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ARCHIVED - Backcheck: a Hockey Retrospective

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Early Days of Hockey

In the Beginning…

The first recorded uses of the word "hockey" in what we know today as Canada, are credited to members of the British Armed Forces in their travels abroad. Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin noted that his crew members, who included Royal Navy men, exercised by playing hockey on the ice at Fort Franklin, Northwest Territories, in 1825. Eighteen years later, in 1843, a British army officer recorded in his diary that he had learned to skate and play hockey on the ice at Kingston, Upper Canada.

In that same period, Maritimers were playing a rousing stickball game called "wicket" or "ricket" -- names derived from the ancient British game of cricket. Played on skates by residents of Halifax and Dartmouth, with rudimentary rules and a "more-the-merrier" attitude, these contests were more folk pastimes than athletic competitions.

The game as we know it today was institutionalized in Montréal in the 1870s, when a former Halifax native, James George Aylwin Creighton, suggested the introduction of a game he had seen played in Halifax. The game was designed to fill the exercise needs of rugby and football players in the wintertime. The game was hockey.

Rather than follow the unregulated Halifax brand of action however, Montrealers created rules for the game. These rules were adopted and adapted from the rules of their own games, such as rugby union and lacrosse, the game that grew from the Native Canadian pastime of baggataway. Moving the action from large sheets of outdoor ice to the confined areas of indoor rinks prompted the restriction of player numbers from 19 to 9 to 8 to 7. The introduction of the Montreal Winter Carnival in 1883, with invitations to hockey teams in centers such as Ottawa and Québec City, emphasized the need for recognized rules.

When the first formal organization, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, was founded at Montréal in 1886, "to improve, foster and perpetuate the game," the Canadianization of hockey was launched. Goals were moved out from the end of the rink, penalties were introduced and the "puck", first described as a vulcanized disk of 1 by 3 inches, was put into play.

In the late 1880s and the early 1890s, the new game burst forth into Ontario and Manitoba and was introduced into the United States by touring teams. Then Lord Stanley, the Governor General of Canada, became so enthralled with the dashing ice game that he donated a cup for annual competition. The Stanley Cup has since become one of the most sought-after trophies in Canada's national winter sport.

J.W. (Bill) Fitsell

For the latest development on this topic please check out these links:
Type "skating journal" in the search box. Click on "132" to view this page in Sir John Franklin's journal.
Type "Franklin hockey" in the search box. Click on "126" to view this page in the The Life of Sir John Franklin.

Page from Sir John Franklin's journals and correspondence : the second Arctic land expedition, 1825-1827

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