The history of hockey is full of twists and turns. While most people believe that Canada invented the sport, historians focused on athletics say that the answer is more complicated. Understanding the origins of hockey can sometimes seem a bit like a web. Still, a careful analysis of the sport’s history reveals that hockey originated in England during the 1790s. In exploring the early history of hockey, sports enthusiasts can see how the game has changed over time and better understand why the sport exists in its current incarnation.
Before examining the roots of hockey, it is important to address why so many people believe that the sport was created in Canada. Generally, Canada and hockey are usually seen hand-in-hand, with hockey being regarded as a fundamental part of the Canadian identity. Historically, experts also concede that the first organized game of modern indoor hockey was played in 1875 at Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, Quebec. Apart from the first indoor game, Canada’s hockey history is full of unsubstantiated claims, with dozens of cities claiming to be the game’s inventors.
Delving deeper into the game’s history, researchers say that the most direct evidence points to the game being invented in England in the 1790s. In their On the Origin of Hockey, Jean-Patrice Martel, Carl Giden, and Patrick Houda say that the name hockey most likely originated from the type of puck early players used in their games. During the 1790s, players used corks from beer casks as pucks. One of the most popular beer brands during the era was Hock Ale, thus giving rise to the name hockey. Among the most famous early hockey players were King Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, and the famed scientist Charles Darwin.
Martel, Giden, and Houda further found that the hockey of this time was modeled after older games known as hurley and shinty. References to shinty date back as early as 1607 when it was played in Scotland. In examining how these early forms of hockey eventually found their way to Canada in the late 19th Century, historians point to immigration from Ireland as a possible origin. These historians further say that evidence suggests that William Cochran, an Irish immigrant and principal of a school in Nova Scotia, taught hurley to his students in the 1800s. Cochran and his students then developed their own ideas for the sport, leading to the birth of modern hockey.