The Present Past

Today is the first installment of a look back at Calgary’s hockey history. When I say history, I don’t mean like Jeff Shantz, Rick Wamsley, of even Kent Nilsson, I’m talking about way back. Back to a simpler time when the population of Calgary could fill a Bass Pro Shop with enough room for at least three stuffed grizzlies. 

In the coming weeks, I’ll be looking at hockey from its earliest days in Calgary and, at the risk of sounding like your 9th grade social studies teacher, I think you’ll find this past NEATO. or COOL. or RAD. or FLEEK. or BAE. or whatever we (as cool people) are saying these days. Come see what it’s all about after the jump

Sometimes, the Past is a Scary Place

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Tucked away in the first column of Thursday, February 3rd’s Edmonton Bulletin from 1898 is a rather alarming story from the rink. Sandwiched between the report of how many furs were sold in the previous week – $3,089.26 if you were wondering – and notifications of businesses moving, is a story that mentions, almost in passing, a dude lost his freaking eye playing hockey. For real. 

During a game played between the Calgary Fire Brigade hockey team and the Edmonton Shamrocks, Calgary’s Everett Marshall, the Calgary captain, was struck in the face with a stick and had to have his eye removed. Good lord. That is some Boardwalk Empire-level nastiness. 

The Bulletin mentioned this near the end of the story about the game (burying the lede much?) and also added that “several other players” were also injured, though their injuries were less serious that Marshalls. Oh, less serious than losing an eye? Why even mention it? Buncha babies…

Reading stories from games like this makes you wonder with a healthy amount of horror: what on earth must that game have been like?! Guy loses eye, sticks swinging everywhere, I hope Jagr was okay. 

As Steven Sandor noted in his chronicling of this incident (in a book titled: The Battle of Alberta, which is awesome and you should get it), this wasn’t the first eye-trauma poor Marshall had received. Marshall was hit in the eye with a puck three-years earlier in 1895. Maybe he had a really hitable eye? 

Hockey from this time period often is characterized as brutal, vicious, and even in some extreme cases, deadly. For the most part, this characterization is true. Hockey was nasty then. However, as I will be getting into over the next few articles, the way people interpreted this violence may seem a lot more familiar than the descriptions of this strange, unrefined, and monstrous hockey from the past. 

So, I suppose the real the take home point here is: remind me to not lace ’em up in the 1890’s.  

Calgary’s Hockey Past

History, and it’s cousin tradition, are consistently revered in the context of sport even though at times the past may not say what we want it to say about issues facing us today. Even still, the past can be big business for those looking to, say legitimize a particular event, explain violence’s place in the game, promote a “Rivalry Night,” or sell “Heritage Classic” sweaters (I don’t care what you say, I liked the Flames ones). 

The past is a tantalizing tickle trunk chocked full of ready made justifications for present-day actions. In Canada, hockey is one of the most tradition-obsessed professional sports imaginable with the past being used to explain any number of arcane notions of propriety, toughness, and sound business practices. However, the past is also a fascinating and terrifying place, and hockey’s past in southern Alberta is no exception.

Between players losing eyes, future hall of famers hired as, mercenaries, leagues folding, gamblers paying players to pay, the politics of building rinks, rink’s burning down, the politics of building new rinks, there were many issues facing the development of Calgary hockey in the early twentieth century. Many of these problems were unique circumstances of a particular context but some have survived to plague Calgary’s hockey clubs into the twenty-first century.

In the coming weeks, I will be exploring the long-history of hockey in Southern Alberta from the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century with an attempt to draw connections to the modern game in Calgary. What’s the use of having history books if they can’t help us today? If you have any aspects of the game from this period that you’re curious about, I’d be happy to hunt down information about it, it’s kinda my favourite thing.