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Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour 'father' of organized hockey

MONTREAL - James George Aylwin Creighton lies in an unmarked grave in an Ottawa cemetery but the "father" of organized ice hockey will get his due Thursday with a tribute from the prime minister and Canada's most storied team.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be outside Montreal's Bell Centre to unveil a plaque paying tribute to one of hockey's founding fathers. He will be joined by the presidents of the Montreal Canadiens, the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada.

Hockey scholars say the honour is long overdue for Creighton, who became the first captain of an organized hockey team in 1877.

"There's a lot of hockey myths and legends and I think he's been overlooked," said Bill Fitsell, founding president of the Society for International Hockey Research.

"The people in professional hockey haven't really latched on to him or recognized the beginnings of the game. I think this will bring it to the forefront."

Harper is probably familiar with Creighton's hockey accomplishments because the prime minister is writing a book on the game's earliest years. He has grumbled in interviews that his day job is slowing down his writing.

Born in Halifax, Creighton was a lawyer and journalist as well as an athlete. He was also a civil engineer who came to Montreal to work on the building of the Lachine Canal. He studied under Sir Sanford Fleming, who engineered much of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

But he'd probably say hockey was where he made his greatest mark.

"He was essentially there when it began," says Lloyd Davis, the hockey research society's secretary.

"As hockey grows and expands and organizes itself into something like what we know today, with leagues and associations, he's there."

Fitsell notes that Creighton, who came to Montreal in 1872, played in all the early games from 1875 to 1879. Records indicate he was there for the first recorded game of indoor ice hockey on March 3, 1875.

"I think they used to sneak into Victoria Skating Rink and maybe pay off the rink manager and play their games of what was nine-man hockey in those days," said Fitsell. "That was pretty crowded although Victoria Skating Rink had a good-sized ice surface that matched almost the one we have today."

Then came the achievement Creighton claimed most proudly.

"He was the captain of the first organized team in 1877," Fitsell said.

In 1877, the so-called "Montreal Rules" for hockey were published by the Metropolitan Club of Montreal, supervised by Creighton, the athletic club's secretary.

"Sport emerges when we have rules and we have regulations and we codify this and we have set the size of the playing field," said Matthew Barlow, who teaches a course on Montreal sports history at Concordia University. "Creighton was the driving force behind this.

"He does deserve some credit for at least bringing about a whole bunch of divergent currents and bringing them together to invent the sport of hockey."

Barlow pointed out the early hockey was different from the game of today, describing it as "rugby on ice" in terms of passing.

Creighton, who played with the sons of Lord Stanley - the man behind the Stanley Cup - ended up in Ottawa where he played on the Rideau Hall Rebels and served for 48 years as the law clerk to the Senate.

He died of a heart attack in 1930 at the fabled Rideau Club. Fitsell noted that his obituary recorded Creighton's interests as "fly fishing, reading and skating. . . . They didn't mention hockey."

Creighton, who Fitsell has nominated to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder of the sport, lies in an unmarked grave in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery.

The Society for International Hockey Research is trying to raise funds to raise a marker for him.

Davis said the lack of a gravestone seems befitting of Creighton's modesty. He said he seemed to brush off his other achievements and didn't blow his own horn very well, ending up "lost in the mists of time."

"He only wanted to be known for one achievement and that's he was captain of the first formalized hockey team."



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