Can you think of a more quintessentially Canadian sport than hockey? You would be hard pressed to find one that is more closely associated in people’s minds. This week, we will continue our historical investigation of winter sports and explore how the national obsession with hockey realized itself in the small town of Holland Landing.
It is hard to pin down the exact origins of the sport of hockey; Indigenous nations were playing variations of this sort of game before the arrival of European settlers. It is also likely that part of the inspiration for hockey has roots in other stick-and-ball games that were played in Europe in the 1600’s, such as shinty in Scotland, hurley in Ireland, and bandy in England.
Even the origins of the word “hockey” are disputed. The most widely accepted etymology for the word comes from the French hoquet, meaning shepherd’s crook, referring to the shape of the stick. However, one of the earliest uses of the word found in print comes from Juvenile Sports and Pastimes (written in England, 1773); the use of the word hockey does not describe the stick that is used, “but rather the object with which it is played: a ‘cork-bung’ or a barrel plug.” So, the key differences between hockey and any other type of ball-and-stick game is that it is primarily played on the ice with skates, and that players manipulate the rubber puck with their stick while on the ice. The first official game of ice hockey was proclaimed to have occurred in Montreal in 1875.
One of the more famous personalities in hockey was Foster Hewitt (1902 – 1985) who became famous as an announcer for Hockey Night in Canada. He was originally a sports reporter; in 1922 at the age of 20, he was instructed to cover the first radio broadcast for his employer “Canada Covers America First”, which was a radio station owned by the Toronto Star newspaper. Foster Hewitt was part of the opening ceremonies for Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on November 12th, 193, remaining a cornerstone of Canadian hockey for over 40 years. Many people recall that his most memorable and famous phrase during his lengthy career became, “He shoots, he scores!” If you want to see an archival interview that CBC did with him about his early career, please click this link.
In his memoirs, Bill Watts recounts his fond memories of playing pickup games of shinny almost every day after school on the Long and Square Ponds in Holland Landing. First, they would have to get the snow off the frozen pond, borrowing a shovel from Peter “Pop” Walkers general store to complete the task. Then they would Black Hawks and Bill Watt’s memories of playing hockey. Then they would put on their skates and equipment and take to the ice. The supplies for playing hockey for most boys consisted of skates, hockey sticks and “newspapers or portions of Eaton’s catalogues, stuffed inside our socks and over our skins”, functioning as padding in case the boys would get hit by the puck or by someone else’s stick.
Figure 1: Young boys playing an informal game of ice hockey, near Kelso Conservation Area in Milton, Ontario, c. 1971. From the Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.
He also remembers that in 1950 – 1951, the senior grades’ schoolteacher of the Holland Landing Public School, Lorne Palmateer, organized a hockey team for the boys to play in, and entered them into the East Gwillimbury Township School Hockey League. They became known as the Holland Landing Black Hawks (sometimes called the Night Hawks) and would play at the old Queensville arena every Monday night at 7 PM. The team practiced long and hard and eventually won the school championship! To celebrate their success, a formal dinner was staged by Peter “Pop” Walker, in the basement of the Holland Landing United Church.
Do you have any fond memories of playing hockey in Holland Landing or in Mount Albert? If so, we’d be happy to read about them in the comment section below!
 Martel, Jean Patrice (2020, June 25). “Origins of Ice Hockey”. From The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/origins-of-ice-hockey  https://web.archive.org/web/20081014004908/http://www.histori.ca/minutes/minute.do?id=14272  Watts, Grace & Watts, Bill (2004). Holland Landing in the Post-War Years (in the mid-1940’s and early 50’s). Oshawa, ON: The Label Shop Plus. 16.