Birthplace of Hockey

I was recently pleased to be able to advise the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia that their newly-acquired image of a curling game on Lake Banook, Dartmouth, which was painted in 1867, contains the earliest known image of an actual game of ice hockey. Significantly, the local newspapers reported in February of 1867 that hockey matches were being played on the Dartmouth lakes between teams from the Garrison and Fleet.

The accuracy of this image is supported by the fact that the local papers stated that a curling game and hockey games were to be played on the Dartmouth lakes and they subsequently reported these events. No mention was made that hurley was being played. It has been suggested that hockey is not depicted in the image because some of the players are holding their sticks with one hand. When you watch hockey being played today, it is common for players not carrying the puck to use one hand on the stick. This is very obvious during skills competitions as players hold their stick with one hand for maximum racing speed.

Having played many hockey games on Lake Banook, it is my belief that there are two games in the image and that the player on the ice to the left of the curlers is in fact the goaltender for the hockey game being played immediately behind the curling match. Goaltenders were reported being used in games on Lake Banook as early as the 1840s.

Ice to enlarge
  Curling on Lake Banook
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  Hockey on Lake Banook

Images courtesy: Art Gallery Nova Scotia

Hockey News Readers Choose Halifax as Birthplace
After a survey of its readers in late 2004, the Hockey News has reported that their fans chose Halifax (including Dartmouth) as "hockey's hallowed birthplace". The poll was significant because its readers represent the true hardcore fans of the game of ice hockey and it confirms a tremendous comeback with respect to Halifax's position in the debate. Only a few years earlier, Halifax and Dartmouth were largely ignored by the media. The scores:
1. Halifax, N.S. 32.1%
2. Montreal 27.7%
3. Windsor, N.S. 17.8%
4. Kingston, Ont. 16.9%
5. Russia 3.7%

"Sorry, Virginia, that ain't hockey!"
The Canadian media has recently suggested that a painting from Virginia c. 1833 by John Toole contains a depiction of an early hockey game. Unfortunately, the media has once again failed to understand the early development of ice hockey. This image shows a group of men engaged in a game of hurley - a lacrosse-like game that is still played in Ireland***. (It is interesting that the painter was from Ireland). Chambers's Information for the People (1848) provides a vivid description of the game of hurley:
"A person is chosen to throw up the ball...when the whole party, withdrawing their hurleys, stand with them elevated to receive and strike it in its descent....The ball must not be taken from the ground by hand; and the tact and skill shown in taking it on the point of the hurley; and running with it half the length of the field, and, when too closely pressed, striking it towards the goal, is a matter of astonishment....then the tossing and straining are at their height...while the ball is returned by some strong arm again, flying above their heads, towards the other goal."
Ice to enlarge     Hurley in Virginia

Unfortunately, the town of Windsor, N.S., has used a fictional quotation of a hurley game being played on the ice, without any indication that skates were used, as the primary basis for their birthplace of hockey claim. Significantly, there was no indication that ice hockey originated in their town in old newspapers, paintings, diaries, etc. until the province of Nova Scotia amazingly erected a highway sign proclaiming Windsor as hockey's birthplace in the 1980s. CBC television perpetuated the myth by broadcasting their Hockey Day in Canada from Windsor in 2003.

During the broadcast, a debate was held whether hockey was born in Windsor, Montreal or Kingston, without any reference to the true home of hockey in Canada - Dartmouth and Halifax. A group of Windsor supporters is currently seeking government funding for a birthplace of hockey museum that would attract thousands to their fictional hockey world - a tragedy for our national game. There is only one logical place in Canada for a tribute to our hockey history - Dartmouth - Hockey's Home.

*** I have always believed that the early images from Europe of a game on ice resembled a form of golfing. I have been advised by the National Gallery of Art in Washington that it is their belief that this image shows a Dutch game called kolven which has been described as an early type of golf game that was played on ice.

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