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 over 70 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.
Background on the Creighton Memorial Fund
Note: Paragraphs delivered in French are translated to English and displayed in grey
"A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great public structures, and fosters national pride and love of country, by perpetual references to the sacrifices and glories of the past."
While it is unlikely that former Nova Scotia Premier Joseph Howe could have imagined these words would be quoted at a ceremony some 138 years after he delivered them, he would surely approve of their use in recognizing fellow Nova Scotian James George Aylwin Creighton for his contributions to Canadian culture by sowing the seeds of organized hockey.
Nous sommes aujourd'hui réunis pour dévoiler un monument à la mémoire de M. Creighton et de sa femme, Eleanor Platt, dont les tombes étaient demeurées anonymes depuis leur mort dans les années 1930. Il sera désormais possible de distinguer la dernière demeure de M. Creighton parmi celles des politiciens, des magnats de l'industrie du bois et des héros de guerre illustres, et parmi celles des nombreux héros du hockey et membres du Temple de la renommée inhumés près d'ici qui lui devaient, au moins en partie, leur gagne-pain et leur position sociale.
Today, we unveil a monument for Mr. Creighton and his wife, Eleanor Platt, whose graves have remained unmarked since their deaths in the 1930s. Creighton's final resting place will now forever be marked among those of noted politicians, lumber barons and war heroes as well as the many hockey heroes and Hall of Fame members buried nearby, whose very livelihood and social standing are in part indebted to him.
For persevering in bringing this project to fruition, we owe thanks to Bill Fitsell, the renowned hockey historian who served as the first President of our Society. It was in 1969 that Bill decided to dig deeper into the sporadic claims that appeared over the years crediting Creighton with having played an instrumental role in the development of hockey. Bill's meticulous research led to a section on Creighton in his 1987 book, Hockey's Captains, Colonels and Kings. As the years passed, James Creighton continued to capture Bill's interest, as the hockey pioneer's name would resurface in ongoing research for his book How Hockey Happened and when he served as a member of the SIHR committee investigating claims on the birthplace of hockey.
In 2004, at the urging of Bill, Paul Kitchen of Ottawa visited the gravesite and made the astonishing discovery that it was unmarked. Bill later had the opportunity to visit the grave while in the Capital in 2007. Moved by the fact such an important figure in Canadian history had been resting in obscurity for over 70 years, he drafted a motion to establish the Creighton Memorial Fund which was presented and approved by our group at the 2007 Fall meeting in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Malgré une publicité discrète, le public a commencé à manifester son intérêt pour le fonds au début de 2008. Il reçut un appui de taille lorsque le Premier Ministre Harper a applaudi aux efforts du groupe, lors d'une cérémonie tenue à Montréal en l'honneur de M. Creighton. L'article de Randy Boswell, publié à l'échelle nationale en mars dernier, a également contribué de façon importante à attirer l'attention des gens de tous les coins du pays sur le projet.
Despite limited exposure, the fund began to generate interest from the public in early 2008. It was bolstered by Prime Minister Harper's comments at a ceremony held in Montreal honouring Creighton, in which he applauded the Society's efforts. The project continued to gain momentum following a newspaper article by Randy Boswell which appeared nationally last March and captured the attention of people from all corners of the country.
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.
This winter, as you watch children chase a puck across a frozen pond, or as you celebrate a gold medal win for both the Canadian men's and women's hockey teams at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, I hope you will remember James George Aylwin Creighton.