It's been illegal since the 1950s, but with a city hall decision Wednesday, Hamilton kids will soon be allowed ball hockey on city streets again.

'Kids need an opportunity to unplug and play sports that are not organized, to just pick up a hockey stick and go play outside.' - Donna Skelly, Ward 7 councillor

At a lively debate among councillors, some argued that kids playing would be too noisy, and balls would damage property.

Others said it's a vital piece of Canadiana that's been going on for generations, and gets kids away from screens.

In the end, city council's general issues committee voted 11-3 Wednesday to allow the practice again.

"Don Cherry would be happy," said Sam Merulla, the Ward 4 councillor who tried in 2002 to get the ban lifted.

In the past, the city streets bylaw forbade "games of sport" on public roadways. Now, pending council approval March 9, the city will enact a new bylaw allowing ball hockey on side streets with speed limits of up to 40 km/h.

'I spent a quarter of my time visiting people who had complaints.' - Doug Conley, Ward 9 councillor

Not that kids haven't been doing it anyway. Even Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor, said his 11-year-old son slaps the ball around in front of his house, and has developed "the most tenacious hard wrist shot."

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, suggested councillors haven't gotten complaints about the ban because they're playing it anyway.

"Kids need an opportunity to unplug and play sports that are not organized, to just pick up a hockey stick and go play outside," said Donna Skelly, Ward 7 councillor.

Others weren't so sure, saying playing in the street is dangerous. Doug Conley of Ward 9 was a Stoney Creek councillor in the 1990s, and said he was inundated with street hockey-related complaints.

Kids were too noisy, he said. Balls hit people's cars.

'We always had someone like that in the neighbourhood.' - Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor

"I spent a quarter of my time visiting people who had complaints," he said.

Maria Pearson, Ward 10 councillor, suggested kids use hard surfaces in local parks. They're safe, accessible and taxpayer funded, she said.

Coun. Aidan Johnson said Ward 1 residents worry about noise too. But this is healthy, free and gets kids off computers.

The city banned street hockey for liability reasons. But in roughly 60 years, the city only had one claim — in 2002.

Ball hockey

Ozz Stiffl, 11, tries to take the ball off his father at Queen Mary Elementary School on last year. Coun. Sam Merulla has built dedicated outdoor rink space on Roxborough Avenue, and on Wednesday, he successfully got city councillors to lift the ban on street hockey. (Chris Seto/CBC)

Merulla tried to get the ban lifted then. He also created dedicated rink space in his own ward. Last year, he brought up the notion of a dedicated bylaw to allow street hockey. That passed Wednesday.

As for the notion that kids playing is too noisy, Merulla said, "We always had someone like that in the neighbourhood."

Street hockey isn't the only fun-related ban the city has lifted recently.

This winter, the city designated four tobogganing hills after a years-long ban that was also for liability reasons. The mayor and a city councillor celebrated by having a public race down a hill.

Street hockey will be allowed under the following conditions:

  • The roadway has a speed limit of 40 km/h or less and is a local road.
  • Play happens in a place that is "safe and suitable."
  • People play no earlier than 9 a.m. and no later than 8 p.m.
  • No one plays during periods of limited visibility from fog, snow or rain.
  • Play is stopped for any vehicles. ("Car!")

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC