Kingston, Ont., and Windsor, N.S., battle to be hockey's birthplace

The Nova Scotia community uses the phrase on local signs, but one hockey historian thinks Kingston, Ont., has the better claim.

Hockey historian suggests 1st reference to game found in Kingston soldier's diary

Kingston, Ont., and Windsor, N.S., both have claims to be the birthplace of hockey. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press)

If you visit the official website of the town of Windsor, N.S., you'll see the community of 4,000 claims there's "near-irrefutable" evidence they're the birthplace of ice hockey.

Well, Mark Potter has his refutation lined up like a Sidney Crosby slapshot.

"Their entire story about [being] the birthplace of hockey is really based on a reference that was written in a book of fiction," said Potter, the president of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ont., on CBC Ottawa's All In A Day Wednesday afternoon.

'Birthplace of hockey' copyright battle

The question of who truly owns the rights to the phrase erupted earlier this week, when the town of Windsor briefly dropped the gloves with the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society.

The society owns the copyright to the phrase "birthplace of hockey," even though the phrase appears on signs around Windsor — and even on the mayor's business cards.

Windsor, N.S., claims that a book by Thomas Haliburton referring to "hurley" being played on a local pond in the 1810s is "near-irrefutable" evidence that the community the birthplace of hockey. (Town of Windsor)

On Tuesday, the society said any use of the trademark would have to be approved by its board and lawyer. One day later, the two sides announced they had come to an agreement.

Which is all well and good, but it doesn't answer the question: is Windsor, N.S., really where the game was born?

Soldier's diary suggests otherwise

According to Potter, British soldiers stationed in Kingston played hockey "as early as the 1840s," and the first written reference to the word "hockey" was made in a diary by a 23-year-old lieutenant stationed there — a diary now in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.

The town of Windsor cites the writings of Thomas Chandler Haliburton as the first known reference to Canada's game, in particular Haliburton's references to a game called "hurley" being played on a local pond in the 1810s.

Beyond the fact that Haliburton's references appear in a work of fiction, Potter says there's another issue: hurley was just one of a number of "stick-and-ball" games that were popular in the 19th century, along with bandy, shinny and shinty.

"Hurley was obviously one of the origins of the sport of hockey, but obviously wasn't played exactly like the game of hockey," said Potter.

But before Kingstonians start carving their own hockey-promoting slogans into municipal infrastructure, they may want to take a quick time out.

The Society for International Hockey Research, made up of hockey historians, has not said where it thinks the game started, but they note the first eyewitness account of an organized game was played in neither Kingston nor Windsor — but at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal on March 3, 1875.

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