The First Indoor Hockey Game Took Place In Canada In 1875
Victoria Skating Rink, 1893.
Ice hockey became the official winter sport of Canada in 1994, but really, it was just a formality. People have been making jokes about Canada and hockey for about as long as Canada has existed, and indeed, the first indoor ice hockey game took place on March 3, 1875, just eight years after the country was founded. It was played with official rules, it had a wooden puck, and in classic hockey fashion, it ended with a fight.
Skating Carnival, Victoria Rink, Montréal, Quebec, 1870.
Where Was The First Indoor Hockey Game Played?
The game took place at the Victoria Skating Rink in what is now called the "Square Mile" near McGill University in Montréal, Quebec. At the time, this was the center of the English community in Montréal. While skating rinks in modern times are mostly sites for children's birthday parties, the Victoria Skating Rink hosted a variety of activities, including fancy dress balls, receptions for visiting dignitaries, musical performances, and conferences/exhibitions. The skating surface was over 200 ft. long and 80 ft. wide, just a little narrower than the dimensions mandated by today's National Hockey League. With large windows and 50-ft. ceilings, natural light flooded the space during the day while gas-jet lighting did the job by night. If you doubted just how important ice hockey is to Canadians, it was the first building in Canada to be outfitted with electric lighting. (The ice was naturally frozen by the frigid climate.)
Who Played The First Indoor Hockey Game?
James G. A. Creighton, a Nova Scotian law student at the nearby university, organized the historic game. As a member of the Victoria Skating League and ice skating judge, he started organizing hockey players in 1873. He was responsible for adapting the street hockey rules he'd grown up with to fit the ice, such as limiting the number of players in the enclosed space. Thanks to this, Creighton is often called the "father of ice hockey," though he declined to use the title himself.
In the lead-up to the historic 1875 game, the event was advertised in the Montreal Gazette, for whom Creighton became a writer in 1877. It was billed as "good fun" because "many of the players are reputed to be exceedingly excellent at the game." Many of these players were also students at McGill, so it was basically Creighton talking up his buddies. The full roster included Creighton as captain (no surprise there), Robert Esdaile, Henry Joseph, Frederick C. Henshaw, William B. Chapman, Robert H.W. Powell, and Edward S. Clouston, as well as brothers Lorne and George Campbell. The other team, led by captain Charles E. Torrance, consisted of Daniel Meagher, Thomas J. Potter, Edwin H. Gough, William M.S. Barnston, George W. Gardner, W.O. Griffin, Francis Jarvis, and a guy named Whiting. Just Whiting. He was presumably the Madonna of 19th-century ice hockey.
Hockey at McGill University, 1884.
What Was Different About The First Indoor Hockey Game?
People have been playing variations of hitting a ball with sticks for centuries. What made the March 3 game special was that it was indoors, it had official rules (many of which are still followed to this day), and rather than using a rubber ball, the game was played with a wooden block. Why the switch? Both players and spectators were concerned that a ball would fly off the ice and injure someone. Indeed, the area for resting or watching was only about 12 in. off the ice; viewing boxes were still some time and many hard-learned lessons away. The game even had an official time limit of 60 minutes per side. They used equipment imported from Nova Scotia, Creighton's home province, including Mic-Mac sticks and Starr skates. According to reports, about 40 people showed up to watch.
The Montréal Victorias hockey team, 1897.
How'd It Go?
The match itself lasted until about 9:30 P.M. That's pretty early in hockey time, but the recreational skaters who weren't pleased with how long they had to wait to use the ice didn't seem to agree. After they confronted the hockey players, "shins and heads were battered, benches smashed, and the lady spectators fled in confusion," according to Ontario's Daily British Whig. Although the game was cut short, the father of ice hockey's team unsurprisingly won. Creighton's team took the day 2–1.
McGill University hockey team, 1904.
What Happened Next?
The nine-man team rule lasted until the 1880s, when annual ice hockey championships began and teams were reduced to seven per side, and rubber discs eventually won out over wooden squares, but not much has changed from that first game of indoor ice hockey. In 1877, the McGill University Hockey Club became the first organized league, and in 1886, the first national association was founded. In 1893, the first Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup was presented, now simply called the Stanley Cup. The International Professional Hockey league was established in 1904, bringing together both Canadians and Americans, but lasted only three years. It was replaced by the Ontario Professional Hockey League in 1908, the National Hockey Association in 1910, and ultimately, the National Hockey League in 1917. Creighton was buried with his wife 1930, and in 1993, he was posthumously inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame as "the father of organized hockey."