OTTAWA – James Creighton, hockey’s pioneer, has finally been fully honoured for his contribution to the game.
Nearly 80 years after his burial in an unmarked grave, the man widely hailed as the "founding father" of modern hockey has been honoured with a modest stone marker, a plaque highlighting his achievements, and glowing praise from Canada's best-known hockey history buff: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
At a ceremony Saturday in Beechwood National Cemetery in Ottawa, Harper and several fellow members of the Society for International Hockey Research paid belated tribute to James Creighton, the Halifax-born sports pioneer credited with codifying and spreading the game that would become Canada's greatest winter passion and de facto national religion.
The IIHF, assisted by Prime Minister Harper, unveiled an official Canadian governmental plaque in 2008 at Montreal’s Bell Centre declaring James Creighton as the sport’s founding father and the nearby Victoria Skating Rink as the place where the game was born in the late 1800s.
The plaque unveiling was part of the IIHF’s 100-year anniversary represented the culmination of the IIHF’s six-year effort to properly recognize Creighton’s legacy and the Victoria Skating Rink as the place of the first organized game of hockey.
The unveiling in Ottawa on Saturday – also attended by Creighton's distant cousins from Ontario and Nova Scotia – recognizes his pivotal role in the evolution of hockey in the late 19th century.
He's known to have helped spread interest in hockey from Nova Scotia to Central Canada, and to have participated in the world's first documented indoor match – a March 3, 1875, game in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink that the International Ice Hockey Federation has declared was the beginning of hockey as an organized sport.
Creighton also penned the first rules for the game, adapting a set of field hockey regulations to the new ice version of the sport.
"Creighton is the closest thing we have to hockey's founding father," Harper said in a speech, hailing Creighton's "monumental contribution" to the game's birth.
After his years in Montreal, Creighton moved to Ottawa in the 1880s to serve as a Senate law clerk – a position he held for a remarkable 48 years.
He helped stoke interest in hockey in Canada's capital, where he played with two sons of governor general Lord Stanley of Preston in the years before the Queen's viceroy famously donated a silver bowl that would become the hockey's championship trophy.
Creighton was 80 when he died in 1930 at Ottawa's prestigious Rideau Club, and the death of his elderly wife a short time after is presumed by historians to explain why the couple were buried side-by-side at Beechwood without tombstones.
Ed Grenda, the history society's honorary president, said the gravesite monument and the historic marker, mounted on a nearby boulder, offer "an enduring reminder" of Creighton's sporting legacy.
Harper, a Society for International Hockey Research member who was working on a book about the NHL's early years before his election as prime minister in 2006, said the markers calling attention to Creighton's accomplishments are "almost eight decades overdue."