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 69 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 Canadaâ€™s National Winter Sport. Today, hockey lovers say "We Remember You -- Thank You," - etched in stone.