Wilton (Bill) Isaacs, Mohawk athlete (born 18 March 1914 in the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON; died 27 December 1985 in Hamilton, ON). Isaacs became one of Canada’s most outstanding lacrosse players. He was a superstar of box lacrosse, the indoor version of the game, which was extremely popular in the 1930s and 1940s.
A Lacrosse Legacy
Bill Isaacs was the son of Freeman Joseph Isaacs (1869–1937), also known as “Man Afraid of the Soap.” The elder Isaacs represented Canada at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games on the Mohawk Indians lacrosse team, which won a bronze medal. Another Canadian lacrosse team, the Winnipeg Shamrocks, won the gold medal. The two lacrosse medals helped Canada secure third place in the overall medals count, although only a few nations had competed that year. The only other time that lacrosse was a competitive sport at the Olympics was in 1908, while it was a demonstration sport in 1928, 1932 and 1948. Three of Isaacs’ sons, Wade, Lance and Bill became star lacrosse players for various teams in Canada and the United States.
Bill Isaacs was likely the first real superstar of box lacrosse. He initially came to public attention in 1932, when he and brother Lance led the Haldimand Rifles Indians team to an Ontario Amateur Lacrosse Association (OALA) championship in intermediate lacrosse. He scored 11 goals in two games against the Peterborough Intermediate Lacrosse Club. Isaacs then played at the Senior A level for parts of 15 seasons before retiring from the sport after the 1949 playoffs. During his career, Isaacs played for teams from Burlington, Hamilton, Hamilton-Burlington, Toronto, Mimico-Brampton and St. Catharines.
Isaacs topped the OALA Senior A scoring league seven times in the eight years from 1935–42, only missing out in 1936. In 1938, he was also chosen as the most valuable player in the league. Isaacs was a member of Mann Cup winning teams in 1942 (Mimico-Brampton Combines) and 1948 (Hamilton Tigers). The Mann Cup, founded in 1910, is awarded annually for the men’s Senior A box lacrosse championship of Canada.
Isaacs ranks 11th in all-time regular season goals with 635, and 14th in all-time career goals with 777, which includes playoffs and Mann Cup championships. He was one of his team’s most valuable players on the floor. He devised plays on the move and directed other players where to go to create scoring opportunities. Isaacs is regarded by many as the best lacrosse player of all time and was one of the sport’s greatest scorers.
Wade was the oldest of the three lacrosse-playing brothers. He began his career with the Montreal Maroons in the International Professional Lacrosse League. After he played in only four games, the Maroons and the other Montreal team dropped out of the league and Wade transferred to the Atlantic City Americans.
The Americans were a barnstorming team that played against professional American and Canadian teams. They never lost an exhibition game. Wade was one of the team’s top scorers, scoring 20 goals and 10 assists during the 10 games he played. For the 1937 season, he played with the Toronto Marlboros for only seven games, apparently called up to replace his departed brother, Lance.
Lance Isaacs began his lacrosse career with the Haldimand Rifles Indians, playing with his younger brother Bill. They led their team to the Ontario championship against Peterborough in the finals.
In 1937, Lance was on his way to become one of the top-10 scorers in the league, when tragedy struck. At the end of the second quarter, playing for the Marlboro Lacrosse Club, Lance walked into the dressing room with his teammates, including brother Bill, and sat down on the edge of a table. Lance stiffened, gasped for air, whispered a barely audible “hey” and fell backward onto the table, where the trainer caught him in his arms. Bill was seated only a few feet away from his 29-year-old brother and scrambled to help him. But it was too late as Lance was already dead, the victim of a stress-related heart attack. Bill was devastated, but soon rallied. The game was cancelled with a score of 7 to 5 in favour of the Marlboros. Ironically, Lance had scored the seventh goal with less than a minute left in the quarter. In a show of sportsmanship, the opposing team from Brampton requested that the game be awarded to the Marlboros, so that Lance’s last goal in life was a winning one.
DID YOU KNOW?
Lacrosse is one of the oldest organized sports in Canada and originated in First Nations communities. Box lacrosse was developed in Canada in the 1930s to use hockey arenas left empty during the summer. Today, there are four versions of lacrosse played in Canada: men’s field lacrosse, women’s field lacrosse, box lacrosse and inter-crosse.
Isaacs and his wife, Helen, had one son, Peter Richard Wilton Isaacs, who became a lawyer and went on to be one of the first Indigenous provincial judges in Ontario. The elder Isaacs was an employee of Dominion Foundries and Steel Company in Hamilton, known as Dofasco, for 38 years. When he died of heart failure aged 71, his remains were cremated and buried in White Chapel Memorial Gardens, Hamilton.
Honours and Awards
- OALA Senior A scoring trophy: seven times.
- Jim Murphy Trophy Most Valuable Player in Senior A Series (1938).
- Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1965): charter member.
- Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition (1984).
- Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame (2008).
- Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame (2011).
- Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2015).