This is the second part of my in-depth review of Donald Guay's 1990 book L'histoire du hockey au Québec: Origine et développement d'un phénomène culturel avant 1917 ("The History of Hockey in Quebec: The origin and development of a cultural phenomenon before 1917"). Please note that since the book is written in French, any time I quote from the book, I will provide both the original passage in bold italics, followed by my translation in regular italics.
In the first part of the review, I discussed Guay's definition of sport, which he uses to differentiate certain physical activities from others, which he refers to as games. I find the definition lacking, since it ultimately seems to use only one criterion to make this distinction: sportsmanship. Also, he did not define what he means by hockey when he says he's interested in the origins of the sport of ice hockey. However, we will press on and continue to review chapter one, discussing the origins of hockey.
Guay selects four claims for the origins of hockey in Canada to discuss. They are: the Hurons in the 17th century, Montreal in 1837, Kingston in 1855 and Montreal in the 1870s. These are the only four claims he considered worthy of consideration; notable by its absence is any mention of Nova Scotia. I am, of course, not talking about the flimsy Windsor claim, but Halifax/Dartmouth. Of course, Guay's book predated Martin Jones' work Hockey's Home by a dozen years, so perhaps that's understandable. We certainly cannot fault Guay for not having the information in the recent On the Origin of Hockey by Gidén, Houda and Martel either, but of course we may bring some of that into the discussion if it becomes relevant.
Let's move on. Guay discusses each of these four claims in turn.
Hurons, 17th Century
Guay discusses the passage written by Gabriel Sagard in his 1632 work Le grand voyage au pays des Hurons ("Travelling in the land of the Hurons"), who related that young Hurons played «...avec des bâtons courbés, qu'ils fount couler par-dessus la neige et crossent une balle de bois Léger, comme l'on fait en nos quartiers.» ("...with curved sticks, they run in the snow and pass a light ball of wood, like we do back home.")
Guay suggests that this is more likely to be a description of baggataway (lacrosse) played in the snow, rather than hockey, and that while lacrosse and hockey do have some basic similarities we have no reason to believe that one developed from the other. I certainly agree with Guay's conclusions here; there's no reason to call this hockey rather than lacrosse. However, he has made it difficult on himself because he has not defined what hockey is. Guay does not specify what characteristics hockey has that he can use to make the determination that what is being described is not hockey.
This comes from John Knox, who claimed that his father played hockey in Montreal in 1837, supposedly between two clubs called the Dorchesters and the Uptowns. There exists no contemporaneous corroboration for this story; it was told in 1941 by an 84-year-old Knox, who referred to an undated document apparently written by his father. The lack of corroboration may be enough by itself to sink the claim; we certainly cannot rely on undated documents and decades-old memories to establish history.
Guay takes a different approach. He notes that the document referred to the fact that the activity had "no referees and no such thing as a face-off, no blue lines, no offsides" (p.28, quoting from the document), and that this means the activity had no rules. Without written rules, of course, this cannot be the sport of ice hockey, since Guay's definition of sport requires written rules. Aside from the weakness in Guay's definition, I don't think he has any basis to conclude that the activity had no rules (assuming it happened according to the document's story.) Since the document referred to two matches, one ending 1-0 and the other 3-1, there must have at least been unwritten rules, otherwise how could there have been a score? No blue lines and no offsides just means there was not these two particular rules in play. Moreover, the lack of a referee does not mean there were no rules; in the first half of the 19th century and earlier, for example, in field hockey it was fairly common for team captains to be in charge of determining when rules were broken, and sometimes players would be allowed to mete out punishment themselves, in the form of shinning: hitting the offending player in the shins with your stick.
So Guay concludes that this was not a sport, but a game. But which game was it? The document in question calls it ice hurling, in fact, not ice hockey. So it is likely that, if these games did occur, they were a version of the traditional Irish game of hurling, played on ice. This is a reasonable conclusion, although again, Guay has not suggested how he would tell the difference between the game of ice hurling and the game of ice hockey, other than implying that if it is not a sport by his definition, it cannot be ice hockey.
James Sutherland's claims about Canadian hockey beginning in Kingston are pretty well-known, and have been promoted by various parties since they were first made. Guay notes that the claim is built on writings in a journal, which stated that shinty was played on the ice. Shinty is a traditional Scottish game, which Guay suggests had no fixed rules, no written rules, no referee. And without written rules, of course, it cannot be the sport of ice hockey, according to the author.
Sutherland's claim has holes in it, such that it is not taken seriously by historians as a "birthplace" claim. For example, the story asserts that the country's first hockey league was formed in Kingston, in 1885 or 1886. But we only have record of permanent hockey clubs first being established there in 1888, and without hockey clubs there can be no hockey leagues.
Guay also notes that in an 1887 article in the Kingston British Whig newspaper, when asked about hockey, locals responsed "What is hockey?" This, of course, is a question that Guy himself has not answered yet.
Guay devotes an entire section of chapter one to Montreal in the 1870s, entitled «La naissance du hockey sur glace» ("The birth of ice hockey.") He makes mention of the famous March 3, 1875 match in Montreal, the first recorded match of organized hockey in Canada. Remember that Guay means the sport of ice hockey, as he again refers to his six criteria to begin this section. He goes through them one at a time.
Clearly this ice hockey was a physical activity, and it was played between two opposing teams. One might quibble with this point for the March 3 match, since it was played between two teams drawn from members of the Victoria skating club, not from opposing clubs. Beginning with the second match later than month, the competitors represented different clubs, so this may be a minor point. Guay asserts that the teams were there for fun, but were also determined to win, indeed that each team made it a "point of honour" to be victorious (p.40). I don't see how can know the latter, and this illustrates one of the weaknesses of his definition of sport. How does he know the players were not playing solely for fun? He assumes they made it a point of honour, but provides no evidence that this is true.
He does provide evidence of sportsmanship, as the game report noted that the "best of humour" was maintained even in a physical game on March 3, 1875, with bumps and collisions to be expected. Tempers were not raised. This could, of course, just as easily be seen as evidence that the players were playing for fun, and did not make winning a "point of honour." He does note that in the recorded matches played between 1875 and 1885, the vast majority of them were won by close scores, which suggest that teams were generally evenly-matched, which is another requisite of sportsmanship by his definition.
As for the written rules, Guay states that the 1870s Montreal matches were played using rules borrowed from English field hockey. This is largely true, as discussed in my book On His Own Side of the Puck. However, given Guay's insistence that written rules are required for an activity to be a sport, it must be noted that we do not know exactly what rules were used for the Montreal matches played in 1875. It was not until 1876 that the newspaper reported field hockey rules were being used for a match, and it was not until 1877 that the Montreal version of said rules were published. So we do not know what rules were used for certain in 1875 - they may not even have been written down. And yet Guay leads off with the March 3, 1875 match in Montreal as the first example of the sport of ice hockey, despite not having evidence that it fulfills all six of his criteria for being a sport.
Though we don't know for certain, it is quite likely that field hockey rules were used in 1875. Guay notes that the Montreal Gazette report on the March 3, 1875 hockey match states that some of the players involved were reputed to be "exceedingly expert" at the game. Since there were no reports of ice hockey in Montreal before this one, but we do know that field hockey was played in the city before then, Guay concludes (quite reasonably) that these first ice hockey matches were essentially field hockey put on ice. Not just ice, of course, but skates, though Guay does not make note of this. He also does not indicate whether he considers field hockey to be a sport, or a game.
At the end of chapter one, Guay writes:
«Il est évident que le hockey sur glace n'a pas encore toutes les caractéristiques qui le particularisent actuellement, ni même à la fin du XIXe siècle, mais il est déjà suffisamment différent des autres jeux et sports pour être perçu comme tel par les observateurs contemporains.» (p.41)
"It's clear that ice hockey did not yet [in the 1870s] possess all of the characteristics which we associate with it today, or even at the end of the nineteenth century, but it was already sufficiently different from other games and sports to be recognized as such by contemporary observers."
The is the first time Guay addresses what might make hockey hockey, but unfortunately he does not provide any examples of the characteristics he's talking about. In an earlier caption for an 1880 illustration of hockey on ice, Guay wrote something that could be taken as a definition of what "hockey"
means. He states that in its beginnings, hockey was:
jeu élementaire qui consiste à frapper une balle avec un bâton en forme
de canne pour lui faire franchir les buts de l'adversair.» (p.38)
"...a simple game consisting of hitting a ball with a cane-shaped stick, to pass the ball through the opponent's goal."
is not a bad definition of hockey in the general sense, though it's
certainly not a definition of ice hockey specifically, since there is no
reference to ice or skates. Moreover, even if ice were invluded it would be insufficient to differentiate hockey from bandy, so these cannot be all of the characteristics he is referring to. Guay suggests he will discuss some of these characteristics in chapter two, which we will address next time.