Gladiators on a Field of Ice

Humans have likely been playing athletic games on ice for thousands of years in places like Finland, Sweden, Canada and Norway, but the first recorded human athletic game played on ice was played as early as the 16th century in Europe and was possibly called Kolven. The painting by Pietr Bruegel entitled “Hunters in the Snow” (circa 1565), shows skaters carrying curved sticks, and trying to contact a small object of some kind lying on the ice. This is of course the first recorded human athletic event played on ice and its likely humans were playing athletic games on ice using wooden sticks of some type thousands of years in the past. By the 1600s polished iron blades were being used by Olaus Magnus, the last Catholic Archbishop of Sweden, and other humans to travel on top of the ice in the Gulf of Bothnia region of the 1500s.

The first documented instance of humans in North America playing athletic games similar to the modern game of hockey occurred in Montreal on March 3, 1875 in a game played on Montreal’s Victoria Rink. Not surprisingly, this game ended in the stereotypical hockey brawl which we all love to watch today, and was followed by another game on the same rink two weeks later. Is this evidence of the game of hockey’s ability to create emotions in viewers and players and create the hockey rivalries we love to take part in? The belief in the origins of modern hockey starting during this time in history is strengthened by the fact that two years later in January 1875 the McGill Hockey Club was formed and a month later the first formalized set of hockey rules were published for the world to read. Eight years later the staging of the first hockey tournament was held during the Montreal Winter Carnival of 1883 and three years after the first high publicized hockey tournament the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada was founded in 1886.

There are people that believe the game of hockey originated in Windsor, Nova Scotia and that a game similar to modern hockey was being played on the ponds and lakes of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia as early as 1827. There are passages in books written of the time, like Thomas Chandler Halliburton’s 1843 novel, “The Attaché”, that point to the possibility people were playing  athletic contests on ice in New York and Newfoundland at this point in history, similar to the modern game of hockey. It is likely that Thomas Chandler Halliburton had witnessed athletic games being played on ice during his time on Earth and had used the things he witnessed as the source for the passages.

The Canadian city of Kingston, Ontario for years laid claim to the title of the birthplace of hockey, but in recent years evidence has been brought forth to dispute the city’s claim that Royal Canadian riflemen played a game similar to modern hockey on the ice of Kingston harbour around 1855. The most recent update indicates that an athletic game similar to hockey was introduced in Kingston sometime around 1886.

The best claim as the birthplace of the modern game of hockey at this point in time appears to be the Montreal claim and it would make sense since the Montreal Canadians are the most successful modern professional sports and hockey team in terms of championships won. Where ever and whenever the roots of modern hockey originate the athletic competition continues in the same spirit of all human competitions everywhere around the world today. In the form of professional gladiators performing on a field of ice for millions of fans on a nightly basis, amateur hockey players striving to achieve their goals of hockey fame, recreational hockey players reliving old glory or just in love with the game and young hockey players arriving at the hockey rink every morning with a smile on their faces.


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