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The "Father" of Ice Hockey

This story was initially published March 1, 2010

On March 3, 1875, curious spectators crowded into Montréal's Victoria Skating Rink to witness a game of hockey – a sport most of them had never heard of before. The game was a departure in significant ways from previous versions of the sport. Smaller teams, a wooden puck, and an offside rule made this version different. The game's uniqueness and excitement inspired the creation of hockey clubs and official rules. These developments are commonly credited to James George Aylwin Creighton, and have earned for him a reputation as the “father” of ice hockey.

James George Aylwin Creighton
© Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-197799
J.G.A. Creighton was born on June 12, 1850 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s College, he worked as a surveyor under Sandford Fleming, the chief engineer of the Intercontinental Railway and the inventor of Standard Time. When his engineering work took him to Montréal in 1872, Creighton joined the city’s vibrant sporting scene as a football player while contributing articles to the Montréal newspaper, The Gazette. Creighton was also involved in field hockey, and served as a skating judge at the Victoria Skating Rink. All four of these pursuits contributed to his organization of the first documented indoor hockey game, and a couple of years later, the publication of the first official indoor ice hockey rules.

Creighton modelled indoor ice hockey on a winter game that he had seen in Halifax, called “hurley,” or “hockey.” The Halifax version of the game was played outdoors with upwards of 50 players on each team, and a lacrosse ball. Using his connections at the Victoria Skating Rink, Creighton brought the game indoors, which required him to limit the number of players to nine on each team. He also introduced a wooden “puck” which was thought to be more difficult to lift off of the ice, making the game safer for spectators. Creighton’s team won the match 2-1 in front of an excited crowd.

Hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink, Montréal 1893
© Library and Archives Canada / Molson Archives Collection / PA-139443

Two years later, Creighton published the “Montreal Rules of Hockey” in The Gazette, which were largely based on the official rules of field hockey. Meanwhile, the popularity of the sport grew and the formation of hockey clubs increased. After being appointed as law clerk to the Canadian Senate, Creighton moved to Ottawa where he formed the Rideau Rebels and continued to promote the game that became Canada’s national winter sport.

James George Aylwin Creighton was designated as a National Historic Person for his role in the development and popularization of ice hockey, and as the captain of the first ice hockey club in Canada.

To learn more about hockey, read Hockey's Holy Grail, Hockey’s First Superstar and Hockey Fans Riot in the Name of Maurice Richard!

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