A small town in Nova Scotia has come to an agreement over a dispute with the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society, which owns the copyright to the phrase "birthplace of hockey." 

The town of Windsor had unofficially branded itself the "birthplace of hockey" in numerous locations, from a sign just outside the town's limits to the mayor's business cards. Three months ago, the town started talking about rebranding and making the catchphrase part of its official logo.

But when the society heard about it, they worried it was losing control over its own logo and registered trademark as they were embarking on their own rebranding.

On Tuesday, the society's David Hunter said any use of the trademark would have to be approved by its board and lawyer.

Windsor Mayor Paul Beazley released a joint statement with the society at the town office on Wednesday.

"The town of Windsor and the hockey heritage society wish to announce that there is no disagreement now or ever has been over the use of the birthplace of hockey slogan."

The society doesn't have a problem with the town using the catchphrase, Hunter said. 

The dispute and the claim

To save money for the rebranding, Windsor town council decided to hold a competition to create a logo instead of paying a marketing firm to help it rebrand. The graphic designer who came up with the best "birthplace of hockey" logo would get $1,000.

Birthplace of Hockey

The phrase 'birthplace of hockey' is all over the town of Windsor — from the mayor's business cards to the water tower, but the trademark holder says enough's enough. (Town of Windsor)

According to the town's website, there is "near-irrefutable evidence that the game now known as ice hockey" had its humble origins as early as the year 1800, on Long Pond.

"As we started talking about the birthplace of hockey in council, we just sort of took it for granted that the tag line is something that's out there," said Beazley.

The town cites the writings of Thomas Chandler Haliburton as the first known reference to Canada's game.

"The boys of Windsor's King's College School adapted their British game of hurley to the ice. And hurley-on-ice developed over time into the internationally popular game of ice hockey, still considered by most Canadians as their national sport," according to the town's website. 

Like many other origin stories, the debate over the birthplace of hockey remains contentious, with several other places making the claim: 

  • Dartmouth, N.S.
  • Montreal.
  • Kingston, Ont.
  • Déline, N.W.T.
  • New York state.

The Society for International Hockey Research, made up of hockey historians, has not said where it thinks the game started, but noted the first eyewitness account of an organized game was at Montreal's Victoria Skating Rink on March 3, 1875.

Path to a solution

The Windsor Hockey Heritage Society hopes to have the "birthplace of hockey" logo ready in time for this year's Long Pond Heritage Classic.

Hunter said he's not interested in profiting from the trademark, but says the legality of owning the catchphrase must be honoured.

"What would be the sense of having an asset that, 'If you just want to use it go ahead?'" he said. 

Beazley's solution is to have contestants in the rebranding competition come up with a hockey-related catchphrase that's not the "birthplace of hockey."

"If a graphic designer comes back with a logo that says, 'Where hockey was first played' or something like that — or 'Hurley on ice' — it doesn't become a trademark issue," he said.