"Puck-eaters": hockey as a unifying community experience in Edmonton and Strathcoma, 1894-1905.
On 31 January 1896, the Edmonton Thistles Hockey Club played the South Edmonton (soon to be Strathcona) Shamrocks Hockey Club. The game was the first-ever meeting of the cross-river rivals. The Shamrocks were a new club and the 1895/1896 season was their first experience with organised hockey. R. P. Pettipiece, the editor of the South Edmonton News, took the role as secretary of the team, and he used the pages of his weekly to trumpet the virtues of competitive hockey and of the south side club. The Thistles, on the other hand, were well acquainted with the sport; the previous season the club had played a very competitive series of games against a team of Mounted Policemen from Fort Saskatchewan.
The Police and the Thistles began their season with two games, on 23 December and on 1 January. The Shamrocks had to settle for a game against the Thistles' junior club, the Edmonton Stars, also on the first of the month. After another match against the Stars, the Shamrocks finally got their chance to play the Thistles. Edmonton won the game four to one, but they did not humiliate South Edmonton. The News reported that the Shamrocks did not expect to win, but their play against the north side gave them a great deal of confidence. In support of the South Edmonton Club, the Edmonton Bulletin stated that the Shamrocks "played a good game, and with a little more practice they will be able to compare favourably with any team in the district."(1) After the game, both teams retired to the Hotel Edmonton, (now the Strathcona Hotel), for the most important reason for hockey - dinner and socialising. For people near the end of the nineteenth century who loved hockey, or as the News called them "Puck-Eaters," competitive hockey had begun in Edmonton and South Edmonton/Strathcona.
Tony Cashman and Alec Mair, two Edmonton historians, suggest that the two towns were bitter hockey rivals, and the competition between them was intense and divisive. The purpose of this paper is to challenge this view of Edmonton hockey around the turn of the century. By analysing hockey in the Edmonton area between 1894 and 1905, its effect on the society, the social/class organisation, the construction of masculine gender identities, and shared socio-cultural values, one can see that the north-south relationship was indeed competitive, but also we see that hockey was a unifying community experience for many citizens of the two towns.
Edmonton developed as two settlements separated geographically by the North Saskatchewan River.(2) This geographical division forced the settlements to grow semi-independently from each other, as crossing the river was difficult before 1902. Only during the winter, when the river was frozen, was unrestricted travel between the two settlements possible. While the physical links between the settlements were tenuous, the leading citizens of Edmonton knew that cooperation was necessary in order for the settlement to survive.
Once the Calgary & Edmonton Railway Company completed a branch line from Calgary to the south side in 1891, the two settlements began to develop as separate and competing economic centres. Citizens of South Edmonton began to construct an identity that was separate from "Old Edmonton." Edmonton, on the other hand, maintained that it was the major economic metropolis in the region, not the upstart settlement on the south side of the river.
Boosters from both cities competed with each other to promote the economic advantages of their town over the other. These developments, in part, contributed to the population explosion after the turn of the century. In 1901 the two towns combined for a total population of 3,176; in 1911, the year before amalgamation, the total was 30,479 people.(3) The two separate towns were booming, but as they grew it became ever more difficult to see them as separate entities. The rivalry between the Edmonton and Strathcona hockey teams both symbolised this competition and contributed to a growing sense of community.
It was in this atmosphere of economic competition that hockey developed in Edmonton and Strathcona. Tony Cashman was one of the first historians to discuss hockey games between the two cities. He suggests that the covered rinks in the two cities were where the rivalry was the most intense. On the south side, spectators would beat the opposing players with canes, fists, purses, and parasols any time they came near the boards. On the north side, however, wire netting held back the spectators, because the Edmonton fans "were so tough that they had to be kept in cages."(4) Ultimately, for Cashman, the north-south rivalry included high sticking, a woman using a parasol as a weapon, and crowds of rowdy "urchins" rioting to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."(5)
In his analysis of Edmonton area hockey, Tony Cashman has taken for granted that the economic rivalry between the towns pervaded all aspects of society. However, rather than dividing the two towns into separate communities, the hockey matches served to strengthen the social linkages between them.
In Edmonton and Strathcona a new social order was emerging in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The class lines were not set, and there was still potential for class mobility. By 1906, Edmonton had developed into two separate neighbourhoods, the working and the middle classes in one and the upper class in another. This geographic class organisation ran east-west along the riven. Hockey, to some extent, cut across these class and geographic lines.
Gary Zeman suggests that hockey clubs were exclusive organisations based on the model of British sport and social clubs.(6) Alan Metcalfe, however, argues that while the elites were indeed responsible for the organisation of such clubs, simultaneously "the base of their participants widened to incorporate Canadians from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds."(7) Furthermore, Richard Gruneau and David Whitson propose that sports can cut across occupational, religious, and ethnic relations to offer fun and entertainment for a whole community.(8) The hockey clubs on both sides of the river were organised along class lines, but in this era, the class lines were not yet fully established. The games, the parties, and even the clubs themselves were accessible to most of the citizens.
The South Edmonton Shamrocks advertised in the weekly paper seeking to recruit anyone who wanted to "share [in] the pleasure and recreation" afforded by hockey.(9) Membership dues were low - one dollar in 1902.(10) The clubs had junior and senior teams to allow for player development, and to give people an opportunity to play. The Edmonton Thistles organised their junior team, the Stars, as early as 1895, and the South Edmonton club's junior team, the Capitals, was formed in the 1896/1897 season. Women were also a part of club life. Their games were not as often reported in either newspaper, generally only as a part of larger social events such as masquerade parties,(11) but women also played an important social role within the clubs. They prepared meals, danced at the parties, and cheered in the bleachers. They were a part of the social life of the club as well as active skating members.
The games and practices were accessible to every citizen of both towns. Practices were free and games cost 25 cents for men, and 15 for ladies.(12) Attendance at the games was, for the most part, very good. Until 1903 in Edmonton, and 1904 in Strathcona, they played the games at outdoor rinks. Cold days did hurt attendance, but the general trend over this period is a growth in spectators. In 1905, 2,000 people attended the Christmas Day game at the Thistle Rink in Edmonton, out of a total population of approximately 11,000.(13) That means, if one includes the potential spectators who came from surrounding farms and outlying communities, about one in four spent their Christmas Day in Edmonton watching hockey.
The names of the elites appear in the membership of both teams. William A. Griesbach played for the Thistles in the late 1890s. Later he went on to be mayor of the city and the commander of the predecessor to the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in World War One. The Hardisty family, descendants of the Hudson's Bay Company chief factor of Fort Edmonton, was mentioned often in the rosters of the Edmonton teams. Frank Oliver, Member of Parliament and owner of the Edmonton Bulletin, was the team's patron for the 1899/1900 season.(14) The Shamrocks also had prominent citizens as members of the club. R. Parmeter Pettipiece, who was the editor of the South Edmonton News while he was a member of the club, later became an important labour newspaper editor in British Columbia after the turn of the century.(15) W. J. Sharples, presumably the father of Shamrocks Club member William Sharples, ran the Hotel Edmonton for the Calgary & Edmonton Railway Company until it was sold to another club member, W. H. Sheppard, in 1904.(16) Sheppard was not only the owner of the Strathcona Hotel, but was also the manager of the New Edmonton Breweries.(17) Finally, the Anglican minister, Rev. Henry Allen Gray, served as the president of both clubs at separate times during this period.(18)
The two hockey clubs were not, however, bastions of elite domination but were open to both patricians and plebeians. The membership of the clubs reflected the fluidity of the social system in Edmonton at the time. With the prominent elite names, there also were players from the emerging middle-class. Farmers, ranchers, clerks, and shopkeepers fill out the rosters of both teams. C. McClung, a clerk for McDougall and Secord grocery, played for the Thistles' senior team in the 1898/1899 season. Presumably, he was using the Edmonton club to become more involved in the social life of the community. The following season, the club elected him to the Thistles' executive committee, but before he could assume his new position with the team, he left Edmonton for British Columbia.(19) After he left, the Bulletin gave a brief account of his position in Edmonton. Before he played for the team there is no mention of him in the newspapers, but after he became involved in hockey, he gained a more prominent position in the community.
Being a member of the elite did not necessarily mean that one had to play. William Griesbach arrived in the Edmonton area in 1883. His father was a member of the North-West Mounted Police, and Griesbach became a notable member of the community through his father's role as the inspector responsible for the policing of the Edmonton area.(20) In the late 1890s, Griesbach boxed, ran, played rugby and English football, representing various Edmonton clubs. He also started playing organised hockey with the Thistles' junior team, the Stars. in the 1895/1896 season. He played his first game against the Shamrocks - also that club's first game. Though the two teams were inexperienced, by all accounts the game was a well-contested two all tie.(21) Griesbach managed to move up to the senior team in the next season but played just four of the ten games. The 1897/1898 was a rebuilding year for the Thistles, and Griesbach stepped in to fill a spot left vacant due to the many off-season changes by playing in all the senior level games.(22) Griesbach did not play for the club again after the disappointing 1897/1898 season. In his autobiography, he stated that he "played hockey indifferently because ... [his] ankles were not very strong."(23)
Griesbach's hockey career illustrates that his elite status did not entitle him to play on the senior team -- community status did not mean that club status would follow. The Thistles and the Shamrocks wanted to win, so they put players on the ice that would strengthen their teams. In this period in Edmonton, skill was placed before status.
Hockey in Edmonton and Strathcona was popular with many citizens in both towns. Along with curling, it presented one of the few opportunities that brought the two towns together to socialise in significant numbers. Fans would routinely cross the river to cheer for their town's team amid the fans of the home team. Gruneau and Whitson suggest that sport encouraged a sense of identity within a community.(24) It was at the social events accompanying the games that a unified sense of community identity began to develop during this period.
In the build up to the first meeting between the Shamrocks and the Thistles, the South Edmonton News advertised a gathering at the Hotel Edmonton after the game, where "a real good social and lively time is anticipated."(25) For the most part, the post-game dinners were open to membership from both clubs, and a few spectators - as many as the hotel pub could hold. A March 1901 dinner held by Thomas Hourston, the president of the Edmonton Thistles Hockey Club, is the only reported example of an exclusive club function in the period studied.(26) Commonly, dinners were open to both club members and guests. A more typical example came after Edmonton won the Hourston Challenge Cup in 1901, and Mr. and Mrs. W. McLaren held a dinner and a dance at their home for both teams. The attendance was quite good, with both sides of the river being well represented, and the dance did not wrap up until quite late.(27) The clubs also sponsored annual masquerade carnivals to raise funds, and these were well reported in both newspapers and it appears that they were a popular social activity on both sides of the river. The News, in 1896, advertised the Edmonton club's carnival, while the Bulletin also reported on this social side of hockey.(28) In addition, ice-skating was free to all on opening night. On 4 December 1896, a few Edmonton skaters made their way to the Shamrock rink because the Thistle rink was not yet ready.(29) The dinners, carnivals, and free skating maintained a level of informal socialising between the two towns. Despite their economic rivalry, as often happens, the people of the two towns were enjoying hockey and social gatherings on both sides of the river. They were becoming a community.
The social aspect of these games was focussed on the two hockey rinks, which became much more than hockey rinks. The first games played in Edmonton were on the North Saskatchewan River between the Thistles and Fort Saskatchewan's NWMP team in 1894/1895. The following season the Thistles built an outdoor hockey and skating rink on Block X (just off Jasper Avenue and First Street). The rink remained at that location until 1902 when Richard Secord built the Thistle Rink, on the corner of 102nd Street and 102nd Avenue.(30) It accommodated two thousand spectators and, therefore, far more people than ever could participate in the games. The Thistle Rink also became an important social centre for the citizens of Edmonton and Strathcona, first, as a place for hockey and curling matches during the winter, then as a roller rink during the summer months. The Thistle also hosted theatrical performances, large banquets, masquerade balls, carnivals, political conventions, the Edmonton Militia's drill practice, and Alberta's first provincial legislature.(31) When the Thistle burned down on Halloween in 1913, it had to be quickly replaced.(32) On 23 December 1913, the Edmonton Bulletin reported that the new Edmonton Pavilion opened to replace the lost Thistle Rink.
In Strathcona, the Shamrocks built their first rink in the autumn of 1895. Unlike the north-side rink, however, their rink did not have a stable home until 1904, when a group of citizens funded the construction of a covered rink at 8325 - 102 Street, to rival the Thistle.(33) The outdoor rinks in Strathcona were always on, or near, Whyte Avenue. In November 1898, the club moved the stands to the street side of the rink, so that spectators would no longer interrupt games by crossing the ice to get to their seats.(34) After the Strathcona Rink Association built the south-side-covered rink in 1904, with a seating capacity of twenty-two hundred, it became another centre of the whole community's social life.
Citizens from both towns would routinely cross the river to cheer for their team. By doing so, the games brought people from both sides of the river in a shared cultural experience. Morris Mott argues that hockey spectators in Winnipeg looked for, and found, demonstrations of "manly" characteristics in the players when they went to Winnipeg Vics games between 1890 and 1903. Hockey tested a man's body, mind, and morality every time a player stepped on the ice.(35) Edmonton area hockey likewise emphasised these "manly" virtues. The most-often reported aspect of all the games was the conduct of the players. In this sense, they connected gentlemanly play to manliness. Spectators from both sides of the river did not want to see unsportsmanlike conduct from any team. In addition, Rev. Henry Allen Gray, a leading member for both teams, ensured that a level of morality existed on both sides of the river. Finally, in the personality of William Sharples, one sees a good example of how the community focussed on one individual to represent the whole.
The importance of gentlemanly play may best be seen in the series of games played between the Edmonton Thistles and the Fort Saskatchewan NWMP team during the 1896/1897 season. On 31 December 1896, the Alberta Plaindealer reported that rough play and "shinny" characterised the traditional Christmas Day game between the Thistles and the Police. The next time the two teams met the rough play was so extreme that a spectator from Fort Saskatchewan felt compelled to write the Bulletin to complain:
We were treated to an exhibition of hockey here on Saturday.... Edmonton sent down a light team of players who played a good gentlemanly game.... The police team put up a very rough game. At the call of time, the Edmonton team left the rink having won, what must have been a most unpleasant game, by the substantial majority of five goals, some of their men vowing that it would be their last match with a police team.
The spectator's column in the Bulletin continued with a statement about hockey as a sport:
Hockey is a fine manly game and most interesting to the spectators if properly played, but when the object of one team seems to be to knock out as many of their opponents as possible and smash their sticks it becomes a very vulgar spectacle to say the least of it. It is the duty of all lovers of sport to call down rough play. Brute force never wins in the world of sport and only brings down the censure of the public on the team resorting to it.(36)
The column had the desired impact on the Thistles club: the NWMP never again played against the Thistles. The emerging middle-class society in the West would not tolerate violence,(37) especially if committed by the force that the government designed to prevent it. The rough play of the Police so upset the members of the Edmonton club that they were unwilling to accept any future challenge from them. The implications of the event are clear enough: hockey was a gentleman's sport where only reasonable play was accepted.
Spectators routinely linked morality to sport. In 1896, the Anglican minister, Rev. Henry Allen Gray, joined the Shamrocks club; thus, by virtue of his presence in the executive, he brought a level of morality to Edmonton area hockey.(38) In 1895, the church licensed Rev. Gray as deacon to Holy Trinity church in South Edmonton. The church ordained him in 1896, and reassigned him to the parish of All Saints in Edmonton. Rev. Gray took a leadership role in the wider community by serving as a judge in the juvenile courts, and he helped to develop the community's social institutions. Gray used his position to ensure that the Anglicans in Edmonton took an active role in the whole community.(39) In 1899, due to his change in position, Gray joined the Edmonton team as vice-president.(40) Neither the Bulletin nor Plaindealer go into significant detail about the operations of the club, but it is safe to conclude that with a minister as president, a more Christian ideal of masculinity influenced the members.
The masculinity of the players was also an important aspect to hockey in the emerging social community of greater Edmonton. Hockey not only provided the men of the community an opportunity to exhibit their talents and fitness, but it also acted to emphasise their masculinity. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was an increasing concern about the "emasculating tendencies of excessive settlement" throughout Europe and America.(41) For many social thinkers, the idea of over-civilisation became a major concern. As settlement spread across the globe, the opportunities to prove one's masculinity became more restricted. The "frontier" no longer provided the challenges necessary to cultivate the idealised man. With the world becoming increasingly "civilised," social thinkers perceived a physical and moral decline in masculinity as an adverse result.(42) The "Muscular Christian" ideal of masculinity developed as a response to many of these fears, with health and fitness, and team sports seen as a solution.
Originating in Britain in the 1850s, the idea of "Muscular Christianity" was an intersection between religion and sport, a combination of "robust physical activity and Christian moral rectitude."(43) Linda J. Borish argues that in the nineteenth century "Muscular Christianity" referred to the
belief that physical health, achieved through vigorous physical activity and sport, contributed significantly towards the development of moral character, virtue, discipline and patriotism, and that these experiences could be transferred to other institutions in society.(44)
The "Muscular Christian" was the ideal construction of masculinity. Elliott J. Gorn and Warren Goldstein expand on the idea of patriotism by arguing that this idealised masculine figure "made their nation invincible; they colonised the world, ruled England [in this case Canada], and built the nation's industrial might."(45) In Edmonton and Strathcona, these ideas of "Muscular Christianity" contributing to the development of a single community are seen in the example of William Sharpies.
Sharples was an Anglican who attended the Parish of the Holy Trinity, Reverend Gray's first parish in South Edmonton.(46) He began playing hockey for the Shamrocks in the 1895/1896 season, first as a forward, then as the team's goalkeeper. The reports of the games suggest that he was a steady player, not a star, but certainly someone who could be counted on for every game. He played most of the games for the Shamrocks until the 1899/1900 season. By this time, the South African war had begun, and British military failures against the "lowly" Boers further intensified the crisis of masculinity. After considerable debate, Canada and Britain called on the Dominion's citizens for the first time to go away to a distant war. Sharples joined the military in 1899, and left for South Africa in February 1900. The Alberta Plaindealer stated that he had left the Shamrocks to "keep goal for the British [Empire] in South Africa."(47) Support was not limited to the south side paper either; as the Bulletin also rallied behind Sharpies. It also provided the community with a brief profile of Sharples: he was twenty-four in February 1900, five foot six and a half inches, he weighed 164 pounds, and he was a rancher.(48) William Sharples was a player who had been a member of the Shamrocks for five consecutive seasons, was a successful goalkeeper, and was a leader on the team. Yet, at the same time as his departure for South Africa, he emerged as a player that the community on both sides of the river could identify with: he was healthy, athletic, and loyal. That he was also a Christian could only serve to boost his role as an ideal masculine figure. Sharples embodied the `Muscular Christian' model. He was religious, athletic, and patriotic; and by being an agreeable masculine figure, he was a character that the two towns could admire.
In conclusion, hockey in Edmonton and South Edmonton was popular with many citizens of both towns. The respective clubs included some of each town's elites, but they were not exclusive bastions of elite domination. Rather, the clubs had members from various levels of Edmonton and South Edmonton society, and the clubs evaluated membership in terms of skill, not family connections. The players came from various levels of Edmonton's emerging class system. The examples of William Sharples, as a player, and Reverend Gray, as an organiser, demonstrate that both players and clubs conformed to the Christian ideal of masculinity. No matter what class the player came from, the rules of the game obliged him to accept the gentlemanly sense of fair play found in the sport of hockey. The moral character of the players, and the inclusive nature of hockey in the two communities, allowed the clubs to participate in a rivalry creating a common culture and a sense of community that unified rather than divided the towns.
(1) South Edmonton News, 7 February 1896; Edmonton Bulletin, 3 February 1896.
(2) The following brief history of Edmonton and Strathcona is taken, in part, from Gerald Friesen, The Canadian Prairies: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 240, 280-82, 285-86; John Frederick Gilpin, "The City of Strathcona, 1891-1912: `We See Just Ahead the Glory of the Sun in His Might,'" unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Alberta, 1978, passim; J. G. MacGregor, Edmonton: A History (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1967), 74-221; Howard and Tamara Palmer, Alberta: A New History (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1990), 29-105.
(3) MacGregor, 313.
(4) Tony Cashman, The Edmonton Story (Edmonton: The Institute of Applied Art Ltd., 1956), 222-25; and The Best Edmonton Stories (Edmonton: Hurting Publishers, 1976), 71-73.
(6) Gary W. Zeman, Alberta on Ice: The History of Hockey in Alberta Since 1893 (Edmonton: Westweb Press, 1985), 6.
(7) Alan Metcalfe, Canada Learns to Play: The Emergence of Organized Sport, 1807-1914 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987), 32.
(8) Richard Gruneau and David Whitson, Hockey Night in Canada: Sport, Identities, and Cultural Politics (Toronto: Gramond Press, 1993), 205-07, passim.
(9) Alberta Plaindealer, 26 November 1897.
(10) Edmonton Bulletin, 7 November 1902.
(11) Alberta Plaindealer, 20 January 1899.
(12) Alberta Plaindealer, 28 January 1897; Edmonton Bulletin, 23 February 1900.
(13) Edmonton Journal, 26 December 1905. Gerald Friesen estimated the population of Edmonton in 1906 was 11,000, p. 285.
(14) Edmonton Bulletin Supplement, 26 October 1899.
(150 A. Ross McCormack, Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement, 1899-1919 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 24.
(16) Gilpin, 107.
(17) Edmonton Bulletin, 10 April 1934. (See the City of Edmonton Archives - "Hockey Folder").
(18) Alberta Plaindealer, 26 November 1896; Edmonton Bulletin Supplement, 26 October 1899.
(19) Edmonton Bulletin, 26 October 1899, and 25 November 1899.
(20) MacGregor, 98.
(21) Edmonton Bulletin, 2 January 1896; South Edmonton News, 2 January 1896.
(22) Edmonton Bulletin and Alberta Plaindealer, October 1897 to April t898 passim.
(23) Griesbach, 189.
(24) Gruneau and Whitson, 205-07, passim.
(25) South Edmonton News, 30 January 1896.
(26) Edmonton Bulletin, 25 March 1901.
(27) Ibid, 11 February 1901. Thomas Hourston donated a challenge cup to the Thistles and the Shamrocks in December 1898. The two teams would play for it every year until a team had won it three consecutive times. The Thistles won the cup outright in 1901 after winning the last three consecutive years.
(28) South Edmonton News, 5 March 1896.
(29) Edmonton Bulletin, 10 December 1896, also, 2 December 1897.
(30) David Leonard, John E. McIsaac, and Sheilagh Jameson, A Builder of the Northwest: The Life and Times of Richard Secord, 1860-1935 (Richard Y. Secord, 1981), 90-93.
(31) "Thistle Rink," Fort Edmonton Park, n.d.
(32) Edmonton Bulletin, 31 October 1913. (See the Edmonton Archives, "Thistle Rink" folder.)
(33) Monto, 28-29.
(34) Alberta Plaindealer, 25 November 1898.
(35) Morris Mott, "Flawed Games, Splendid Ceremonies: The Hockey Matches of the Winnipeg Vics, 1890-1903," Prairie Forum, 10 (1)(1985), 178-79.
(36) Edmonton Bulletin, 14 January 1897.
(37) Friesen, 170.
(38) Alberta Plaindealer, 26 November 1896.
(39) Lewis G. Thomas, "Establishing an Anglican Presence," Edmonton: The Life of a City, Bob Hesketh and Frances Swyripa, eds. (Edmonton: NeWest Publishers Ltd, 1995), 28-29.
(40) Edmonton Bulletin Supplement, 26 October 1899.
(41) Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilisation: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880 - 1917 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 185.
(42) Linda J. Borish, "The Robust Woman and the Muscular Christian: Catharine Beecher, Thomas Higginson, and Their Vision of American Society and Physical Activities," The International Journal of the History of Sport, 4 (2)(September 1987), 141.
(43) Ibid., 147.
(45) Elliott J. Gorn and Warren Goldstein, A Brief History of American Sports (United States of America: Hill and Wang, 1993), 88-89.
(46) Gilpin, 35.
(47) Alberta Plaindealer, 16 February 1900.
(48) Edmonton Bulletin, 9 February 1900.
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