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Happy Anniversary, Ice Hockey!

On March 3, 1875, indoor ice hockey made its public debut in Montreal, Quebec at the Victoria Skating Rink. Before its move indoors, hockey was a casual outdoor game, played on grass with a stick and a ball, and can be traced back to ancient Greece, Egypt and Persia.

The game spread north to Europe, then west to the Americas, and is still popular in the Southern Hemisphere as well as in North America, where it is called field hockey. North America’s indigenous people were playing games with a stick and ball long before the French and English crossed the Atlantic. Cherokee, Ojibwe and Mohawk tribes all had different names for what the French branded “lacrosse,” as did the Iroquois native to Quebec. Meanwhile, ice skating consisted of skating on sharpened animal shinbones in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The game spread north to Europe and then west to the Americas, and is still popular in the Southern Hemisphere as well as in North America, where it is called field hockey. North America’s indigenous people were playing games with a stick and ball long before the French and English crossed the Atlantic. Cherokee, Ojibwe and Mohawk tribes all had different names for what the French branded “lacrosse,” as did the Iroquois native to Quebec. Meanwhile, ice skating was popularized by skating on sharpened animal shinbones in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and games played on ice included a Dutch version of golf and an on-ice version of hurling, an Irish stick-and-ball game.

Ice hockey was initially thought too dangerous a game to play, as the ball was difficult to control on the ice. For the 1875 Montreal game, the ball was replaced with a wooden disc, now known as a puck. The disc was less likely to fly off the ice, and was less dangerous to both players and spectators. The Montreal Gazette reported the next day that the first ice hockey game at Victoria Skating Rink attracted 40 spectators. Ice hockey then caught fire in Montreal, and in 1877 the first official rules of the game, known as Montreal Rules, were published. Canada’s now legendary national passion for ice hockey was ignited, and the new sport began to spread across the country.

Years later, in 1994, bill C-212, making ice hockey the official winter sport of Canada, was made law by Canada’s parliament. Lacrosse—which had been Canada’s national sport since 1859—remained the country’s official summer game.