Canada's game? New book says hockey originated in England

A new book pokes holes hockey being a Canadian invention. (USATSI)
A new book pokes holes hockey being a Canadian invention. (USATSI)

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As Canada skated to victory at the 2014 Winter Olympics in both men’s and women’s hockey, the second straight Olympics Canada swept the hockey medals, it was an affirmation that hockey was indeed that proud nation’s game. It’s where the sport was invented, so it is almost a Canadian’s birth right to sit atop the hockey world.

While hockey remains undoubtedly most popular in Canada, its origins are now going to come into heavy dispute thanks to a new book called On the Origin of Hockey. It was written by Jean-Patrice Martel and Swedes Carl Giden and Patrick Houda. Martel is the president of the Society of International Hockey Research, which describes itself as a network of writers, statisticians, collectors, broadcasters, academics and hockey buffs that includes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its membership.

The three men, through extensive research believe they have found strong evidence that hockey was first played in England, not Canada, as historians had previously suggested.

The origin of hockey has never quite been clear, though what was believed to be the first organized hockey game was documented extensively as having been played in Montreal in 1875. That is just the first organized game, though, which makes pinpointing the game's real origin a tad more difficult.

Martel shared some of the group’s findings with the National Post:

“People in Montreal say, well, Montreal is where the first organized game took place, in 1875, so it is really the only date that matters. Everybody in Canada has a claim to hockey, and you can find one, or two, or perhaps three references supporting each claim. But then you look at England, and all of a sudden there are hundreds and hundreds of references to hockey being played all over the country – some dating back to the 1790s.

“It is an exciting discovery because people in the past either didn’t think the to look for the origins of hockey in England, or else they didn’t think to look because, perhaps, they didn’t want to find it there. People, not just Canadians, are told these things as truths: hockey was created in Canada.”

So that’s kind of big. It’s not often anymore that discoveries like this are made, though perhaps they will once again happen with frequency as records from all across the world get digitized. It just requires someone with the desire and know-how to look for it.

Will this cause a national identity crisis in Canada? Probably not entirely, but it might burst the balloon a little up north.

Though as Giden told the National Post, he kind of sounds excited about challenging what has always been believed about the game.

“It will be hard to change Canadians’ minds about hockey. These old ideas are set in stone. It is controversial to challenge that, but it should be fun.”

Among the other interesting discoveries about the game made by the authors of On the Origin of Hockey, famous naturalist Charles Darwin once wrote in a letter to his son asking if he had a good pond to skate on because he had become “very fond of playing ‘Hocky’ on the ice skates.”

I’d bet Darwin would enjoy how the game has, um (well there’s really no avoiding this is there?), evolved from when he played “hocky” on the ponds of England.

At least this helps explain Great Britain’s Olympic hockey prowess in the 1920s and 1930s. That 1936 gold-medal team sure sticks out like a sore thumb on the list of Olympic hockey champions.

OK, so hockey may have been proven to be England’s game, but you can’t deny Canada brought it to the prominence the sport enjoys today. You didn’t have to invent to make it your own, I suppose. Chin up, Canada.

(h/t @HarrisonMooney)

CBS Sports Writer

Chris Peters has been a hockey writer for CBS Sports since 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for numerous outlets and edited the United States of Hockey blog, covering the sport at all levels. Peters also... Full Bio

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