The winter of 1896/97 was, in retrospect, a crucial one in the development and growth of ice hockey in North America. First organized in Montreal in 1875, the game grew rapidly there but its expansion to other locales was gradual at first. It was played in Quebec City by 1881, Ottawa in 1883, Kingston in 1886 and Toronto by 1888. The Montreal version was adopted in place of the native variation in Halifax around 1889, and the sport moved west into Winnipeg in 1890.
The Northwest Territories were the next conquest for organized hockey. Organized hockey in the provinces of Saskatchewan of Alberta actually predates the existence of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Hockey was played by clubs in Regina and Moose Jaw in 1894, when they were small towns in the District of Assiniboia, the territory of which was essentially what is now southern Saskatchewan and south-eastern Alberta. There was a District of Saskatchewan as well (modern northern Saskatchewan and northern Manitoba), containing Saskatoon and Prince Albert to which hockey arrived a bit later. The District of Alberta (modern southern Alberta, as far north as Edmonton) began playing hockey in 1895, while the District of Athabaska (modern northern Alberta) had no settlements of sufficient size to support the organized version of the game.
Our beloved game reached British Columbia by the 1896/97 season, when it began to be played in the West Kootenay region in such places as Nelson, Sandon and Rossland. Hockey had completed it journey across Canada, and was now being played from coast to coast wherever possible.
But the 1896/97 was also very important for the growth of hockey in the United States. Introduced in various American locales by traveling Canadian teams, the game really began to explode in popularity this season. Hockey leagues were formed both in Pittsburgh (Western Pennsylvania Hockey League) and New York City (American Amateur Hockey League) which began play in 1896/97. The former was introduced to the game by the Queen's University hockey club, while the latter was influenced by touring Montreal clubs. In Minnesota, the Winnipeg Hockey Club brought the game to the St. Paul Winter Carnival in 1896, and in 1896/97 the first of regular matches between St. Paul and Minneapolis began.
So 1896/97 was the season that organized hockey completed it trip across the massive Canadian landscape, and the season that it truly began its invasion of the northern USA. It was a truly important time in history of ice hockey.