Canadian Ice Hockey From Irish Hurley
By Garth Vaughan
“Facts do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored.”
– Aldous Leonard Huxley
Hurley is an Irish game – as Irish as the Shamrock!
Ice Hockey is a Canadian game – as Canadian as the Maple Leaf!
“Go west, young man”, was the advice of wise men to the youth of the
Maritimes as Canada began to develop. They should have added, “And don’t
forget to look back!”, for had they done so, people would not still be
searching for the Birthplace of Hockey. It would have been obvious that
our national winter sport began and developed as the nation did, and in
the same direction, from east to west. Ice Hockey, the fastest and most
exciting winter game in the world, appears to have gotten its start on
the east coast, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, from Hurley, the fastest field
game in the world. After developing for seventy-five years in Nova
Scotia, it began to spread to the west coast, a trip which was to take
an amazing fifteen years.
Ice Hockey was not invented, nor did it start on a certain day of a
particular year as some would have us believe. Rather, it originated
around 1800, in Windsor, where the boys of Canada’s first college,
King’s College School, established in 1788, adapted the exciting Irish
field game of Hurley to the ice of their favorite skating pond and
originated a new winter game, Ice Hurley. Over a period of decades in
Nova Scotia, Ice Hurley gradually developed into Ice Hockey.
It is an established fact that Europeans who settled in America,
introduced their customs and sports to the people of the new world.
Prior to the arrival of United Empire Loyalists from New England at the
conclusion of the American Revolution, the settlers of the Windsor area
were Irish, English and Scottish. The Loyalists established King’s
College School in 1788 and King’s College in 1790, so that students
would not have to travel to Europe for an education. They chose an
Irishman named William Cochran as the first principal of the School. He
married an Irish girl and they had two sons born in Windsor and educated
at King’s College. Cochran’s Irish influence was both long and great as
he remained principal for forty years.
A man who is still North America’s most quoted author, Thomas Chandler
Haliburton, was born in Windsor in 1796, and matriculated from King’s
College School and graduated from King’s College. He went on to become a
lawyer and writer and told of King’s boys playing “hurley on the ice on
the long pond” when he was a young student at the school around 1800.
This is the earliest reference in English literature of a stick-ball
game being played on ice in Canada. Since Haliburton wrote the first
history of Nova Scotia and was the first Canadian to acquire
international acclaim as a writer, the account of his recollection is
therefore of great significance.
With boys attending King’s College School from all over the British
Empire, it was only natural that once the game of Ice Hurley got
underway, graduates of the school would spread love of the game far and
wide. Cochran’s sons attended King’s at the same time as Haliburton.
Otherwise, names of early students appear not to have been saved in
lists in the archives of the college. And, of course, left to young
school boys, diaries or notes of such games would have been an
unthinkable pastime. So, to put names to others who might have been
involved in the early games appears impossible at present.
The native Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia had their own field and ice game which
they called Oochamkunutk. When they came to play Hurley on Ice, they
called it Alchamadyk It is interesting that an Irish name for Hurley is
Camogie and the Gaelic name of a similar Scottish field game of Shinty
is Chamanachd, which means crooked stick. The similarity of sound of the
Mi’kmaq, Irish and Scottish words is perhaps telling with regard to the
relationship of the various participants in the origin of Ice Hockey in