Boundary the ‘cradle’ of hockey

The Gazette is pleased to present a series of articles on Boundary hockey history by Gerry Foster.

Phoenix team of the Boundary hockey league – 1911.

Phoenix team of the Boundary hockey league – 1911.

“Moreover we ordain that you prohibit under penalty of imprisonment all and sundry from such stone, wood and iron throwing; handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games.”

This proclamation issued by Edward the Third of England in 1363 is thought to be the first recorded use of the word hockey. Ice hockey that would electrify Canadians from coast to coast more than any other sport would arrive much later. The Canadian Museum of History states that “the journal of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin notes that on October 25, 1825, men from his party skated and played hockey on Great Bear Lake.”

However, the first recorded hockey game played on an indoor rink between two teams and reported in the press took place on March 3, 1875 at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montréal.

The recognized expression from the late 19th century, go west young man, could also apply to hockey. The game was growing in Eastern Canada; soon however, opportunities in Western Canada were enticing the adventurous. The prospects of employment, new starts and a pioneer spirit led many to pack up and leave for what some viewed as a kind of Promised Land.

The dawn of the 20th century witnessed the discovery of copper around Grand Forks which resulted in the building of the massive Granby Smelter. It became the largest copper smelter in the British Empire. The term Boundary Country evolved from the designation of the surrounding region as the Boundary Mining District in the late 1800s.

The Inception of Hockey in British Columbia

Many who came to work and live in the Boundary Country brought hockey skates. Once the ponds, lakes and rivers were frozen over, skating and hockey games would provide a leisure activity for the residents. Hockey awareness can also be traced to early West Kootenay centres. Sandon, now a ghost town, and Nelson have hockey history going back to the early 1900s. The statement is made on the Historic Trail Smoke Eaters website that “the West Kootenay and Boundary areas of BC can rightfully be called the cradle of hockey in BC.”

While respecting what was happening in the West Kootenay, in my humble opinion the Boundary region alone deserves the title of the genesis of hockey in this province. In an article posted on the black’N’blueline online blog, Hockey History: Crossing the BC Boundary, written by Tyson Michie, he refers to the Boundary Hockey League (BHL) as the first league formed in B.C. This was in 1908 and included the first hockey trophy presented in British Columbia. The Bulletin, a journal of the Japanese Canadian Community makes a similar assertion.

The trophy alluded to was the Boundary Hockey Championship Cup. This historic trophy can be seen at the Boundary Museum and Interpretive Centre in Grand Forks. It gave me shivers when I recently visited the museum and viewed with a sense of awe this venerable hockey treasure that is more than a century old. The Boundary League comprised Grand Forks, Phoenix and Greenwood.

In 1906 the communities of Grand Forks and Phoenix raced to have the first covered natural ice rink; both towns claimed victory and we’ll leave it at that. Grand Forks won the first league championship in 1908 although some references say it was 1909. I should add that Greenwood completed their covered rink in 1907.

This initial hockey league in Canada’s westernmost province would soon expand when Rossland and Nelson joined while Trail followed.

In 1911 Phoenix, home to an opera house, twenty hotels and a brewery, prevailed on the ice and realized Boundary hockey supremacy. There is a story that Phoenix then challenged Rossland, the winner having bragging rights as Provincial champion. History records “an entire trainload of Phoenix fans, complete with brass band accompanied the team to Rossland.” This collection of hockey players from a community built atop a mountain of copper was on the pinnacle of the hockey world as far as they were concerned.

Brimming with confidence they entertained even loftier dreams; they challenged a team from Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Yes, that’s right, La Coupe Stanley! They were told that they applied too late. We’re not sure whether the Canadian postal service, called Royal Mail Canada back then, was simply slow or it was a case of the Easterners from the nation’s capital smugly refusing to accept the challenge! In fact, one writer’s candid view was, “the snobby Easterners quickly turned down the challenge presented by a bunch of crass and crusty miners.”

The BC Government got into the spirit of things as the 16th Premier, Sir Richard McBride, donated the McBride Cup, emblematic of the Interior championship and some would suggest the entire province.

Women’s Hockey

Another story informs us that Phoenix was home to the first women’s hockey team, which advertised itself as “the world’s first skirt and leg exhibition.” However, from all accounts Rossland was the hotbed of Women’s hockey in the area and were dominant. Author Wayne Norton writes in his informative book, Women on Ice: The Early Years of Women’s Hockey in Western Canada, “When the women of Grand Forks upset Rossland to win the West Kootenay championship in 1917, they took particular pride in having succeeded where so many teams before them had failed.” The team from the Golden City was “rarely if ever defeated until that game.”

On another occasion the Grand Forks Gazette enthusiastically reported, “The Grand Forks Ladies Hockey Team handed the Rossland team their first defeat in several years in a game at the local arena.”

And earlier the 1911 Rossland Carnival hockey final between the host squad and the women of Grand Forks was hailed as the women’s championship of the world!





Grand Forks Gazette