Ice hockey in Canada

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Ice hockey in Canada
Parc de l Esplanade 12.JPG
Skaters playing a game of ice hockey at Esplanade Park in Quebec City
Governing bodyHockey Canada
National team(s)
First played1862
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Ice hockey, simply referred to as hockey in both English and French in Canada, dates back to the 19th century. The sport is very popular and played year-round and at every level in the country.[1] Born of various influences from stick-and-ball games brought from the United Kingdom and indigenous games, the contemporary sport of ice hockey originated in Montreal. It is the official national winter sport of Canada[2] and is widely considered Canada's national pastime, with high levels of participation by children, men and women at various levels of competition.[3][4]


The game of ice hockey has its roots in the various stick-and-ball games played over the centuries in the United Kingdom, and North America.[5][6] From prior to the establishment of Canada, Europeans are recorded as having played versions of field hockey and its relatives, while the Mi'kmaq indigenous peoples of the Maritimes also had a ball-and-stick game, and made many hockey sticks used by Europeans in the 1800s. Similarly, ice skating team games which eventually became the organized sport of bandy were also played. From these roots, the contemporary sport of ice hockey was developed in Canada, most notably in Montreal, where the first indoor hockey game was played on March 3, 1875, at the Victoria Skating Rink, organized by James Creighton, a McGill University student from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Some characteristics of that game, such as the length of the ice rink and the use of a puck, have been retained. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) later adopted the Canadian rules as the official rules of ice hockey.

The Stanley Cup in 1893. The trophy was donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, to be awarded to the top ice hockey team in the country.

Annual championships began in Montreal in the 1880s, leading to the awarding of the Stanley Cup, considered the oldest trophy in North American sports. Lord Stanley of Preston was appointed by Queen Victoria to be the Governor General of Canada on June 11, 1888. While governor, ice hockey was still just forming in Canada. He first got to see the game of hockey played at Montreal's 1889 Winter Carnival. During the carnival he watched the Montreal Victorias play the Montreal Hockey Club. Afterwards, Stanley and his family became very involved in the game of ice hockey. His two sons, Arthur and Algernon, convinced their father to donate a trophy that would be considered to be a visible sign of the ice hockey championship, which was a silver bowl inlaid with gold. The trophy was first presented in 1893 and was called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup. The name of the trophy has since been known as the Stanley Cup.[6][5] Several traditions remain from early amateur play, including hand-shakes between opposing teams after a championship match.

Professionalism began in the 1890s, with players being paid under the table in various sports, including ice hockey and lacrosse. Openly professional leagues emerged after 1900. Five cities in the United States and Ontario formed the International Professional Hockey League (IPHL) in 1904. The American-based league was the beginning of professional ice hockey. The IPHL attracted high-end Canadian players, depriving Canada of its best players. Other early professional play took place in Northern Ontario (the Timiskaming League) and in the Maritimes (the Coloured Hockey League).[citation needed] Although many Canadian amateur teams paid their players under the table, most Canadian hockey associations still stuck to the codes of amateurism. The IPHL ceased after three years, but that was long enough to spark the creation of a Canadian-based professional league, the Ontario Professional Hockey League, in 1908. Though some believe the IHL's short existence was due to lack of spectator interest, the primary reason the league failed was a loss of good players back to Canadian teams that by 1906 played in hockey associations, such as the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, that allowed professionals to play alongside amateurs. The National Hockey Association was formed in 1910, leading to the National Hockey League in 1917.[7]

The violence of the sport instigated the Ottawa Silver Seven and Montreal Wanderers rivalry of 1907. Newspapers described hockey as a combination of "brutal butchery" and "strenuous spectacle," speaking to public perceptions and different ways of experiencing the game. Ideals of respectable, middle-class masculinity and rough, working-class masculinity co-existed within accounts of fast, skilled, rugged, hard-hitting hockey.[8]

Photo of the gold medal-winning Winnipeg Falcons (along with an unidentified ship officer and woman), taken en route to the 1920 Olympic.

During the 1920s the Winnipeg's senior hockey league for the 1919-20 season, the Winnipeg Falcons, featuring the Icelandic Canadians, became Canadian national champions and won the 1920 Olympic gold medal in Antwerp for Canada in hockey. With their devotion to Canada in World War I, their integration made this team a symbol of Canadian masculinity, unaffected by the ethnic stereotyping and discrimination that affected some other sports teams during the 1920s.[9]

During the Great Depression, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association was forced to re-evaluate its position on amateurism in ice hockey and to assess its relationship to the amateur sports infrastructure in Canada, which was headed by the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. The lacklustre performance of the Canadian national hockey team at the 1936 Olympics, over player availability forced radical changes on approaches to how the game was formulated in the country.[10]

The Canadian national men's ice hockey team dominated international amateur play from the 1920s until the early 1950s, when the introduction of state-sponsored national ice hockey programs, notably from the Soviet Union, began to dominate over the club-based Canadian program. Canada would change to a national team composed of amateurs and eventually withdraw from international senior-level competition in a dispute over the introduction of professionals, considered Canada's best, to counter the dominance and provide an "even playing field" in the eyes of Canadian ice hockey officials.

In September 1972, Canada's best hockey players from the National Hockey League (NHL) played the elite amateurs from the Soviet Union in a friendly series. When Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau met his Soviet counterpart, Alexei Kosygin, in 1971, their discussions included increasing the hockey competitions between the two countries. Soon after, hockey hierarchies of both nations decided on a series of eight games, four to be played across Canada and four in Moscow. For Canadians, the Summit Series was intended to be a celebration of their global supremacy in ice hockey. The architects of Soviet hockey, on the other hand, had designs on surprising Canada and the world with their skill and claiming the Canadian game as their own.[11]

The Summit Series was the catalyst for a re-examination of the Canadian hockey system, organization, coaching and training methods. The changes in Canadian ice hockey, along with the acceptance of professional players in international play, would eventually lead to a return to international competition in the 1990s, and an Olympic gold medal in 2002, Canada's first in fifty years. The 1990s also saw the introduction of international championships in women's ice hockey, with a Canadian national women's team formed, leading to Olympic participation, and the development of professional women's hockey.

The Hockey Hall of Fame, located in Toronto, Ontario, is the permanent home of many ice hockey trophies, including the Stanley Cup. The Hall also honours the greatest ice hockey players, inducting players annually. Some of the great Canadian hockey players honoured in the Hall include Wayne Gretzky of Ontario, who holds many NHL scoring records; Maurice Richard of Montreal, a hero in Quebec, who led the Montreal Canadiens to eight Stanley Cups;[12] Gordie Howe of Saskatchewan, and Bobby Orr of Ontario, among many others.

National and international competitions[edit]

The London Knights celebrate with the Memorial Cup. A major junior hockey club trophy, it is awarded to the Canadian Hockey League champion.

Prominent trophies for national championships in Canada are the Memorial Cup for the top junior-age men's team and the Allan Cup for the top men's senior team. There are national championships in several other divisions of play. Hockey Canada is the sport's official governing body in Canada and is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). A Canadian national men's team, composed of professionals, competes in the annual IIHF Men's World Championship and in the Olympics. Russia and U.S.A are considered the Canada national team major rival.[13][14]

Participation rates[edit]

Ice hockey is one of the most played sports in the country at the youth level[15][16][17] and remains popular for adults whether in organized professional, amateur or recreational leagues. Numerous tournaments are held annually, and ice hockey games are often part of winter carnivals, and many outdoor ice rinks are constructed for the winter season. In 2010, an estimated 1.3 million Canadian adults participated in ice hockey, second to golf.[18]

The sport is the third-most popular sport among Canadian children. A 2010 survey estimated that 22% of households have a child playing ice hockey, while 25% of households have a child playing soccer, and 24% of households have a child participating in swimming.[19] The sport faces increasing competition from other popular sports such as basketball,[20] soccer,[21] [22] and field hockey,[23] which all have high participation rates. Another factor facing participation rates is the relative higher cost of hockey equipment.[24][25] In 2013, the average cost of ice hockey equipment for youth was estimated at CA$730 while basketball equipment cost $310 and soccer equipment cost $160.[4]

Women's ice hockey[edit]

Lady Isobel, daughter of Lord Stanley, plays a game of hockey with other women in Toronto, c. 1888–1893.

Women's hockey in Canada is growing.[26] The top-level Canadian Women's Hockey League ran for 12 seasons from 2007-19. The Clarkson Cup is the highest trophy in Canadian women's hockey. Women's hockey teams exist at some college and university institutions, while girls' teams exist where numbers support organizing teams and girls often participate in co-ed youth leagues. From the 2001–02 season to the 2012–13 season, female Hockey Canada registrations increased by 59%.[4]

National identity[edit]

Ice hockey is so popular in Canada that is considered a major component of Canadian culture and national identity.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39]

Canada's national game debate[edit]

In May 1964, former Canadian Amateur Hockey Association president and then current member of parliament Jack Roxburgh did extensive research to find if Canadian parliament had ever declared a national game, and specifically looked into whether lacrosse was officially declared. After going through parliamentary records, he found no law was ever enacted. The Canadian Press reported at the time that the myth of lacrosse as Canada's national game possibly came from a book published in 1869 titled Lacrosse, the National Game of Canada, and that the Canadian Lacrosse Association was founded in 1867.[40][41] His endeavour to declare hockey as Canada's national game coincided with the Great Canadian Flag Debate of 1964.[42] On October 28, 1964, Roxburgh moved to introduce Bill C–132, with respect to declaring hockey as the national game of Canada.[43]

Canadian Lacrosse Association members responded to the motion by calling it insulting and "out of line", and vowed to fight it.[44] On June 11, 1965, Bob Prittie replied by introducing a separate bill to have lacrosse declared as Canada's national game and stated that, "I think it is fitting at this time when we are considering national flags, national anthems and other national symbols, that this particular matter should be settled now".[42] The choice of Canada's national game was debated in 1965, but neither bill was passed when parliament was dissolved.[45] In 1967, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson proposed to name national summer and winter games, but nothing was resolved. Finally in April 1994, Bill C–212 was passed to recognize hockey as Canada's official winter game, and lacrosse as its summer game.[42]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "National Sports of Canada Act". Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Weinberg, Stuart (30 November 2010). "How Much Do Canadians Love Hockey?". Retrieved 23 September 2016 – via Wall Street Journal.
  4. ^ a b c "Hockey, Canada's game, not its most popular". CBC News. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Hays, Matthew (28 May 2014). "Ice hockey not invented in Canada? That's cold, man". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Why hockey isn't really our game: Canada's national sport was born on the frozen ponds of England, book reveals". The National Post. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
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  11. ^ J. J. Wilson, "27 Remarkable Days: the 1972 Summit Series of Ice Hockey Between Canada and the Soviet Union." Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2004 5(2): 271-280. ISSN 1469-0764 Fulltext: EBSCO; Markku Jokisipilä, "Maple Leaf, Hammer, and Sickle: International Ice Hockey During the Cold War." Sport History Review 2006 37(1): 36-53. ISSN 1087-1659
  12. ^ Melançon Benoît, Les Yeux de Maurice Richard: Une Histoire Culturelle, (2006)
  13. ^ "World Cup of Hockey: Canada, Russia renew their historic rivalry - NHL on CBC Sports - Hockey news, opinion, scores, stats, standings". 2016-09-24. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  14. ^ Jake Simpson (2014-02-20). "There's No Real Olympic Hockey Rivalry Between the U.S. and Canada". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  15. ^ "5. Most played sports in Canada - Sport Participation in Canada, 2005". Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  16. ^ Gardner, Sam. "Daily Buzz: Blind ice hockey in Canada is growing popularity". Retrieved 23 September 2016.
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  18. ^ "Sport Participation 2010" (PDF) (pdf). Canadian Heritage. p. 30.
  19. ^ "Sport Participation 2010" (PDF) (pdf). Canadian Heritage. p. 9.
  20. ^ "How Basketball Overtook Hockey As The Most Popular Youth Sport In Canada". Retrieved 2016-11-02.
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  22. ^ "Gordon: Why soccer will overtake hockey in Canada". 1 July 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  23. ^ Kingston, Gary. "Field hockey gets no respect in Canada". Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  24. ^ Sturgeon, Jamie. "Canada's game? Hockey losing ground among cash-strapped families". Retrieved 23 September 2016.
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  26. ^ Joseph, Janelle; Darnell, Simon; Nakamura, Yuka (24 May 2017). Race and Sport in Canada: Intersecting Inequalities. Canadian Scholars’ Press. ISBN 9781551304144. Retrieved 24 May 2017 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ "Hockey is more than a game to Canadians". 29 January 2017. Retrieved 19 October 2016 – via Reuters.
  28. ^ Riches, Sam (12 January 2015). "When Sport Defines a Nation". Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  29. ^ Cousins, Ben. "Hockey: Canada's Pass Time, Religion and Way Of Life". Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  30. ^ "Richard Wagamese on hockey, residential schools and our national identity". Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  31. ^ Berkshire, Andrew. "For Canadians, winning hockey gold is a relief". Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  32. ^ "Yanover: No Canadian playoff teams hardly spells hockey's end". 18 April 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  33. ^ Wong, John Chi-Kit (25 July 2009). Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442697317. Retrieved 19 October 2016 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Ritchie, Andrew (1 March 2004). Ethnicity, Sport, Identity: Struggles for Status. Routledge. ISBN 9781135755881. Retrieved 19 October 2016 – via Google Books.
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  36. ^ Poulter, Gillian (1 January 2010). Becoming Native in a Foreign Land: Sport, Visual Culture, and Identity in Montreal, 1840-85. UBC Press. ISBN 9780774858793. Retrieved 19 October 2016 – via Google Books.
  37. ^ Nicholson, Matthew; Hoye, Russell; Houlihan, Barrie (10 September 2010). Participation in Sport: International Policy Perspectives. Routledge. ISBN 9781135265731. Retrieved 19 October 2016 – via Google Books.
  38. ^ Hotakie, Alima. "Nazem Kadri, a minority no more". Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  39. ^ "Big Read: Why Canada will always be a hockey country -". Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  40. ^ MacDougall, Fraser (May 19, 1964). "National Game Not Lacrosse". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. p. 26.icon of an open green padlock
  41. ^ "No proof that lacrosse Canada's national game". Medicine Hat News. Medicine Hat, Alberta. May 28, 1964. p. 5.icon of an open green padlock
  42. ^ a b c Shillington, Stan. "Down Memory Lane - Lacrosse National Game". Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  43. ^ "Designation of Hockey as Canada's National Game". Library of Parliament. Ottawa, Canada. October 28, 1964. Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  44. ^ "Lacrosse, Or Hockey?". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. November 6, 1964. p. 59.icon of an open green padlock
  45. ^ "Russians Don't Win Lacrosse?". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. June 14, 1965. p. 9.icon of an open green padlock


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