No plaque or historical site marker serves to remind the passerby of the existence of the Victoria Skating Rink. Yet in this building, a hundred and thirty years ago, events took place which today define what Canada means to Canadians and to the world, perhaps better than any other aspect of our culture.
The Victoria Rink first opened its doors Christmas Eve, 1862 in pre-confederation Canada, on Drummond Street, Montreal.
The Rink was an immediate success and was soon proclaimed by foreign visitors as “the finest skating rink in the world.” Its vast ice surface, spanning the distance between Drummond and Stanley Streets, was made possible by the employment of a then recent architectural technology, the huge curved arches of urban British railway stations. While the external features of the rink building remained plain and unadorned, its Montreal architects, Lawford and Nelson (Church of St. James the Apostle, Bishop and St. Catherine Streets, Mtl.) created a fantastic interior with ornamental girders -rows of them, soaring from the floor and swerving into vast arches, almost cathedral-like, reaching an overhead peak of some 50 feet. The rink itself was 202 feet long by 80 feet wide -approximating a surface of 16,000 square feet. The ice was surrounded by a promenading
Platform one foot high and ten feet wide. A great gallery for spectators ran across one end of the building, and light from 500 gas jets shone brilliantly through colored globes.
The astute Montreal historian Edgar Andrew Collard noted from journals of the period that “When many hundred persons upon the ice, and with every variety of costume, pass through all the graceful figures that skaters delight in, the scene presented to the spectator is dazzling in the extreme.” To Lady Dufferin, wife of the Governor General of Canada, it was “a great building like Westminster Hall with an architectural roof and ornamental rafters, its shiny ice floor illuminated by a thousand lights, a great kaleidoscope of brilliant coloring, a crazy quilt of odd designs, a living torrent of swaying, curving, gaily attired figures.”
The Victoria Rink was in fact the “Mother of all Arenas and Hockey Rinks” around the globe. More then three thousand spectators could be contained within its walls. Much like today’s modern arenas, the Victoria Rink was an all purpose facility. Concerts were staged during the off season, as well as horticultural exhibits, fashion shows, political rallies, military pageants, and target shoots. It was the first public building in Canada to use electric lighting. It was also the site of the first electronic transmission of a sports event in the world.
The fact that the story of the Victoria Rink remains ignored and forgotten in Canadian history is a monumental oversight, for it was in this rink that the modern game of ice hockey was born.
The basic ice hockey rink, of roughly 200 by 80 feet, standardized the world over, was established by virtue of the distance between two Montreal streets (Stanley and Drummond) and the architectural building that spanned them.
The puck was invented here.
The roles’ and numbers of players per side were defined here, as well as the duration of the game and the height and width of the scoring area.
The rink was the site of the introduction of goalkeepers, referees, team uniforms, and defined playing positions. It was at the Victoria Rink that the first codified set of ice hockey rules in the world was drawn up. The first paid admission of spectators to a hockey game took place, followed by the first newspaper sports report the next morning of a hockey game. And it was in this rink that the very first ‘STANLEY CUP’ was won.
Montreal set the stage for most of the innovations, which led to the modern day game of hockey. Here are some examples…
- On March 3, 1875, as advertised by The Gazette, the first formal game of modern hockey took place in the Victoria Rink.
- The first team to hold the Stanley Cup was the ‘Montreal Hockey Club’ of the
‘Montreal Athletic Amateur Association’ in 1893, as Champions of the Amateur
Hockey Association of Canada.
- The first game played for the Stanley Cup was held at the Victoria Rink in March 1894 between the MAAA and the Montreal Victorias
- Six Montreal teams have won the Stanley Cup, for a total of 42 championships:
MAAA (1893, 1894, 1895, 1902, 1903); Victorias (1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899);
Shamrocks (1899, 1900), Wanderers (1906, 1907, 1908, 1910); Maroons (1926,1935); and Les Canadiens (1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958,1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986,1993) (* Note that the Stanley Cup was first a challenge cup, thus explaining that some times there were two champions for one season before 1914. Also, some teams had more than one challenge for one season, but are counted only for one championship per season, which would bring the total to 49)
- The Gazette published the first written rules of hockey on February 28, 1877. It was forbidden to make a forward pass, because the game was modeled after rugby rules, a game that the first hockey players were most familiar with.
- Before the puck, a block of wood was used. The puck was introduced in 1880 in the Victoria Rink
- The number of players went from 9, in 1875, to 7 in 1883, and to 6 in 1912
- The position of goaltender was taken from the game of lacrosse
- The scoring area derives from the game of lacrosse, where two posts were positioned on the ice, 6 feet high and 8 feet apart
- The net was first introduced during a pre-season game on December 31, 1899 at the Westmount Arena. A Montreal referee, vacationing in Australia noticed fisherman using small hand held nets. He brought one back and it fit perfectly over the goal posts.
Many local rinks have historical significance for Montreal hockey, such as the Ontario Rink, Stadium, Jubilee, Westmount, Mont-Royal rink, to name but a few.
The Windsor Hotel (located adjacent to the Victoria rink site) also played a central role since many decisions on the future of hockey were made there. The National Hockey League was founded there on Nov. 22, 1917.
Several teams have made Montreal notorious in hockey history. Six Montreal teams have won the Stanley Cup since 1893. The Hockey Hall of Fame now recognizes many Montreal born players, as well as others who played here.
Lester and Frank Patrick, Maurice Richard, Georges Vezina, Howie Morenz, Jean Beliveau, Leo Dandurand, Toe Blake, Red Storey, Jacques Plante, Dickie Moore, Guy Lafleur, and Saku Koivu are but a few of the greats who have defined Montreal hockey
- The first rink built exclusively for hockey was the Westmount Arena, also known as the Montreal Arena, with dimensions of 200 feet by 85 feet, based on those of The Victoria Rink. The natural ice was replaced by artificial ice in 1915.
- The first inter-regional league was made of teams from Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa.
- In 1886 The Amateur Hockey Association of Canada was founded
- The oldest and still in existence hockey team, is the McGill University team founded in1877
- The oldest hockey photograph is from McGill University taken in 1881
- The oldest hockey trophy in the world is the McGill cup
- The first ever championship was won by McGill University at the Montreal Winter Carnival in 1883
Winter carnivals and ice castles also appear in Montreal for the first time in world history at the beginning of the 1880′s. These winter celebrations have a long tradition reaching back to the early snowshoeing clubs, one of the oldest organized sporting groups in Canada. The curling clubs are the oldest in the America’s. Tobogganing and cross-country skiing began here. The world’s first ski tow was built in Shawbridge Quebec near Montreal.