McGill’s contribution to the origins of ice hockey
By Earl Zukerman
McGill’s contribution to the origins of ice hockey
By Earl Zukerman
The birthplace of hockey has been a hotly disputed topic since the 1930s. To pinpoint where hockey first began is as complicated an argument as the "Which came first... the chicken or the egg?" dilemma.
Historians have long debated whether hockey began in Montreal, Kingston or in the Halifax-Windsor region of Nova Scotia.
In recent years, Kingston historians have conceded that their early form of the game was indeed "shinny" which is different than "hockey". The Maritime claim however, has steadfastly refused to accept the logic and evidence presented by the Montreal case.
One thing is clear -— hockey was not invented overnight. The game evolved over a long period of time. The origins argument hinges upon the definition of "hockey". Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a game as "any specific amusement or sport involving competition under specific rules: as football and chess are games".
In a nutshell, proponents of the McGill-Montreal claim to the origins of hockey argue that their concrete evidence of standardized, specific written rules, organized clubs, a limit to the number of players allowed to play, regulated playing surfaces, team jerseys, referees, goaltenders and regulation goal areas are indicative that hockey became an officially recognized game in Montreal.
Those that support the Halifax claim argue that earlier forms of the sport (i.e. shinny)— those without organized structure and teams, and without clear evidence of standardized written rules — are evidence of hockey being played in the Maritimes. To use a simple metaphor, Montreal is arguing that hockey is like an apple while Halifax is counter-punching that their version of hockey is similar to an apple seed.
However, the predominant theory put forth by many hockey historians is that if one accepts Halifax's "looser" definition of hockey, then one must also accept that hockey is not Canadian in origin since early forms of stick-and-ball games on ice were played all over Europe centuries before the type of game played in the Canadian Maritimes!
Hockey may have had its seed planted in Nova Scotia in various forms of shinny and hurley, but the evidence is overwhelming that the sport was harvested in Montreal.
Ice hockey has its roots in the game of field hockey, which dates back 2,500 years. Back in the fifth century, B.C., the Greeks had a game, which they played with crooked sticks and a ball. A crude form of this sport was also played in ancient Rome and Greece. It spread to Asia, but never assumed any importance as a competitive sport until adopted by the European countries. Prior to that time, field hockey may have been nothing but a form of polo played on foot. But when Europe took up field hockey it made specific rules that disassociated it completely from polo in any fashion.
One theory is that ancient France gave its "ball and stick game" the modern-day name of "hoquet" (pronounced ho-kay). The name meant "Shepherd’s Crook" since the game was played with a hooked stick. Some historians say that England took the pronunciation and spelled it "hockey" (i.e. field hockey). The Nova Scotia claim theorizes that the game was named after Colonel Hockey, who was said to be stationed at Fort Edward in nearby Windsor and was believed to have introduced the game there.
In its many variations, "hockey-like" games were known to most northern peoples in Europe and Asia. In Scotland their version was called "Shinty" while in Ireland they played "Hurley". Another similar game on ice called "Bandy" was played for centuries in northern Europe. The English games of polo and field hockey undoubtedly had much to do with the formation of the rules as hockey was played in the early stages.
The game in Canada had its roots in the early 1800s, when baggataway and lacrosse were played in Nova Scotia by the Mic-mac natives with a "hurley" (stick) and a square wooden block. Similar games of ricket and hurley were documented in Nova Scotia by an article in the Boston Evening Gazette on Nov. 5, 1859.
The sport of hockey is no doubt an adaptation of rules from many sports, especially rugby football, field hockey and lacrosse. As the popularity grew for these outdoor pursuits, they were most commonly known as shinny, hurling, hurtling or hurley. As the Irish, English, French and Scots emigrated to North America, they brought with them all these versions of the sport which eventually were thrown into a melting pot and came out as hockey.
The evidence indicates that McGill students have been instrumental in the evolution of "modern-day" hockey. In the ensuing century, since they organized the game, 14 of McGill’s hockey team members have combined to win a total of 35 Stanley Cup titles, 12 McGill hockey members have gone on to be inducted into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame and nine have gone on to play in the NHL.
It is believed to have started in 1873
It has been speculated that James George Aylwin Creighton, who moved to Montreal from Halifax in 1869, drafted some rules for "ice hockey" in 1873 after he and other friends, including McGill student Henry Joseph, tried to play lacrosse on skates in the Victoria Rink.
First indoor game was in 1875
Two 9-man groups, composed of Creighton and a number of McGill students, opposed each other in the world’s first ever indoor public display of an ice hockey game. The contest was played at the Victoria Rink, March 3, 1875, located in the part of Montreal that is now bordered by the following streets -- Drummond, de Maisonneuve and Dorchester (now named Boulevard René Levesque).
This event was promoted in The (Montreal) Gazette prior to the game and a post-game account was also published. The contest was divided into two halves and played with nine men per side. The players on one side were Torrance (captain), Meagher, Potter, Goff, Barnston, Gardner, Griffin, Jarvis and Whiting.
The other team was composed of Creighton (captain), Esdaile, Joseph, Henshaw, Chapman, Powell, Clouston and the Campbell brothers.
McGill forms first team, rules first published in 1877
The McGill University Gazette, dated Feb. 1, 1877, reported that McGill students officially formed an organized ice hockey club and played its first of three contests with the "Victorias", a 2-1 victory for McGill on Jan. 31, 1877.
The "Victorias" were an amalgamation of the Montreal Lacrosse Club, the Montreal Football Club, and other clubs all of whom were members of the Victoria Rink. McGill lost their second game 1-0 on March 19, 1877, but bounced back with a win against the "Victorias" in the third contest.
Archibald Dunbar Taylor was elected as McGill’s team president, Harry Abbott, team captain, R. J. Howard, secretary and treasurer, Fred Torrence and Lorne Campbell (goalie) were elected to the executive. Other members of the team were Nelson, W. Redpath, Coverhill and Dawson.
The rules of ice hockey were first published in The (Montreal) Gazette on Feb. 27, 1877, a few weeks after the McGill hockey club played its first official game. Although there is no hard evidence, it is believed that the rules were submitted by Creighton, who was a writer for newspaper around that time.
On Dec. 1, 1877, the McGill University Gazette had the following entry:
"Many fancy that hockey and ‘shinney’ are synonymous. Never was a greater mistake made. Hockey is like ‘shinney’ in being played with a peculiar stick and block —in that respect alone. The rules of the Halifax Hockey Club, as they are called, are modelled after football rules. ‘Offside’ is strictly kept. Charging in any way from behind is allowed, and so on."
In 1908, McGill graduate Richard F. Smith, told The Montreal Star that he and two friends had drafted the rules to hockey in September of 1878. Smith claims that he submitted the rules of hockey to a group of fellow students on Sept. 17, 1879. Smith explained that he borrowed some rules from field hockey, designed a few of his own and then mixed in some rugby football rules.
But McGill graduate W.F. Robertson reported that he came upon a game of field hockey on a visit to England in 1879, and upon his return to studies in the winter, he helped better organize the sport at McGill.
However, according to McGill graduate W. L. (Chick) Murray, he himself drafted the first official set of rules to ice hockey, then known as "Shinny on Your Own Side" on Nov 10, 1879. The next day, he claims that he discussed the rules with classmate R.F. Smith.
On Nov 12, 1879, Murray, Smith and Robertson revised the rules and agreed that Smith would write them down. They indicated that the first game under these new rules was played — with a square puck cut by Smith from a rubber ball — on the ice of the St. Lawrence River in December 1879.
Original rules called for nine players on each side, but over 30 participated in that first game. The rules provided that the stick could not be lifted higher than the knee, which Smith later amended, making the hips the limit. Smith and Robertson, both football players at McGill, incorporated football’s onside pass into the hockey rules. (Offsides remained constant in hockey for 40 years until Frank and Lester Patrick — both former McGill students — altered the code for the first time, revolutionizing the game in their Pacific Coast League as a box-office attraction.)
More fuel was added to the fire in 1899 when former McGill player Arthur Farrell authored the first book on the subject of hockey (Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game). Farrell wrote that no rules were known prior to 1880, which of course was incorrect as The (Montreal) Gazette first published rules in 1877.
Edward Thornton Taylor graduated from McGill in 1878 and went on to RMC in Kingston, where he reportedly introduced the game to that city.
During the winter of 1879-80, there were several McGill class teams, which played against each other, but none of them took the sport seriously enough to keep track of wins and losses. Usually they started with nine players aside but due to fatigue, often had fewer players by game’s end. The original playing time was two hours but as the game became more popular, each side would have substitutes and the time limit was extended to three hours.
At the Crystal Palace Skating Rink, the McGill hockey club posed for what is believed to be the first official photograph of a hockey team. Pictured in the well-known Notman photo were: Albert P. Low, W. W. Weeks, P. L. Foster, T. Drummond, R.C. Smith, J. A. Kinlock, Frederick Hague, F. W. Skaife, John J. Collins, W. L. Murray and Frank Weir. Upon graduation, Low and a few of his classmates moved to Ottawa and apparently introduced the game there.
At the Montreal Winter Carnival, the first hockey tournament was played. The teams played with a square wooden puck and the sticks used were much the same as those used today in field hockey. McGill defeated the Victorias 1-0 and tied Quebec 2-2 to win the silver Winter Carnival Cup, produced by Thomas Allen & Co. and valued at $750 — the world’s first official hockey championship.
A replica of the wooden puck sat under the Cup (but the puck has since been lost) and the trophy is on display at McGill’s McCord Museum of Canadian History. Names of the first official championship team, along with referee N.T. Rielle, were engraved on the Cup as follows: Goalie: A. P. Low, Point: J. M. Elder, Cover Point: P.D. Green, Forwards: Richard W. Smith, W. L. Murray, J. A. Kinlock (captain) and P. L. Foster.
The Montreal Winter Carnival tournament was expanded to include the following teams: McGill, the Montreal Victorias, Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Crystals, and the Ottawa Silver Seven. The Victorias, led by McGill graduate R.F. Smith, won the mythical "Canadian championship" on Feb. 21, 1884 after defeating Ottawa.
R.F. Smith founded the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association team and entered them into the Winter Carnival. With only seven members in tow, he successfully pleaded with the committee to reduce team sizes from nine to seven. The Winter Carnival hockey championship was won by the MAAA ahead of the following teams: McGill, Crystals, Victorias, Montreal Football Club and the Ottawa Silver Seven.
Queen’s and Royal Military College (RMC) met in the first organized intercollegiate hockey game... R.F. Smith’s team from the MAAA met Quebec in what proved to be the first time that sudden-death was introduced into hockey. The two-hour game, which started on a Friday, continued the next day after a tied score and the MAAA prevailed after four hours and 20 minutes of playing time!
On December 8, 1886, the first official hockey league, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) was founded in Montreal.
The Dominion Hockey Association, as it was also known, was divided into senior and junior sections, the latter consisting of the more recent members, until their play merited promotion to the senior ranking. As these matches were under the jurisdiction of the Dominion Hockey Association, the winner of the senior group was declared Canadian champion.
There were five original senior members: McGill, MAAA, Montreal Victorias, Ottawa Silver Seven and the Montreal Crystals, who won Montreal’s Winter Carnival Tournament that season, ahead of the MAAA, Victorias, McGill and the Quebec Bulldogs. The first league game was a 3-1 decision for the Crystals over McGill at the Crystal Rink on Jan 7, 1887. The Victorias captured the league championship in January of 1887 and subsequently abdicated the title to the Crystals in March... The Victorias later challenged the Crystals and won the mythical "Canadian championship".
This decade was a historic one for McGill as Fred Scanlan, Arthur F. Farrell, Harry J. Trihey (1898-1900) and Charles Graham Drinkwater (1894-98), all future members of the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame, played for McGill along with Jack P. Brannen (1898-00), who went on to win the 1899-00 Stanley Cup with the Montreal Shamrocks.
Two decades after McGill met Harvard in the first international intercollegiate football game, the schools locked horns in a hockey game on the ice at Victoria Rink on Feb 23, 1894. McGill won by a 14-1 score in a game that marked the first time that McGill played host to an American team.
On Feb. 2, 1895, Queen's defeated McGill 6-5 in Kingston, beginning what is the second-longest existing active rivalry in hockey (after the Queen’s-RMC rivalry).
On Feb. 20, 1899, McGill defeated the Toronto Varsity Blues 8-4 in Montreal, beginning a rivalry which still exists... The Shamrocks had one of the finest hockey clubs ever assembled, led by their "all-McGill" forward line of Trihey, Scanlan, Farrell and Drinkwater.
They won the Stanley Cup, putting an end to a six-year monopoly on the trophy by the Victoria clubs (i.e. Montreal and Winnipeg). Before this, McGill graduates had played a prominent role with Montreal’s senior hockey teams. Four of the brightest stars of the illustrious Victorias of the 90's were Graham Drinkwater, Shirley & Campbell Davidson, and Bob MacDougall. All were McGill students and this quartet joined the Victorias upon graduation from college to set a fashion that was continued for the next 40 years.
In an 11-3 win over the New York St. Nichol’s hockey club, McGill’s Harry Trihey, fresh off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Shamrocks, scored what was then a team record of four goals (Feb 22, 1900).
Lester Patrick and H.L. "Billy" Gilmour, both future McGill team captains and Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame members, made their debut in a McGill uniform.
A new intercollegiate league was proposed after a meeting among the following teams: McGill, Queen’s, Toronto, Royal Military College, Osgoode Hall, Ottawa College and Trinity University. In exhibition matches, McGill lost 8-6 at Toronto on Feb 13, 1902, and subsequently lost 5-3 at Queen’s on Feb 15, 1902. In that game, the first half was played under "Quebec rules" while the second half was played under "Ontario rules".
The Canadian Intercollegiate Hockey Union became a reality on Jan 7, 1903, when McGill, Queen’s and Toronto, officially formed the league. McGill won the first-ever CIHU "Queen's Cup" championship. They lost their league opener 7-0 against Queen’s on Jan. 23 but after Toronto defeated Queen’s, McGill subsequently defeated the Varsity Blues 9-7 on Jan 30, 1903 to win the title.
McGill regained the Queen’s Cup by winning the CIHU title with a 3-1 record. Frank Patrick was joined in the McGill lineup by his brother Lester, another future Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame member. Dunny McCallum established a McGill single-game scoring record (which still stands!) by notching 8 goals in a 14-2 home-ice win vs Toronto on Feb 10, 1905.
— Earl Zukerman serves as Vice-president (Quebec) of the Society for International Hockey Research
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