Pond hockey is an iconic Canadian experience. I’m a town kid, so had access to a rink/arena, but it was more fun to go outside of town to a frozen pond or river and skate there or play hockey. Hell, someone could get a breakaway and you never knew when you’d see them again.
My father is in a local hockey hall of fame, but I never played on a team. My career was a couple of pick up games on a pond or road hockey. You get a net – or something to mark the ground were a net would be if you had one, a puck or old tennis ball (depends on the number of cars around) and your worst stick and play in the driveway or street without much traffic. Because
you were literally playing in traffic someone always kept an eye out for a car.
The way to find a Canadian in a foreign country is to yell “Car!” The Canadians will always smile. Because that’s what you yelled when playing road hockey and a car or truck was coming down the road. It got everyone’s attention, you pulled the net out of the way and stood aside until they passed and then everyone went to where they were before the interruption.
Pond hockey started at Long Pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Long Pond is where hockey was invented and where adherents make an annual pilgrimage to honour the national passion.
We know hockey was first played here thanks to the diaries and writings of Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton. Haliburton attended Kings College in Windsor from 1800-1810. In his 1844 book The Attache, Haliburton included this description: “…you boys let out racin’, yelpin’, hollerin’, and whoopin’ like mad with pleasure and the play-ground, and the game at base in the fields, or hurley on the long pond on the ice…”
Hurley is an Irish game, played with a curved stick and ball. Coincidentally, it’s also often played of low-traffic roads.
In a previous book, The Clockmaker, published in 1836 Haliburton wrote of “playing ball on ice”.
These are the first references of a game on ice using sticks and balls. Later newspaper letters by schoolmates of Haliburton wrote of “skating on the long ponds”. One wrote, “I recollect John Cunard (brother of Sir Samuel of Steamship fame) having his front teeth knocked out with a hurley by Pete Delancey, of Annapolis.”
These accounts give Windsor and Long Pond the unequivocal historic claim as the birthplace of hockey.
At the 2017 Long Pond Classic, the Hon. Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House of Commons, and an old boy of Kings College, flew in to play a game. Regan recalled writing a paper on Haliburton and realizing the first hockey games were before those recorded in Haliburton’s diary entries since the boys were already playing before he enrolled the Kings.
The Long Pond Classic celebrates this all-pervasive national heritage. First Nations, French or English, everyone plays. Whether you lace up or watch, the Classic is a fun experience because it replaces the pressures of profit-driven professionalism with the genuine feel of friends having fun. It is the game at its purist and most authentic.
And pond hockey is a huge retro vogue across Canada.
As part of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations the city is hosting a pond hockey tournament on January 28-29. The idea was so popular that they had to shut off registration at 144 six-person teams. They’ve installed 16 open air rinks. Competitions are broken down to: Competitive, Recreation, Over 50s and Women’s (tho’ all teams can be co-ed).
Then on February 16-19 are the World Pond Hockey Championships take place Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Plaster Rock is a tiny community not near anywhere. Fifteen years ago some local guys through they would break up the winter by inviting people to pull together some teams and come play hockey outside. It wasn’t anything serious – just guys, ice and beer. It caught on so now they get 120 teams from six countries (Canada, United States, The Netherlands, England, Grand Cayman and Slovakia), 35 U.S. states, eight provinces and one territory.
Pond hockey takes us to the roots and sheer fun of the game.
No doubt there are old pond hockey events across the county. Go to Google.
Sites to check:
If you are out west or can travel, check out the Lake Louise Pond Hockey Classic from February 22-26. It’s on the lake in directly in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort. No one does wilderness like Fairmont!