Long Pond, Windsor, Nova Scotia photo by Avard Woolaver
Last June, on our way to catch the ferry to New Brunswick, we drove through the town of Windsor, Nova Scotia. Our hockey story begins at Windsor’s community centre.
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, so I asked about it.
“That’s the old Stannus Street covered arena. Oldest in North America,” a community centre patron told us. Then he asked us if we knew about Long Pond and Windsor’s hockey history. “We’re the birthplace of hockey. Our hockey museum will give you the whole story.”
We found Haliburton House and its little hockey museum on the outskirts of town. The house was built in 1833 for Thomas Chandler Haliburton, a wealthy industrialist, judge, author and early student of Windsor’s Kings College, Canada’s oldest school. As early as 1804, Haliburton and other school kids were playing hurley on Long Pond which was on the Dill Farm next to the school. Hurley was an Irish game that used sticks and a ball. Local historians believe hurley evolved into the game of hockey. Haliburton wrote children’s books about playing hurley on Long Pond and these are part of the documentation that the historians used to stake Windsor’s hockey claim. Ask the Mi’kmaq what they think however and they’ll likely tell you they were carving sticks for Oochamkunutk and Alchamadyk, games played long before hurley was ever introduced.
Still, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool hockey fan, Windsor is definitely worth a stop. We saw some of hockey’s earliest artefacts here including Mi’kmaq sticks made from Nova Scotia’s native Hornbeam tree. We also learned about the Starr Manufacturing Company of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. In the mid 19th century, Starr began buying handcrafted Mi’kmaq sticks, branding them ‘Mic Macs’ and selling them across Canada. Early pros loved the sticks which were sought after well into the 1930s before mass production took over. It was Starr’s Acme Club spring skate however that really revolutionized Canada’s game. It had a mechanical lever that attached the skate to a boot and allowed skaters to turn and stop like never before.
By the 1860s, wooden pucks had replaced the hurley ball on Long Pond. Then men and women teams began to form and with them came uniforms. A museum mannequin wears an 1890s “Windsor Ladies Hockey Team” one. Beside it, a sign reads “…the Windsor Ladies were excellent skaters.” They would have to be; the uniform is an ankle-length skirt and heavy wool sweater. A Starr Trophy dominates the little trophy room. It was a predecessor of the Stanley Cup and the top prize in the Halifax Hockey League.
Rare hockey photos include one of the Windsor Juniors team, dated 1889, one of the earliest team photos on record. Another team photo that definitely shows its age is one from the ‘Coloured Hockey League’, a 1900-era Nova Scotia league with 400 players. The league was credited with being the first to allow a goaltender to leave his feet to cover a puck.
And the Stannus Street Arena? Well, we found out that the arena was built in 1897, before refrigeration, so its ice was natural and weather-dependent. That’s where the steeple comes in. It was used to raise a flag that let everyone know when the ice was good. From 1905-1916 the arena was the home-ice for the Windsor Swastikas, a team name chosen when the swastika was still considered a symbol of luck and success.
So, is Windsor the birthplace of hockey? Who knows, but if you’ve got a hankering to play Canada’s national game on a pond where some think it all began, make the pilgrimage to Windsor’s Long Pond Heritage Classic this January. NHL alumni attend every year. Ron Sutter of the famous Sutter brothers, was at a recent one recounting how he and his brothers grew up skating on a pond near Viking, Alberta.
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.