carhartt polo First Nations played big role in carving out hockey history
From above, the Keith Miller Arena near Elmsdale is a blur of tiny bodies. Cheryl Maloney stands in the heated lookout room above the rink and searches for her 10 year old son, Chase. Then she spots him in his mustard yellow jersey with his dark hair spilling out from under his helmet a streak of colour moving across the ice.
Chase started playing hockey when he was three. He held his first stick when he was just 13 months old a cheap mini stick Maloney picked up from the grocery store.
was posing with his stick, and I thought, my god I have a reincarnated hockey player here. This kid just loved it, said Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women Association and member of the Indian Brook First Nation.
Chase first stick, like the one he plays with now, is a descendant of the first hockey sticks made by Mi carvers in Nova Scotia. It was here, in places like Antigonish, Millbrook and Shubenacadie that craftsmen discovered the scoring power of a second growth hornbeam tree.
But it a history that Maloney says few people know, and she wants to change that. She working on a documentary film about the history of the hockey stick to show the Mi vital contributions to Canada favourite game.
Mi communities have always turned to the forest for inspiration. The first commercial sticks made in the 19th century were carved from hornbeam, and later from ash and birch. Men scoured the forest for trees with exposed roots that often grew on the sides of hills.
A good tree all depend on the curvature, said Keith Julien, a member of Millbrook First Nation in Truro. A root with a natural bend had flexibility and strength.
Carvers cut the wood into crude sticks with square saws and hung them up to dry. Then, they would use a drawknife (the same tools used in making barrels and baskets) to fine tune the wood into a solid, smooth stick.
blade was a bit heavier than normal, said Julien, who used to play with one. it felt good. It did all right for me. Kids gathered for late night games wearing worn socks on their hands for gloves and old magazines stuffed under their clothes for pads.
Many came with homemade hockey sticks that were given to them by family members. Julien grandfather was a well known hockey stick carver, and his uncle gave him his first handcrafted stick.
was really quite proud of it, said Julien. actually scored on my first game with it. I was some happy. the time Julien was playing hockey in the 1960s, the hockey stick industry was waning, but only a few decades earlier, it was the primary source of income for some families. First Nations communities in Nova Scotia produced thousands of sticks and shipped them as far as Montreal and Kingston for the first hockey games played there.
sticks) went all around the hockey world, and were known as the best made sticks. That indisputable, said David Carter, a Nova Scotia Museum curator.
At first, sticks were sold at markets for 25 or 50 cents, and then to Starr Manufacturing Co. in Dartmouth. Starr, which also made skates, called them Mic Mac sticks and started rolling out a marketing campaign.
A Mic Mac ad from 1908 promised to use only grain selected second growth yellow birch and touted the stick and lightness. Starr and other factories gradually mechanized the process, selling fewer and fewer handcrafted sticks and putting more and more carvers out of work.
Today, Mi sticks are a rarity, popping up every so often on eBay or in hockey museums. They have become a footnote in the debate over hockey origins, used by many to prove that the game originated right here on Nova Scotia soil.
The Town of Windsor claims to be the birthplace of hockey, pointing to a game of ice hurley (an early form of hockey) that was played roughly 200 years ago on Long Pond. Halifax Dartmouth, Kingston and Montreal all make similar claims.
Carter, who calls himself Holmes, has been sifting through this evidence, searching for answers that may help solve the mystery of hockey early days. He doesn like using the word but instead talks about the game evolving or shifting over time.
have to keep working forwards and backward to get inspired. It just not about a moment in time. It is truly about that evolutionary aspect. he certain that the Mi played a big part in that evolution.
Mi peoples traditionally played stick and ball games on ice. The landscape of Nova Scotia, sprinkled with frozen ponds and swamps, provided the perfect arena for a game similar to hockey.
creates opportunity, said Carter. think that goes back to the whole foundation of Mi culture and the importance of place in the determining of being, of existing. there little known about the Mi early games. Thomas Chandler Haliburton description of the game on Long Pond was immortalized in his novel The Attache. Evidence of is harder to find because Mi history has been passed down through stories.
And most of the records that do remain were written by European settlers, said Tim Bernard from the Confederacy of Mainland Mi we have to take the time to write our own history so it from our own perspective, said Bernard.
For Cheryl Maloney, the hockey stick is a symbol of a forgotten history, one that is slipping further out of reach.
A 2011 Royal Bank of Canada survey found that Canadian parents spend about $1,500 a year on organized hockey. For most, including Maloney, that number is much higher.
game not accessible to our people anymore, she said, adding that Chase is the only Mi kid on his team.
Maloney is working on the documentary with her sister, April Maloney, a filmmaker with Grass Fire Productions. They worked on projects together in the past, and Maloney calls them in crime. just started the research and don have a release date yet, but Maloney said the project is long overdue. It a story she used to talk about with her dad, Chief Reg Maloney, who passed away last year. And it a story she told again and again to her son Chase on early morning drives to hockey practice.