MONTREAL – A significant part of Canadian and Montreal hockey history was recognized Thursday as historic plaques honouring James George Aylwin Creighton and the historic Victoria Skating Rink were unveiled at the Bell Centre.
Creighton, a man described as the “father” of organized ice hockey was honoured by the federal government as a Canadian of historic significance.
Hockey scholars say the honour is long overdue for Creighton, who is credited with organizing the world’s first indoor hockey game at the famed Victoria Skating Rink on March 3, 1875.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Creighton one of the most influential pioneers of Canada’s national winter sport.
“It’s doubly appropriate that we’re honouring him here in Montreal, because this is where he organized the first indoor hockey game,” Harper told hundreds attending a ceremony.
“Creighton is the closest thing hockey has to a founding father.”
Meanwhile, the International Ice Hockey Federation recognized the Victoria Skating Rink in a separate plaque.
“The evolution of hockey, like any sport, (is) an incremental process,” said Harper, who is writing a book on the history of hockey’s early beginnings.
“Creighton deserves recognition because he formalized the game, bringing it indoors.”
Creighton, originally from Halifax, grew up playing a game known over the years as hurley, wicket, ricket or break-shin, played on outdoor ice.
After organizing the first indoor match in Montreal, he would go on to captain the first organized team in 1877.
It was that same year the so-called “Montreal Rules” for hockey were published by the Metropolitan Club of Montreal, supervised by Creighton, the athletic club’s secretary.
Creighton later moved to Ottawa where he spent 48 years as law clerk for the Senate. He also played for the Rideau Rebels, a club that helped spread the appeal of the game in Ontario and among the family of then-Gov. Gen. Lord Stanley.
But even though his funeral was prominent enough to attract then-prime minister Robert Borden, Creighton lies in an unmarked grave in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery, Harper said.
The Society for International Hockey Research is trying to raise funds to mark Creighton’s final resting place in Ottawa.
“When we have role models like this, we have youngsters at five and six that want to play the game,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.
“James Creighton and the Victoria Rink are a part of our pasts we can’t forget and to unveil these plaques at the Bell Centre around the Montreal Canadiens is something very special.”
Sports historian Michel Vigneault says the recognition should help the Society for International Hockey Research’s attempts to get Creighton into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“For 15 years we’ve tried to get him into the hall of fame, so this should give us a real boost,” said Vigneault.
The plaques will be on permanent display at the sprawling home of the Montreal Canadiens, where the team is setting up elaborate decorations to celebrate the team’s centennial anniversary.
“The plaques will have a prominent place in the building,” Canadiens president Pierre Boivin told reporters.
The Victoria Skating Rink was located just a few hundred metres from where the Bell Centre now stands.