The Birth of Ice Hockey
Not as Canadian as you think, but still the nation’s game.
There is no sport more Canadian than ice hockey. Most kids are said to be born with a stick in their hand and a pair of ice skates on their feet. Like what baseball is to Americans and soccer to the English, ice hockey is the sport that Canadians look back to for inspiration and forward to for stability.
Ice hockey in The Great White North developed as the country did. From east to west, ice hockey grew and moved toward the Pacific Ocean. But just as many have believed Canada to be the sport’s birthplace, research in 2014 showed evidence that the game was actually started in England.
In fact, the book that was released by the men that uncovered the evidence of England’s birthing of the game, Swedish medical doctor Carl Giden, Canadian sportswriter Patrick Houda and Montreal computer analyst Jean-Patrice Martel, uncovered that Charles Darwin had even played the game as a youngster.
Some see ice hockey as a direct descendant of the Scottish Highlands’ game shinty. A stick and ball game, shinty may have been played on ice during the cold winter months. A variety of other ball games were also played, and many of the Scottish and English who played these games would later move across the Atlantic to Canada. With those immigrants came the stick and ball games, and when encountering cold weather for much of the year, ice hockey grew. Many of those people settled in Nova Scotia where the game first established roots.
While the English and Scottish may have brought the game over to the new country, it was Montreal where the game took even greater shape. The sport’s first indoor match took place on March 3, 1875. Originating from the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, the match was set up by James G.A. Creighton. The Halifax native is considered one of hockey’s founding fathers, although the game he initiated did not go over well with locals. The game ended abruptly when ice skaters came on to the ice to skate and a fight ensued with the players.
Although the first indoor game was played in Montreal, many of the original kit came from Nova Scotia. Nets, sticks and other items were “contributions” from the province. Like Creighton, these items were exported to the rest of Canada. According to an ESPN article, Creighton moved to Ottawa after living in Montreal. There, he worked in government and played hockey regularly.
Despite the game being developed in England and Scotland before moving to Nova Scotia in the early 1800s and on to Montreal for the first game in 1875, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association mislabeled the birthplace of the game. In 1943, the CAHA erroneously announced Kingston, Ontario as hockey’s birthplace. Of course, in hindsight, that was wrong.
Through the years since the first indoor game was played in Montreal, the sport has grown and moved around the world. According to reports, over 1.60 million people play organized ice hockey in the world. More than 625,000 of those are Canadians. The game may not have been truly born in Canada, but like those early Canadians, the game arrived and grew into something special; something uniquely Canadian in The Great White North.