Hockey invented in England ... not Canada
Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, react after the prince took a shot with a hockey stick and missed during a visit to the Somba K'e Civic Plaza in Yellowknife, NWT, on July 5, 2011. (REUTERS files)
The mother country that gave Canada warm beer, Coronation Street and Benedict Cumberbatch, can now lay claim to originating and exporting our cool national sport.
Yes, there's some new, compelling and no doubt controversial evidence that hockey came from over 'ome and was played, with basic rules, much earlier than 1875 in Montreal, generally accepted as the first official match.
Before you dismiss it all as hum-buggery (how many English players have won the Hart Trophy, anyway?), check the extensive work put in by a trio of hockey historians in Sweden and Canada. They will present their findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the Society for International Hockey Research in Penetanguishene, Ont.
Swedish medical doctor Carl Giden, countryman and sportswriter Patrick Houda and Montreal computer analyst Jean- Patrice Martel, 53, are putting their research on the table, ahead of a new book on the subject.
"So many people have such strong view that hockey's birthplace is Canada," said Martel, who heads up SIHR's Montreal chapter. "But my Swedish colleagues have kept looking the past 20 years and were always finding conflicting information. So they kept going. A couple of people had pointed them to the British origins, a totally different direction. But then they started to find hundreds of references. And a lot of the British ice hockey clubs had old books about where their teams had started. It was fascinating."
Gilden and Houda not only found the sport had flourished as far back as the 17th or 18th centuries, but that it was commonly called hockey. They even turned up some celebrity testimonials:
* Lincolnshire Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1838: "On Saturday last, an amusing scene took place on a splendid sheet of ice which covered Croxby Pond. A large party from the neighbouring residence of Geo. Alington, Esq., of Swinhop House, drove up in sledges to the pond. The ladies were drawn upon the ice in traineau, while the gentlemen performed various feats upon their skates: after going through several quadrilles, reels and playing a warmly contested game at hockey, the party partook of a cold collation, and again stepping into their sledges, glided swiftly away.
* Letter from Charles Darwin, March 1, 1853, to son William, who had followed his father to Shrewsbury School: "My Dear Old Willy ... have you got a pretty good pond to skate on? I used to be very fond of playing at Hocky on the ice in skates."
The trio's new book will be called On The Origins Of Hockey, after Darwin's 'On The Origin Of Species.
* Penny Illustrated, Jan. 8, 1864: The Prince of Wales, future King Edward VII, was sketched playing hockey at Windsor. He wears a ribbon, which is how teams were distinguished.
* Of the seven most noted references to hockey in Canada in the 1800s, Martel noted six came from those of English background.
* In addition, there were letters from one of doomed Arctic explorer John Franklin's early voyages about his men killing time playing hockey on skates.
"If there was a tipping point in the research, it was when they found a copy of Boys Own Book from 1829, describing various activities and mentioning hockey," Martel said.
"I know a lot of critics have said 'it's not really hockey unless you can prove there were rules', so I had been nagging Carl and Patrick about that. But there were eight rules for hockey printed around the late 1860s.They were really field hockey rules that had been changed and some had been removed entirely, but they had adapted them. One of the notations was 'with good skatand ers, this is a great game.' " The kerfuffle about rules
lack of eyewitness accounts allowed Montreal to claim the title of hosting the first game in Canada on March 3, 1875, at Victoria Rink with two nine-men teams. Kingston, Ont., and Windsor, N.S., still dispute that. And Martel says the debate will and should go on.
"Look, we don't have the absolute smoking gun on this," he said. "With any firmly held belief, it takes time to accept a new idea. Up until most of the world's newspapers were digitalized, it was hard for people like myself to research the topic. That's certainly not a criticism of people who had done this before. But we think (hockey coming from England) is the most plausible of all."
Martel and the others conclude the book: "Today, anywhere in the world that it is played, hockey is a truly Canadian game."
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STILL TIED TO MOTHER ENGLAND
The British Connection to Canadian hockey:
* As of 2014, there have been 51 NHLers born within the current borders of today's United Kingdom.
* Ken Thompson (Oakengates, England) and Joe Hall (Staffordshire, England) played in the NHL's first season in 1917-18, for the Montreal Wanderers and Canadiens, respectively.
* Britain is a founding member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (1908).
* Chuck Blair, Norman Mann, Fred Robertson, Steve Thomas and Owen Nolan are among British born Maple Leafs. Thomas, who was born in Stockport, near Manchester and came to Canada at four years old, scored 144 goals and 337 points in Toronto.
* Britain won the 1936 Olympic gold medal with some Canadian-trained players, drawing protests from many nations.
* There are many pro and developmental leagues in Britain today, led by the Elite Ice Hockey League. Its 10 teams have representation from all four Home Nations; Belfast, Sheffield, Dundee and Cardiff to name a few.
* The Northern conference is named for Charlie Gardiner, a Scottish born goalie with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1930s who won two Vezina Trophies. He died at age 29 from a tonsils infection and was in an inaugural inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* Two of the Leafs most successful coaches, Pat Quinn and Pat Burns, had grandparents born in Northern Island.
* During various NHL lockouts, many idled players spent time in the English League. Wade Belak, the late Leaf enforcer was a crowd favourite with the Coventry Blaze. Many have coached there, such as ex-Leafs Garry Unger and Rocky Saganiuk.