Frozen in history: the day hundreds witnessed hockey history at a Dartmouth lake
HALIFAX -- Most Canadians recognize the sport of hockey as a national tradition as old as the country itself, but it may surprise you to hear the game’s history in Nova Scotia dates back to months before Confederation.
About 1,500 people attended a hockey game at Oathill Lake in Dartmouth on Feb. 18, 1867, an event chronicled by newspaper reports dating back over a century-and-a-half.
According to the reports, Oathill was chosen for the match because other lakes in the area were not yet fully frozen.
"The ice on Banook (Lake) wasn't right, so they went searching for a better surface," said historian David Jones.
According to records, military members organized the 19th century hockey game. On the day of, spectators crowded the shoreline while a large band played music.
"The Army and the Navy based in Halifax, they brought their own teams to have a game on this very ice where we are standing," said Jones.
Rob Lunn lives near Oathill Lake and skates there often.
He has always been interested in local history, and still finds it amazing that so many people attended the game 154 years ago.
"People make their way over from Halifax and took the ferry. There were no roads then, I don't think," said Lunn. "That that many people made it here is kind of bewildering."
The only fact that could make this primitive game of hockey, held on a cold February day, even more Canadian?
"This is the first time that we have seen beer and hockey paired together and that's a classic Canadian pair," said Jones.
While there is some controversy over where the first organized game of hockey was played, Jones believes the sport’s origins can be traced back to Dartmouth, as documented in the book ‘Hockey’s Home, The Origin of Canada’s Game’, written by his father Martin Jones.
"If you have the Army and Navy from Halifax bringing a brass band and beer, that sounds like an organized game of hockey," said Jones.
Whether you consider it the first game of hockey or not, Jones says that day in Dartmouth 154 years ago is a rich and remarkable chapter in the history of both the region, and the sport.