The true birthplace of hockey is a hotly disputed topic. It comes down to two localities: Montreal, Quebec, or Windsor, Nova Scotia.
Montreal or Windsor?
In 1859 the editor of the Boston Evening Gazette requested a set of hockey sticks from the province of Nova Scotia to introduce the game to New England.
The Quebec legislature formally incorporated the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association in 1881 to promote hockey as well as curling, cricket, lacrosse, snowshoe racing, track-and-field, and other sports.
Clearly there must have been some semblance of hockey being played in these regions at the turn of the 19th century for such official measures to be taking place in the mid-1800s. But where and when did the first game of hockey occur?
Some believe hockey first came out of lacrosse, a game taught by the First Nations in eastern Canada to European settlers. In the 1840s, British garrison soldiers in Montreal would organize occasional lacrosse games with the Iroquois of Caughnawaga. No one can definitively prove that hockey was born from lacrosse, but there is a strong documented link. In fact, in 1886, the founding members of the first governing hockey body in the country (i.e., the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada) outlined a constitution similar to that of lacrosse, with the goal of making hockey in winter what lacrosse was in the warmer months.
There is evidence that hockey may have started as a winter version of a pre-lacrosse game, invented by First Nations tribes many centuries ago. It is well documented that more than 100 years ago, in New Brunswick, the Mi’kmaq tribes made the first one-piece sticks. These sticks were used for play in organized leagues at the early stages of organized hockey in Canada.
Gilbert Sewell, First Nations historian in northern New Brunswick, could not confirm that hockey originated from lacrosse.
“Some young fellows played the first game using frozen horse manure as a puck on a frozen pond in Nova Scotia,” Sewell said. “They were European settlers, not native.”
“Windsor claims to be the origin of the first game,” said Darren Cossar, executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia. “There is documented history of the first organized game on the Dill family pond in the early 1800s. But the first organized game with standard rules happened in Montreal.”
One telling piece of evidence is the invention of the first ice skate. In 1863 a clamping device was created by Starr Manufacturing Company of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which would quickly fasten skates to boots with a small lever.
“At King’s College, formed in 1788 and the first college in Canada, boys used to play a game called hurley in the early 1800s,” explained Carole Peterson, curator of Windsor’s Hockey Heritage Museum. “Thomas Chandler Haliburton was visiting from England and took note of the new game in his fictional work ‘The Attaché.'”
As if the truth was not murky enough, a story has long circulated regarding a Colonel Hockey, who was stationed at the garrison on Fort Edward, Nova Scotia. The colonel allegedly used the game to keep his troops conditioned, and the game soon adopted his name, as many referred to these workouts as “Hockey’s game.” The library of Nova Scotia’s general assembly in Halifax lists a John Hockey serving in the mid-1800s, when the name of the game was adopted.
All in fun
Regardless of where the actual birthplace of hockey is, it undoubtedly has become Canada’s beloved game. How better to spend the long, dark Canadian winter evenings than by supporting your favorite team, fighting it out with their rivals on the ice?