Society for International Hockey Research
The Origins of Hockey    

Just where was hockey born?

While this question may never be conclusively answered, some facts and myths have been clarified in the SIHR Origins report.

[ Read the Report ]  [ Read the Report in PDF format ]

[ View early paintings of on-ice games ]

Stick and Ball Game Timeline
Swedish members Carl Giden and Pat Houda have written an extensive timeline document about stick and ball games.
[ Read the Paper ]




The first written reference to the word "hockey" in relation to playing the sport on ice was in 1825, in the text of a letter (reprinted from H.D. Traill's The Life of Sir John Franklin, R.N., 1896). The letter from Franklin to Roderick Murchison, dated November 6, 1825, states:

"Till the snow fell the game of hockey played on the ice was the morning's sport."

However, There is no clear evidence that the people playing "hockey for the morning sport" were wearing skates.This is believed to be a game of "field hockey", which took place while the Arctic explorer and his men were wintering at Fort Franklin (now known as Deline) on the shore of Great Bear Lake in a region now known as the Northwest Territories.

The second written reference to "hockey on ice", was to an 1846 publication referring to the game being played in 1839 at Chippewa Creek (also known as the Welland River, which flows into the Niagara River from the west). Skates might have been used practising the game. The reference was made in the publication: "The Echoes From the Backwood; Or Sketches Of Transatlantic Life", written by Capt. R.G.A. Levinge, published in London, by Henry Colburn. [ More ]

The next known "first-source" written reference to the word "hockey" in relation to playing the sport on ice was by Sir Arthur Henry Freeling, a British officer, who's diary entry of January, 1843 in Kingston, Ont., noted: "Began to skate this year, improved quickly and had great fun at hockey on the ice.

Astley, Sir John Dugdale. Fifty Years of My Life: in the world of sport at home and abroad, 1894. Volume 1 of 2.

There is a passage in the book where John Dugdale Astley talks about his days in Oxford, playing hockey-on-the-ice as early as 1846. He wrote the following:

“one of the best games in my humble opinion that man can play. That was an on-ice version of field hockey in which all players were required to shoot right-handed and offside rules varied.”

hockey on the ice with Prince Albert and in front of Queen Victoria, featuring one of the earliest references to tripping (?) and to music
at a game, among others…

Astley, Sir John Dugdale. Fifty Years of My Life: in the world of sport at home and abroad, 1894. Volume 1 of 2, pp. 171-173.

"Just previous to Christmas [1853] we had a lot of hard weather, and with some first-rate ice, which gave me ample opportunity of playing my favourite game of hockey on the ice. Our other battalion was then quartered at Windsor, and it reached my ears that a match was to be played on the pond on the slopes below the Terrace of Windsor Castle, and, though I really had no business there, I felt very keen to show my powers before Royalty (the Royal family being at the Castle); so I smuggled myself down to the pond, and, as I was known to be useful at the game, Dudley de Ros of the 1st Life Guards and I tossed up for sides. The pond – as I recollect it – was an oval one with an island in the centre, on which the band of our regiment was stationed. At one end of the pond her Gracious Majesty was seated, surrounded by several ladies of the court, watching the game with evident interest. The Prince Consort – who was a beautiful and graceful figure-skater – kept goal for the opposite side, and Lord Listowel (father of the present Earl) kept ours. I don't think that I ever enjoyed a game more, and it was that day I first had the honour off making the acquaintance of the Prince of Wales. The game waxed fast and furious and I am afraid that I was sufficiently wanting in respect to interfere once, at least, with the Prince Consort's equilibrium in my eagerness to get a goal.

The edges of the pond sloped up to where Her Majesty was sitting, and in a desperate rally with De Ros I lost my balance and came down in a sitting posture, the impetus I had on carrying me right up to the Queen's feet, and the hearty laughter which greeted my unbidden arrival is still vividly impressed upon my mind. It was altogether a glorious afternoon's sport, but as the ice was
beginning to thaw, and the surface was to a certain extent covered in water, I was wet to the skin, and only escaped a rheumatic attack by imbibing in plenty of deliciously mulled port-wine, which was served in a conservatory under the terrace. To this decoction, I suppose I must attribute my audacity in venturing to go down to the Foot-Guards barracks, where I received a jobation from the C.O. for having the effrontery to take part in a game to which I was not asked; but as I had played well I was not cashiered on this occasion.
The following record shows the foot-races in which I took part prior to the Crimea …."

Astley also tells of his trip to Switzerland in the winter of 1847, but doesn't mention skating or hockey; he likely learned to skate
around that time or earlier on British ice during the hard winters of the early 1840s, possibly earlier (he was born in 1828).

Certainly, Prince Albert had a habit of falling through the ice at Windsor or Frogmore and, on one occasion, caught a serious cold that
had the papers worried that his life might be in danger. I have the articles for these events…

The Prince of Wales (mentioned by Astley) appears to have taken part in the game; he played again in 1895, in the famous game with the Stanley brothers (recorded in Patton's Ice Hockey, etc.).

1853 or 1855
The brothers William (1812-1894) and Edmund Meredith (1817-1899) alleged to have played in one of the earliest games of ice hockey to have been recorded. It took place in 1853 (or 1855) and was said to have been later written up in the 'Montreal Star' in an article entitled "Thirty Years Ago Today". It was copied from a newspaper article in the family papers of EAM kept at the National Archives in Ottawa.

[ NOTE: SIHR members have not been able to substantiate the Meredith claim. Nor have we been able to locate any articles in the Quebec Chronicle or the Montreal Star ]

Strange as it may appear to McGill men and others, there was a great hockey match played in Quebec in the early fifties, when the first principal Dr Edmund Meredith (in fact he was the third principal of McGill University), brother of the late Chief Justice Sir Wm. Meredith, of Quebec who was a very fast skater, might have been called a forward, as might have been his old chum, the late E.H. Steel, while the late Grant Powell (a cousin of Edmund’s wife, Frances Jarvis) was the captain. Their opponents were the Civil Service Club, of Quebec. The hockey sticks were cut from the Gorna Bush; the puck was a piece of oak, and the goals were a mile and a half apart on clear ice, not often found between Quebec and the Island of Orleans. The Quebec Chronicle of that day had a good account of the match.

Biography of William Collis Meredith on Wikipedia (
Biography of Edmund Allen Meredith on Wikipedia (

The next oldest written reference was in an 1857 medical journal -- The Medical Chronicle -- which was published in Montreal. In the May, 1857 issue (Vol. 4, No. 12), a clinical lecture by Dr. W. Lawrence was discussing a hockey-related injury treated in England "In the winter of 1850, it appears, the patient was playing on the ice; while engaged in some game, the precise nature of which I do not understand, and termed 'hocky' -- a game, as I learn (and you will correct me if I'm wrong,) where there is hard hitting of a ball, or hard hitting of a hard ball, which struck the side of the leg, or tibia, of this poor young man. He says he did not make anything of it at the time, nor did he interrupt his playing; he even went on in the excitement of the game till he unluckily got a second blow, but this time with the "hockey" stick, on the identical same spot".

London Society – An Illustrated Magazine, published in London, England, had the following article on ice hockey.

The various games that are played on the ice are mostly unworthy of a true skater's attention, and have the further drawback of seriously annoying those who use the skate for its legitimate purpose.

Hockey, for example, ought to be sternly forbidden, as it is not only annoying, but dangerous. In its right place, hockey is a noble game, and deserving of every encouragement, but on the ice it is in its wrong place, and should be prohibited. Any weak place in the ice is sure to give way if the ball should happen to pass over or near it; for the concourse of fifty or a hundred persons all converging • upon the same point is a test which no ice, save the very strongest, is able to bear. Even the 'express trains/ so popular on the Serpentine, on a fine frosty night, are not nearly so dangerous as hockey, because they distribute the weight over a large surface with tolerable equality. Moreover, when a mass of human beings precipitates itself recklessly in any direction where a ball may happen to run, accidents are certain to follow. The indifferent skaters, or those who are only walking on the ice, are knocked down, and often severely injured by others falling on them ; and if the ice should give way, as is likely to happen by reason of their accumulated weight, a fatal result is almost a necessary consequence.

The unfortunate man, whose sad death I have lately mentioned, was knocked down during one of these hockey matches. The game moreover, is by no means what it ought to be, in as much as it is impossible to enforce the rules in such a miscellaneous assembly. No one keeps to any particular side, or aims at any particular goal ; and any one who happens to have a stick, hits the ball in any direction that seems easiest. I should be truly glad to see the police interfere whenever hockey is commenced. Again, when a party of really good skaters are indulging themselves with a quadrille, and performing the many graceful evolutions of which this charming art is capable, it is more than annoying to have the whole proceeding broken up by the irruption of a disorderly mob armed with sticks, and charging through the circle of skaters and spectators, to the imminent, danger of all.

Reference to hockey in an early book. Digitized version is fourth edition, dated 1886, however a French translation dating from 1867 has the exact same text, which thus appears to date from the first edition (1865).

Quote is from Chapter XIV: Modern savages [sic] – continued; Esquimaux.

The Esquimaux [sic] are not altogether without music. They have a kind of drum, and sing both alone and in chorus. They are acquainted with several kinds of games, both of strength and skill, and are fond of dances, which are often very indecent. One of their games resembled our cat’s cradle, and Kane saw the children in Smith’s Sound playing hockey on the ice. The Esquimaux have also a great natural ability for drawing. […]

A book was published in England in 1869 titled "A System of Figure-Skating - Being the Theory and Practice of the Art as Developed in England, With a Glance at Its Origin and History". The authors were H.E. Vandervell and T. Maxwell Witham, members of the London Skating Club.

The book contains three references to hockey:

In Chapter III ("General Directions"), there are various considerations about equipment. On page 64, the authors write: "We must absolutely forbid the use on the ice of the walking-stick, as it is utterly useless as an artificial support for the learner, and excessively dangerous to every one in his immediate vicinity. We cannot conceive how any skater can take delight in skating about with such a thing flying in all directions. It is only useful when hockey is in the case."

Chapter XIII is about "Nondescript Figures". On page 254, a figure is described as "Straight and Curved Lines with Both Feet on the Ice". The short paragraph goes as follows: "We see this combination used by the many who run and race about, and play hockey, which generally noisy game on the ice is hardly interesting for the skater, who aims at a higher branch of his art."

Further in the same chapter is the "Small Loop". The authors mention that "this figure is rarely practised in England", perhaps because the skater may "require skates rather more curved". However, the authors point out, American and Canadian skaters use "highly curved skates", so they have more extensively developed the loop. Follows a quote from "The Field", Jan. 18, 1868, on "how to do the figure from a Canadian point of view".

The quote ends as follows: "It is a rapid rotary pirouette, not very graceful, but showing the great powers of a strong skater. The body from the hips is leaned forward, and the balancing leg off the ice raised almost horizontally, the hurley (ice hockey) stick often tucked under the arm - sometimes as many as ten or a dozen or more revolutions being turned."

March 3 and 4th, 1875
The first reported indoor game of organized hockey was in Montreal on March 3, 1875. A post-game article was printed in The (Montreal) Gazette. Halifax did not report an indoor game until 1883 (eight lacrosse club players vs. nine other lacrosse club players). There was no mention of a referee in either game.

The Montreal Gazette report of the March 3, 1875 game is well known, however, a second also exists. Below is the game report from the Montreal Daily Witness (March 4, 1875, p.2, under "CITY ITEMS"):

Hockey in the Victoria Skating Rink. - Last evening a game of hockey was played in the Victoria Skating Rink between two nines, Messrs Torrance (Captain), Meagher, Potter, Goff, Barnston, Gardner, Griffin, Jarvis, and Whiting; and Messrs Creighton (Captain), Campbell, Campbell, Esdaile, Joseph, Henshaw, Chapman, Powell and Clouston. The game is generally played with a large rubber ball, each side striving to knock it through the bounds of the other's field. In order to spare the heads and nerves of the spectators, last evening, a flat piece of board was used instead of a ball; it slid about between the players with great velocity; the result being that the Creighton team won two games to one for the Torrance. Owing to some boys skating about during the play, an unfortunate disagreement arose; one little boy was struck across the head, and the man who did so was afterwards called to account, a regular fight taking place in which a bench was broken and other damage caused. It was the intention of the players to have another game, but this disgraceful affair put a stopper on it.


March 4, 1875
The first published reference to a puck-like object was in The (Montreal) Gazette of March 4, 1875, where it was noted that instead of the usual rubber ball, "a flat, circular piece of wood piece of wood" was created which "slid about between the players with great velocity".

The first published use of the word puck was on Feb. 7, 1876 when The (Montreal) Gazette reported on a hockey game between the Montreal Football Club and the Victoria Skating Rink club.

The playing rules for the game of "hockey on the ice" were first printed in The (Montreal) Gazette on Feb. 27, 1877.

The first mention of rules in a newspaper article was in the McGill University Gazette of April 1, 1877, where it was noted that J.G.A. Creighton, captain of the Victorias, "especially distinguished himself" by playing offside in a 1-0 win over McGill.

The first documented evidence of hockey games played with umpires and then referees were in Montreal. Philip D. Ross (a former McGill player and future inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame) noted in his diary that he had acted as one of the umpires in a game reported in The (Montreal) Gazette to take place Jan. 15, 1879.

Rules of the National Skating Association of Great Britain. In a copy which appears to be a later (second?) edition, published between 1880-1882, for the NSA, which was founded in 1879.

Among to the "Objects" of the Association is "To provide Rules and Regulations for the Game of Hockey on the Ice".

Pages 15-16 list 17 rules for "Hockey on the Ice … As played in the Fens" [the Cambridge area]

Pages 17-18 list 17 rules for Hockey "As played in Metropolitan District"

In both cases the game is more along the lines of bandy, but strictly defines the kinds of sticks that may be used, the kind of skates
("club skates" vs speed/fen skates), number of players, dimensions of the playing surface and goals, etc.

A two-page article, "Hockey, and How to Play it", from October 1883 (Source unknown)

The article starts by referring to a companion article on rounders published in October 1880. It discusses two versions of the game, the "school code", which is clearly a "dry land" hockey and "the ice code". It looks like it is written for a London schools readership.

This one is more narrative in nature, although it does include a list of twelve rules, and is again, more akin to bandy in nature.

Hockey on Ice at Chippewa Creek 1839    
by Carl Gidén and Patrick Houda,
Swedish Ice Hockey Historical and Statistical Society, SIHSS, and Society for International Hockey Research, SIHR.

With grateful opinions from Bill Fitsell, SIHR.
NOTE: The following historical text excerpts were reproduced with the language of the day intact, are are not intended to offend.    

This paper will show that:

- "hockey on ice" was practised in Chippewa Creek ( Welland River) 1839.
- skates might have been used practising the game.

It may also be the first reference of men of African descent using skates.

The discovery was made July 10th 2008 in "The Echoes From the Backwood; Or Sketches Of Transatlantic Life"
written by Capt. R.G.A. Levinge.

Quoting Volume II, chapter XIX; "Upper Canada - Niagara District", page 250:

"During the winter, the skating on Chippewa Creek was excellent and added not a little to our amusement. Large parties contested games of hockey on ice, some forty or fifty beeing ranged on each side. A ludicrous scene, too, was afforded by the instruction of a black corps in skating: from the peculiar formation of a negro´s foot, and the length of his heel, they were constantly falling forward; it was impossible to keep them on their skates, and down they came in whole sections. They might have done admirably on snow-shoes, but it was lamentable to witness the dreadful "headers" they suffered from the skates."


The author:
Sir Richard George Augustus Levinge.
Born - Westmeath, Ireland, 01 November 1811.
Died - in Brussels, Belgium, 28 September 1884.
Soldier, writer and artist.
Seventh baronet, first Master of the Westmeath Hunt, Ireland.
Entered the army, 1828; lieutenant, 1834; lieutenant-colonel in the militia, 1846;
succeeded to baronetcy, 1848; high sheriff for ath, 1851; M.I for ro.
Vi-stin.-.ith, 1857 and SS'J;

The book

"The Echoes From the Backwood; Or Sketches Of Transatlantic Life", published, London 1846, by Henry Colburn, two volumes - 293 pp and 258 pp - chronological story.

Both volumes are downloadable from Google Books.

From 1835 to 1837, the author, a British army officer of the 43rd Regiment, was stationed in St. John, New Brunswick. Struck by the great prosperity of the province and the lack of promotion of the many advantages awaiting the prospective settler, Levinge undertakes to remedy the situation in the first volume of this work. He offers hints to the emigrant, information regarding wages and costs of provisions, clothing, livestock, farming implements, agricultural produce, and reports on trade and the proposed railway. Levinge was also a great sporting enthusiast, and he provides some interesting anecdotes of his hunting and fishing excursions in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Upper Canada.

The second volume relates a trip to the United States and his impressions of the social and political situation in Upper and Lower Canada, where he was posted during the Rebellion of 1837-38, and Lord Durham's administration.

The last two chapters in Volume II, refers to 1839, after the final suppression of the Rebellion.

Sir Richard Levinge returned to England in summer 1839.

The 43rd British Light Infantry (Foot) - Monmouthshire Light Infantry went to New Brunswick in 1835, and was one of the regiments despatched from New Brunswick to Quebec, overland on horse-sleighs, in the depth of the winter December 1837, on the occasion of the insurrection in Lower Canada.

The regiment was employed in Canada until 1844, when it removed to Nova Scotia, and came home in 1846.

- In July 1838, - 43rd Regiment left Lower Canada for Niagara District.

- July 17 1838, - John Lambton, Lord Durham (1792-1840), reviews the 43rd and other regulars at Niagara Falls, Ontario; a show of force to impress American sympathizers of the rebels.

- In December 1838 the Rebellion was quashed.

A well known painting was made by the author, Sir Richard Levinge, depicting "The '43rd Light Infantry', As They 'Turn Out' In Their Sleighs, At The 'Falls of Niagara'.1839".
"The 43rd Light Infantry was in the Niagara frontier in 1839. This wonderful winter scene was drawn by a member of the regiment, Sir Richard Levinge, and it clearly shows a pleasure trip to the falls in mid-winter."

The "Black Corps"
December 11 1837, Niagara Ontario - A corps of "Africans" was raised out of the 400 black residents of Niagara; a company of 50 men was in arms by December 15. A second African company was later raised in Niagara, and the two joined together to form the "Coloured Corps" with a combined strength of about 130 men. The unit guarded the frontier from Chippewa to Drummondville during the winter 1837-38.

Ohter written works by Sir Richard Levinge:
- "Historical Notices of the Levinge Family 1853."
- "Historical Records of the Forty-third Regiment, Monmouthshire Light Infantry, hire Light Infantry 1868."

Among several paintings from Canada:
- "A meeting of the Sleigh Club at the barracks, St. John, New Brunswick, 1837". National Archives of Canada, C-042256
- "Sleighing in New Brunswick c. 1838". National Gallery of Canada (no. 9933)


Hockey on Ice was practised at Chippewa Creek winter 1839. The point of time of the event can be fixed - regarding the above

Many pair of skates were available - enough to equip "whole sections of the Black Corps". Therefore skates may have been used playing Hockey on Ice,

It might also be the first reference of coloured men using skates (in a humiliating way - but in a language of it's time)

The author does not describe Hockey on Ice in words of a new invention - he seems to be quite familiar with the game - indicating the existence of the game earlier than 1839. Also the name of the game seems to have existed prior to 1839.

A number of British soldiers seems to have had earlier experience of Hockey on Ice - either on skates or on foot - from their origin in Great Britain or from their placement in Canada

A number of British soldiers had the knowledge of skating - from their origin in Great Britain or from their placement in Canada - enough knowledge to instruct beginners.


Was only the British Regiment enjoying the game of Hockey on Ice - or was is a mix of soldiers and local inhabitants?

From where did the Regiment get the large number of skates ? 43rd was a Light Infantry using sledges and snow-shoes in the winter - but skates ?
As we can imagine, it does not seems likely, that skates were in the equipment of 43rd Regiment.

Therefore, most probably, skates were borrowed from the local population - indicating that those were commonly used in the area. That gives a possibility that the game of Hockey on Ice - on skates - may have been practised in the area earlier than 1839.

The same discussion might be applied regarding the sticks - used for playing Hockey on Ice. They might have been fabricated by the Regiment from tree branches - or borrowed by the local population - indicating earlier local existence of the game - either on skates or on foot.

End of text

© SIHSS/SIHR, July 10th 2008