Long Pond, Windsor, Nova Scotia photo by Avard Woolaver
The origin of hockey has always been a hot debate in Canada. Some think that Windsor, Nova Scotia is the birthplace of hockey.
Last June, on our way to Digby, Nova Scotia to catch the ferry to St. John, New Brunswick, we drove through the town of Windsor to look up my mom’s old school. Our Windsor hockey story begins at the community centre where we stopped to get directions.
Getting out of the car, I noticed a handsome shingled barn across the street. Shingled buildings are common in the Maritimes but this barn was unique. It had a steeple, and reminded me of the one-room schoolhouses on the prairies, except it was huge. On our way into the community centre we met the recreation director. After getting directions I asked him about the barn.
“That’s the old Stannus Street covered arena. Oldest in North America.” Really? Then he asked us if we knew Windsor’s hockey history and had we been to the Birthplace of Hockey museum and Windsor’s famous Long Pond? “Both are only five minutes away and the museum staff will be able to tell you more about the Stannus arena.” So off we went, interest piqued.
I love to poke around museums jammed with old stuff. It’s a good way to get to know a place and Windsor’s Hockey Heritage Centre didn’t disappoint. The sport’s earliest artefacts are here; the kind hockey purists drool over, like hockey sticks handcarved by Mi’kmaq from the roots of the native Hornbeam tree. The Starr Manufacturing Company of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, later bought Mi’kmaq sticks. They branded them ‘Mic Macs’ and sold them across Canada. Pros loved playing with them and the sticks were sought after well into the 1930s before mass production took over. But it was Starr’s Acme Club spring skate developed by one of its young employees that revolutionized the game. It had a mechanical lever that attached the skate to a boot and allowed skaters to turn and stop like never before.
Hockey sticks and skates weren’t the only things evolving. By the 1860s, wooden pucks had replaced the hurley ball on Long Pond and elsewhere. Then men and women teams began to form and with them came uniforms. In the little museum, a mannequin wears an 1890s “Windsor Ladies Hockey Team” skirt and heavy wool sweater. Beside it, a sign reads in part, “…the Windsor Ladies were excellent skaters.” No kidding. The skirt is about ankle length. Next door, the Starr Trophy has centre stage in the museum’s trophy room. In the 1890s, Starr donated it, a predecessor of the Stanley Cup, to the Halifax Hockey League.
Rare photos are here too. A Windsor Juniors team photo dated 1889 is said to be one of the earliest team photos on record. Another photo shows its age. It’s of a team from the Coloured Hockey League, which formed in 1895 and had 400 Maritime players. The league is credited as being the first to allow a goaltender to leave his feet to cover a puck. That was back in 1900.
Haliburton House houses the little hockey museum on the outskirts of town. It was built in 1833 for Thomas Chandler Haliburton, a wealthy industrialist, judge and author, who attended Windsor’s Kings College shortly after the school first opened in 1797. It is Canada’s oldest and still going strong. During Haliburton’s time, Long Pond was next door on the Dill Farm. He and other schoolkids played hurley on the pond every winter. It was an Irish game introduced to early Maritime Canada that used sticks and a ball. Local historians believe hurley evolved into hockey. Haliburton wrote about playing hurley on Long Pond as early as 1804. These became part of the documentation that local historians used to stake Windsor’s hockey claim. Ask the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq what they think and they’ll tell you they were carving sticks for Oochamkunutk and Alchamadyk, two games that they were playing long before hurley was ever introduced.
And the Stannus Street Arena? I learned it was built in 1897 before refrigeration, so its ice was natural and weather-dependent. That’s where the steeple comes in. They used it for a flag which they would raise to let everyone in town know when the ice was good. From 1905-1916 the arena became the home-ice for the Windsor Swastikas, a team name chosen when swastika was still considered a symbol of luck and success.
I don’t know if Windsor is hockey’s actual birthplace, but I do know this. Windsor residents have always lived and breathed hockey. Remember this name because you’ll undoubtedly hear it again: Michael Dill. This season, the young Windsor player was lead scorer in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League and Rookie-of-the-Year. Then there’s Windsor’s Atom B team, the Warriors. They went 16-0 this year, earning gold and the division banner. Hockey pride is Windsor’s soul. You see it in the Long Pond Heritage Classic held every January. For teams that make the pilgrimage, it’s a chance to play Canada’s national game on a pond where some think it all began. NHL alumni attend the classic too. Ron Sutter was at a recent one, recounting how he and his brothers grew up skating on a pond near their Viking, Alberta farm. That’s the hockey mystique we Canadians love. Who knows how many of us us have actually skated on a pond, but we like to think we have.
More hockey notes (and opinions) …
The Society for International Hockey Research concluded hockey was NOT invented in Windsor … Interesting to note, this “society” is based in Kingston, Ontario, another Canadian place that claims hockey roots.
And this is an interesting read from the Queens U Journal – Halifax or Kingston: who owns hockey? It includes the origins of Kings College, which I find fascinating!!! It also ties in a great hockey story between Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Here’s Ron Sutter (former NHL player) talking about hockey on Long Pond. Well-spoken little piece!
The Starr Manufacturing Company Acme Spring Skate is pictured here …
The museum is a great wealth of early hockey information too.