on the outside of the building, however, as the interior is a much different story.

Entering the ILA brings fans to a small desk where an employee will collect money for tickets. No fancy box office or physical tickets here. Just a stamp and a cash box and lacrosse fans are good to go. A portable table sells 50/50 tickets and some Chiefs merchandise to the left. Once past these spots, into the main concourse, is when fans get to start exploring. Although the displays are simple, there is plenty to educate the fan on the connection between lacrosse and the Indigenous People. One important display, explains the history of the sport and its connections to the peoples that first called Canada home. A “gift from the Creator, lacrosse is played for his enjoyment.” Not even college football in the southern United States, or hockey in rural Canada can claim these kinds of roots. The display fully acknowledges that we have no idea when lacrosse was first played, but the first recorded mention of the sport came in the 1630s. Further down the hall there are a number of pictures and displays for various lacrosse clubs. Curt Styres owns, what is formerly, the Rochester Knighthawks. The ILA has been used as a practice facility by the Knighthawks in the past. There are a number of displays honouring the Knighthawks and their Champions’ Cup years. There are also displays for Styres’ former teams, the Toronto Nationals and Hamilton Nationals of Major League Lacrosse. The junior teams are also well represented with photos of the Junior A, Six Nations Arrows, Junior B, Six Nations Rebels and Junior C, Six Nations Warriors. The ILA is also the home to the Iroquois Nation teams, which play in International Competitions. Display cases house various trophies and artifacts. For fans interested in lacrosse, there is so much to explore, just in the halls, that the game could be of secondary interest.

The seating bowl in the ILA is fairly simple. Immediately the dominant orange seats in the east-west oriented arena take command. Purple highlights add to the orange and although it may not seem like a big deal, the Iroquois Nation’s colours are purple and orange and those colours are found on many Six Nations, Iroquois or other teams with Idigenous ties. The south side and east side of the arena feature traditional plastic, stadium seats. The corners and west end have wooden risers as seating. The north wall of the arena is littered with championship banners from all levels of Six Nations teams including a couple banners for the Mann Cup winning Chiefs of 2013. Simple scoreclocks can be found at the east and west with the clock on the east side guarded neatly by both the Canadian and Iroquois flag. The gameday production is very simple at a Chiefs game. There is not much in the way of extras, which is a refreshing change from some other sports where other entertainment and advertising overshadows the sport. One of the main features of the ILA which shows that it is a mecca for lacrosse is the turf that is found on the floor. Common for NLL games, turf is not usually found at this level of lacrosse and a polished concrete floor is what is found in most off-season hockey rinks. During intermissions, which are similar to hockey with three periods, kids bring their sticks and balls on to the floor and play around while the pros are taking a break.

Neighbourhood 3

For many, the Six Nations Reserve is a bit of a mystery. The Iroquois Lacrosse Arena is located on the reserve, between the villages of Hagersville and Ohsweken. The reserve is just south of Brantford. Driving through the reserve, although not announced with a large, grand sign suggesting entrance to the reserve, does feel very different. Like entering a cultural neighbourhood in a large city, signage changes, buildings look a little different and being immersed in a new culture becomes evident. It is definitely something that needs to be experienced. The ILA is, however, located in a fairly rural area. For fans making the trek, there is not too much within walking distance of the arena. That is not to say that there is nothing of interest on Six Nations. For fans who are looking for something to eat or drink before the game, the famous Burger Barn in Ohsweken is definitely a stop that needs to be made. It was featured on the Canadian program “You Gotta Eat Here” and a very popular place. Dinger’s Taps & Grill in Hagersville is also a spot to consider.

For fans looking for other entertainment in the area, there are definitely things worth seeing. At the very least, fans of lacrosse will be able to find plenty of other teams that play at the ILA. The Juniors are well represented at the ILA, with the Six Nations Arrows, Six Nations Rebels and Six Nations Warriors all calling the ILA home. Another sporting event to consider would be a Friday Night at nearby Ohsweken Speedway. Short track auto racing is on the menu and may be worth checking out. The Ruthven Park National Historic Site may be of interest to check out also. For those looking for more Six Nations culture, but not really knowing where to start, a good place would be the Six Nations Tourism website. Lots of great ideas can be found here.

Fans looking for a place to stay near the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena could consider The Bear’s Inn in Ohsweken or heading to Brantford to the Best Western or other known, chain hotels.

Fans 3

It is difficult to assess fans of Major Series Lacrosse. For most teams and games, there is not sufficient attendance statistics recorded and made public. That being said, it is clear that the Six Nations Chiefs are a solid franchise with a solid fanbase. The game which was reviewed was a weeknight game, as many Chiefs games are, and there was a solid crowd of probably between 400 and 800 fans. Fans in attendance are extremely knowledgeable of lacrosse and the players on the floor. The fans are quite reserved and even goals are not met with a huge ovation.

Access 4

The rural nature of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena makes getting to the arena by car not very difficult at all. The Six Nations Reserve is just south of the Grand River and highway 54. It is west of highway 6. For those looking to take public transit, this is not the spot to be. Getting around the ILA is not difficult at all and washrooms are more than adequate for the crowd in attendance. There is plenty of parking at ILA and it is free.

Return on Investment 5

The return on investment for a Six Nations Chiefs game is significant. First, the investment in a Chiefs game is very low. Tickets are $10 or $5 or free depending on the age of fans and there is no cost to parking. Concession prices are not an issue either. For an investment of a couple of dollars, the return is immense. Getting immersed in a different culture and experiencing an arena where lacrosse is king is unlike anywhere else. Taking in all of the artifacts in the ILA and the education in lacrosse that can be gained is an experience onto itself. Finally, the ability to see top notch lacrosse players such as Lyle Thompson and Cody Jamieson and a lacrosse legend like John Tavares behind the bench puts the return over the top.

Extras 4

An extra mark for the education that fans can receive on lacrosse or Tewaarathon from the Idigenous Peoples perspective. More information can be found on the Haudenosaunee Nationals website.

An extra mark for a facility that is lacrosse first and a hub to the Six Nations community.

An extra mark for the ability to experience a new culture on the Six Nations Reserve.

An extra mark for lacrosse magnate and Six Nations member Curt Styres. He has been a huge proponent of lacrosse at all levels, former owner of the Toronto and Hamilton Nationals of MLL and Rochester Knighthawks of NLL. He also owned the Rochester Americans and is going to be the owner of the Halifax Thunderbirds of the NLL. He is also, of course, a Mohawk and Six Nations native.

Final Thoughts

A trip to see the Six Nations Chiefs is no doubt off the beaten path for most sports fans. However, it is absolutely a worthwhile experience where fans can learn more about lacrosse and the people who shared the game with the settlers over 400 years ago. When in Southern Ontario, it is worth the drive to check out the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena and the treasures that it holds.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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