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Society for International Hockey Research

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Creighton Monument Unveiling - October 24th, 2009

Almost exactly two years after the Creighton Memorial Fund was established at the 2007 Fall Meeting in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Society for International Hockey Research hosted an unveiling ceremony of a monument and plaque honouring hockey pioneer James George Aylwin Creighton on October 24th, 2009, at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.

Creighton played an instrumental role in the formative stages of hockey in Montreal in the late 1800s. He later moved to Ottawa and served as Law Clerk to the Senate for 48 years. Since his death in 1930, Mr. Creighton had rested in an unmarked grave along with his wife Eleanor Platt, who died in 1933.

Creighton Memorial Fund Committee
Members of the Creighton Memorial Committee pose with Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The Fund, which was established to collect donations to acquire a grave marker, captured the hearts of hockey fans from all corners of the globe who donated generously. Among the donors were the crew of the Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Calgary Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss.

The event received national media attention when it was announced that SIHRs highest profile member, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would be in attendance. Prior to the ceremony, the Prime Minister joined members of the Memorial Fund Committee and descendants of Mr. Creighton at an informal gathering. Also in attendance were Members of Parliament Mauril Bélanger and Royal Galipeau.

With the breathtaking grounds of Canada's National Cemetery as a backdrop, the impressive National Memorial Centre served as the venue for the ceremony. Memorial Fund Chairman Ed Grenda shared the Master of Ceremonies duties for the bilingual event with Roger Boult, Executive Director of the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation.

"Just as lacrosse had appealed to our summer heart, Canada needed a sport that would call to its winter soul. Before anyone else, Creighton heard that call and defined the game that from coast-to-coast transcends French and English, East and West; urban and rural and defines us as Canadians." noted Prime Minister Harper. He went on to commend SIHR and Bill Fitsell for his efforts. "Once too old to play the game, he (Creighton) confined himself to his work on legal and parliamentary affairs and allowed his seminal role In the development of the sport to fade into the mists of history. That fog has been lifted thanks to the work of the Society for International Hockey Research and, in particular, Its founding president, Bill Fitsell, Who is here with us today."

In addition to the address by the Prime Minister, the thirty minute ceremony featured addresses by MP Mauril Bélanger, SIHR President James Milks and SIHR's first President Bill Fitsell, who chronicled Creighton's life. "For 69 years no headstone marked his grave. However, he left an indelible mark as railway surveyor, canal engineer, parliamentary reporter, magazine writer, book collector and author, consolidator and translator of Canadian laws and peerless pioneer of Canada's National Winter Sport. Today, hockey lovers say "We Remember You --Thank You,"-etched in stone." commented Fitsell.

Praising contributors, President James Milks said "A cross-section of everyday people, history buffs, parliamentarians, philanthropists and hockey fans from Canada, the United States and Sweden have generously supported the Memorial Fund. It is thanks to every one of them that our society has the privilege of hosting you today".

The unveiling of the grave marker was performed by the Prime Minister and Bill Fitsell while Paul Kitchen and MP Mauril Bélanger unveiled the plaque after which Canon Catherine Ascah delivered the consecration. A reception attended by the Prime Minister followed the ceremony.

  • SIHR President James Milks and Creighton Committee Chairman Ed Grenda greet Prime Minister Harper to Beechwood Cemetery
  • Co-Masters of Ceremonies Roger Boult and Ed Grenda welcome attendees
  • SIHR President James Milks addresses the audience
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  • Prime Minister Harper delivers his address
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  • Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Bélanger
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  • Grete Hale, President of the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation
  • Bill Fitsell chronicled the life of J.G.A Creighton
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  • Prime Minister Harper and Bill Fitsell unveil the grave marker
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  • Grave Marker of James George Aylwin Creighton
  • Grave Marker of James George Aylwin Creighton as seen from the roadway
  • Paul Kitchen and Mauril Bélanger unveil the plaque
  • The Reverend Canon Catherine Ascah offers a prayer following the unveiling of James Creighton's Grave Marker
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  • Creighton Memorial Committee with PM Harper
  • James Milks discusses the plaque text with Prime Minister Harper
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  • Plaque mounted on a boulder honouring J.G.A Creighton
  • Close up of the plaque mounted on a boulder honouring J.G.A Creighton
  • Grete Hale, Prime Minister Harper and Ed Grenda
  • SIHR Secretary Lloyd Davis and Executive Vice-President Jean-Patrice Martel greet the Prime Minister
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  • Bill Fitsell and Dave Nabi
  • Author D'Arcy Jenish and his children with PM Harper
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  • Prime Minister Harper with Billy Georgette
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  • J.P. Martel, Paul Kitchen, Anne Kitchen and Monika Moravan
  • Jim McAuley, Irv Osterer and Len Kotylo
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  • Creighton Memorial Fund Committee members Bill Fitsell, Ed Grenda, Paul Kitchen, James Milks and Len Kotylo
  • SIHR Members pose at the reception following the ceremony
  • MP Mauril Bélanger and James Milks
  • Prime Minister Harper with Creighton Relatives Marcel Pothier, Madeline Pothier and Margaret Meurant
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JAMES GEORGE AYLWIN CREIGHTON - HOCKEY PIONEER

J.W. (Bill) Fitsell
The man, whose memory we honour today, has been saluted as "The Father or Godfather of Organized Hockey." Some observers elevate him to the title of sole "Inventor of Hockey." J.G.A. Creighton made no such claim--nor do I. He simply said: "I had the honour to be captain of the first regular hockey club to be formed in Canada."

When his death was recorded in Ottawa newspapers in 1930, his recreations were listed as "exploration, salmon-fishing, angling generally and ice skating." He also enjoyed golf and book collecting. His exemplary effort as a hockey pioneer in occasional games a half-century before was overlooked.

In these days when amateur and professional players grind out 82-game schedules, plus playoffs, it is hard to conceive what a hockey season consisted of when Creighton, a scholar and an engineer, moved the outdoor game into a covered rink in Montreal in 1875 and created a new activity with nine players a side.

He was the key organizer in "annual matches" - some times single games or home and home contests - against the one or two other semi-organized clubs in the Quebec metropolis. No league - no playoffs!

Creighton, who has seen a stick-ball game played on ice in his native Halifax, participated in nearly every recorded game in the first few years of the history of hockey in Montreal. In total, his games on natural ice would not amount to as many games as modern players participate in, during pre-season exhibitions. But they were vital in hockey's embryo stage.

It was a time of learning and development of the new sport and Captain Creighton, was a leader and an instructor before hockey had devised coaches. In his third season he was praised for encouraging his team "to play into each other's hands." - a good objective in sports, business or politics. He got by - Mr. Prime Minister - "With a little help from his friends." (Where's the keyboard?)

He was an innovator - a facilitator. Although coming from Nova Scotia, where a free-wheeling game called "rickets" or "hurley" had been played for 40 years, Creighton favoured the introduction of offside rules both in rugby and hockey in Montreal. That is, playing behind the ball or puck, and prohibiting forward passing. The rudimentary rules were written on a single sheet of paper!

In hockey's formative days, Captain Creighton had other thoughts on his mind besides this novel game. He obtained a law degree at McGill University and financed it by working in the parliamentary press gallery for The Gazette of Montreal. In 1878, after marrying Montreals Eleanor Platt, whose grave we also mark today, Creighton played for the "Benedicts" in an exhibition game against the "Bachelors."

In 1882, he was appointed to the prestigious position of Law Clerk of the Senate and shared his time in Ottawa, where the game was about to be introduced by other McGill graduates. In 1889, Creighton suited up with the Parliamentary and Government House teams, featuring the sons of the Governor General, Lord Stanley. This team of MPs, Senators and aides-de-camp, developed into the Ottawa Rebels, which helped popularize hockey through exhibition games in Ontario.

He retired as a player in his 40th year, but retained his interest in figure and pleasure skating. He was much more than a sportsman, of course. He was a fine scholar from his youth-entering Dalhousie University at age 14 - studying mathematics, experimental physics and metaphysics with students aged 17 to 25, and graduating with Honours.

But what kind of a human do we pay homage too today? Physically, the man who preferred to be addressed as "Alwyn," was "tall and spare" - weighing only 145 pounds when he played in the first rugby union games in Montreal.

Off the sports field, he demonstrated a different demeanor. He evoked a love for outdoors and a special appreciation of French Canadians and their language. A Senate colleague described him as "quiet and retiring." Fellow members of the Rideau Club, where he died in conversation, praised his geniality.

For 69 years no headstone marked his grave. However, he left an indelible mark as railway surveyor, canal engineer, parliamentary reporter, magazine writer, book collector and author, consolidator and translator of Canadian laws and peerless pioneer of Canada’s National Winter Sport. Today, hockey lovers say "We Remember You -- Thank You," - etched in stone.

Photography by Cezary Gesikowski / gesikowski.com