Carnivals, Challenges, and Cups – Beginnings of Ice Hockey League Play

Ice Hockey’s origins is up for wide debate. As a raw concept, playing a game where an object is being knocked around with sticks are known to date back to pre-Christian times and in non-Christian lands.

The indigenous people of North America played lacrosse while in Europe, these games included the Irish game of hurling, the Scottish game of shinty , the Welsh game of bando, the English game of bandie, and other versions of field hockey. In Russia, they took the concept and translated it to winter play in what is known in English as bandy. In England, evidence of games of “hockey on ice” (the name replaced “bandie ball”), played with a “bung” (a plug of cork or oak used as a stopper on a barrel) date back to the 1700s. The first organized game of ice field hockey was played in 1875 in London.

Hockey as a term has been used for about 500 years. In 1573, the town of Galway in Ireland banned a sport called “‘hokie’—the hurling of a little ball with sticks or staves”.

Yet, Ice Hockey is a distinct creation that comes from the New World.

British soldiers and immigrants to Canada and the United States brought their stick-and-ball games with them and played them on the ice and snow of winter. In 1825, John Franklin wrote “The game of hockey played on the ice was the morning sport” on Great Bear Lake during one of his Arctic expeditions. A mid-1830s watercolour portrays New Brunswick lieutenant governor Archibald Campbell and his family with British soldiers on skates playing a stick-on-ice sport.

1830 - A 19th-century watercolour of group of skaters gliding serenely on a frozen river, bundled ladies in sleighs amid the striding military men.
A 1830s watercolour of group of skaters gliding serenely on a frozen river, bundled ladies in sleighs amid the striding military men.

Ice Hockey got its organized start in Canada, at the city of Montreal in the francophone province of Quebec. There is evidence that ice hockey’s heritage in league play begins as far back as 1883 when the first organized tournament took place at the Montreal Winter Carnival.

The first chapter in the story of Ice Hockey Leagues begins in Montreal, at a Winter Carnival. The structure of play was through a series of teams challenging each other in a game to determine a winner, and then the winner of said challenges won the first trophy of Ice Hockey – the Carnival Cup!

Al Young

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