While the general consensus is that hockey was born in Canada, and it is Canada’s official winter sport, there is lively controversy as to exactly where in Canada and when the game originated. The most vociferous contenders for the “where” honour are the city of Montreal in Quebec and the town of Kingston, Ontario.
Unfortunately they are both dead wrong. Canada was generally settled from east to west and the first settlers, both French and English, arrived in Nova Scotia on the east coast. Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton was a novelist who rivalled Dickens in popularity in his time. He described seeing the students at King’s College (incidentally my alma mater and Canada’s oldest university), playing “hurley on ice” when he was a young student around 1800. Apparently the soldiers at Fort Edward in Windsor, Nova Scotia observed the lads at play and adopted this stick-ball-on-ice game as a diversion from military duties. This is the earliest literary reference to any game resembling hockey in Canada.
Author Thomas Raddall, a renowned Nova Scotia historian, describes how the British military took the game along the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. They still relied on the Mi’kmaw, the so-called “Dartmouth Indians,” to provide the required sticks for the game. Indeed early hockey equipment was almost all of Nova Scotian provenance.
A survey of the Wikipedia entry on ice hockey claims the first organized hockey game was played on March 3, 1875 in Montreal, Canada. Before jumping to conclusions, however, one should note that the game in question was instigated and coached by Nova Scotia-born McGill University student James George Aylwin Creighton, who brought hockey from Halifax’s Dalhousie University to Quebec in 1872. The first game was played under “Halifax Hockey Club Rules,” suggesting that perhaps the game saw some currency in Nova Scotia before ever gracing the Victoria Skating Rink in “la belle province.”
The claim by Captain James Sutherland that organized hockey was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1886 was invalidated when it was discovered that the game in question was played with sticks produced in Nova Scotia by master Mi’kmaq native craftsmen. When this was pointed out to Captain Sutherland he graciously conceded that ice hockey must have been first played in Nova Scotia. In fact hockey was introduced to the Royal Military College in Kingston by Cadet Roddy McColl from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1884. Thus ended the “Kingston Myth.”
The oldest hockey rink still in existence is the Stannus Street Rink in Windsor, Nova Scotia, built in 1897. Hockey sticks dated from circa 1800 have been retrieved from ponds around the province.
Today you can visit Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s home in Windsor, now a provincial museum and home of the Windsor Hockey Heritage Centre. Have a look at the fascinating display of hockey memorabilia. Then drop by and see Long Pond, where King’s College students played the world’s first hockey games over two centuries ago!
All Photos By George Burden – All Rights Reserved
Uniforms and insignia of the Windsor Swastikas; the name and uniform changed quickly with the advent of WW II.
Long Pond, the site of Canada’s first hockey games
Stannus Street Arena, Canada’s oldest extant hockey rink
King’s College hockey gear
Early women’s hockey uniform
Early hockey trophy donated by Starr Mfg. Co. in Dartmouth
Early goal tender’s stick