Visitors to downtown Kingston on Saturday got to witness a unique, living display of hockey history.
The 51st annual Historic Hockey Series showcased a three-game round-robin on the Springer Market Square outdoor rink on Saturday in the style of 19th-century game play.
The event is organized each year by Kingston’s Original Hockey Hall of Fame, and it commemorates the first recorded game with rules and score-keeping played on the Kingston harbour in 1886, between Queen’s University students and Royal Military College cadets.
It took place in conjunction with Kingston’s downtown FebFest, a month-long outdoor festival with multiple events each weekend for downtown visitors.
Mark Potter is the president of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame. He said the historic series, happening annually since 1969, is the only sports reenactment of its kind.
“We call it a ‘history lesson on ice,’” Potter described. “That’s basically what we’re trying to do — educate people that this is how hockey used to look when it started in the early days in Kingston.”
The three games on Saturday demonstrated the rules, uniforms and some equipment of that era: no forward passing, seven players per team, a square puck, no goalies falling onto the ice to block a shot, and goal posts instead of a net.
The puck used on Saturday was square instead of round — a one-of-a-kind piece of Kingston hockey history.
“The square puck is unique to Kingston. It was a cut-down lacrosse ball,” Potter said.
Kingston’s significance to hockey history is multilayered: some of the first games of the sport were played in the city, with the first written reference to the word “hockey” being found in a British soldier’s diary from the 1840s.
“That diary is in the National Archives in Ottawa, and we have a replica in our hall of fame,” Potter said. “The 1886 game is the first organized game, with rules and officials who kept score. What those British soldiers did was play outdoor shinny on the ice.”
Potter said that the Original Hockey Hall of Fame — so named because it was the first hockey hall of fame in Canada, founded in 1943 prior to the establishment of the hall in Toronto in the 1960s — showcases artifacts that can point to Kingston as the birthplace of the sport of hockey.
“There are very strong indicators that Kingston was the birthplace of hockey. But it’s a very contentious debate, and one that will never be solved,” Potter said.
This year’s Historic Hockey Series spread out three games in between games by local minor hockey teams.
“This year they were interspersed with the minor hockey showcase, and there’s always a good crowd to watch those games,” Potter said. “We’re trying to open this up to a new audience, and minor hockey kids, probably many of them haven’t seen how this game was played in the 1800s.”
During the day Saturday, Queen’s University students and RMC officer cadets faced off against one another in what Potter described as the “oldest rivalry in hockey.”
“It’s the longest-running rivalry in the sport,” he said. “A lot of people think Montreal and Toronto, or Toronto and Ottawa are the longest, but Queen’s and RMC is the oldest rivalry in hockey.”
Potter said the Original Hockey Hall of Fame is proud to have organized and sponsored the history series for the past five decades.
“We’re proud of that. It’s a very unique event, a winter spectacle, and not something that anyone will see anywhere else,” Potter said.