Halifax or Kingston: who owns hockey?

The Sports Editors of the Dalhousie Gazette and Queen’s Journal drop the gloves on hockey ownership

There’s a reason tams don’t fit under hockey helmets. Hockey belongs to King’s College.

While Montreal was a fur-trading post with a brewery and ‘Ft. Frontenac’ kept incompetent guard where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence, King’s College alumni were signing the Declaration of Independence and drafting the U.S. Constitution. Rebel King’s alumnus Alexander Hamilton served the Continental Army that re-captured Manhattan, burned King’s, and forced her faculty to flee north. Those who remained in New York pilfered what was left of the original King’s founding an obscure institution named Columbia. In Nova Scotia, a bitter Bishop Inglis, who once counted George Washington among his flock, would re-constitute King’s College at Windsor, with a pledge that never again would King’s be alma mater to revolutionaries.

Perhaps it was the Bishop’s repressive doctrine that led escape-seeking King’s students out onto the ice on Long Pond at the edge of the new campus. Whatever the cause, there, in view of the not-long-ago banished Acadians’ heartland, students of King’s College created a game for themselves.

They called it “hockey.” Incorporating physical elements of the local Mi’kmaq first-nations’ sport ‘dehuntshigwa’es’ and the Scottish ball-and-stick game of Shinty, the Kingsmen devised not just the name but essential elements such as the position of goalie, shaped sticks and bench-clearing brawls.

Judge Thomas Chandler Halliburton records Kingsmen playing their game of hockey in the early 1800s (roughly coinciding with Chris Chelios’s rookie season). In 1821, a full two decades later, James McGill converted his Montreal country home into a school, allowing 18-year-old Ontario arts students access to Quebec’s bars.

Not until 1841, nearly half a century after hockey was born, would Queen’s open the doors of its inaugural class to a total of 10 students. Presumably the rest of the student body was in police custody following the inaugural Homecoming riot on Aberdeen St.

It is generally believed that McGill students played a form of hockey in the 1870s involving modified broomsticks and 18 players on the ice at once. Miraculously, the early McGill broomstick teams avoided scandal and the sport grew unhindered by cancelled seasons. Being Quebec Anglophones, for years McGillians struggled to set the rules of the game. Typical têtes-carrées, they reduced the number of players on the ice to seven per team.

Hockey helmets were never meant to fit over tams. With the exception of the Hip, Michael Ondaatje and Danny Brannagan, Queen’s products tend towards incompetence, ranging from former Environment Minister John Baird to Boo Hoo the Bear. Though located in the homeland of hockey legends Don Cherry and Doug Gilmour, Queen’s didn’t have an established hockey team until 1886 by which time King’s students had been playing hockey for nearly a century. Thus the outrageousness of the Queen’s claim is matched only by its fallacy and the Gaels’ affection for sheep. Though it may soothe Queen’s pride that their school contended three times for the Stanley Cup, the Gaels were swept in every contest. The Gaels sheepishly tried their luck with the Memorial Cup and failed there as well. From their Nova Scotian Olympus the Gods of hockey continue to scorn the Gaels for their foolish pride.

To this day Queen’s hockey teams have yet to win a national championship. Queen’s College colours, soiled as they are by the battle and the rain, still wait for a hockey victory to wipe away that stain.

What’s the sport of King’s? Hockey. Too bad no one’s ever heard of us.

Joel Tichinoff is the Sports Editor of the Dalhousie Gazette in Halifax.

From the land where curling was born, the Church of Scotland established Queen’s College in Kingston in 1841, Queen Victoria’s royal charter in hand.

Queen’s University’s history isn’t as arson-heavy as King’s College or as broom-heavy as McGill, but our fair university has had a sizeable impact on the sport of hockey.

The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto recognizes five locales as hockey’s potential birthplace—Windsor, N.S., the Halifax-Dartmouth region, Deline, NWT, Montreal and Kingston. Six other areas have thrown their names into the mix of places claiming rightful ownership of hockey.

Because hockey doesn’t have any specific sport to plant its roots, given that it evolved from essentially any stick-and-ball-with-a-goal game, or any specific creator, like basketball’s James Naismith, there can’t possibly be any one, specific birthplace.

As such, any discussion on hockey’s rightful owner must come down to the place which has had the most profound impact on the modern game’s evolution. That place is Kingston.

In 1843, a British army officer stationed in Kingston named Arthur H. Freeling wrote: “Began to skate this year, improved quickly and had great fun at hockey on the ice.” This was the earliest written reference to hockey being a sport played on ice, with skates.

This is refuted by residents of Deline, who point to a letter written by Sir John Franklin in 1825 which said, “The game of hockey played on the ice was the morning sport.” His letter makes no reference to skates, though.

Those who argue against Kingston being the birthplace of hockey will say that a game of shinny was played somewhere in their municipality on some windswept ice patch. But Kingston has had the most profound impact on the game.

In 1886, using sticks from Nova Scotia, hockey teams from Queen’s and the Royal Military College faced off in the Kingston Harbour. This might not have been the earliest hockey game, but the Queen’s-RMC game was one of the most important games in hockey’s history. Queen’s and RMC continue that rivalry to this day. In fact, they play for the Carr-Harris Cup every year in vintage jerseys to recognize the importance of their game 124 years ago.

McGill students will surely point to the Montreal Canadiens as the most important hockey team in the last 150 years. I would argue it is in fact the Queen’s Golden Gaels who created the most stir to spread hockey across the continent.

Queen’s teams were prominent in the game’s development west of Montreal and south into the United States. They brought the game to cities like Washington, New York, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, where they regularly drew crowds of 4,000-5,000 people during the dawning days of the 20th century. The Gaels pay homage to this part of their history as well, as they take part in pre-season tournaments like the one hosted by Pittsburgh’s Robert Morris University.

Although Queen’s hasn’t won an OUA title in quite some time, our name is still on the trophy. The University donated the Queen’s Cup to the OUA in 1903.

Finally, while a university team, the Gaels made serious headways into the provincial and national championship ranks through the years. They were the first successful challengers for the Allan Cup, presented to the best amateur hockey team in the country, in 1910. The Gaels also brought home the George T. Richardson Memorial Trophy, named after a former Queen’s player, as the best Junior A team in the country in 1926. Finally, they competed in (but lost) three Stanley Cup challenges, more challenges than any other university team in the country. They had to forfeit a fourth due to the timing of medical school exams.

Kingston might not be the place where the first hockey game took place. But as the birthplace of Don Cherry and Doug Gilmour, the location of the game’s oldest rivalry, and the home of Queen’s University, Kingston lays the greatest claim to owning the world’s greatest game.

Amrit Ahluwalia is the Sports Editor of the Queen’s Journal.

The 1893-94 Queen’s University hockey team.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.