The Rink may be most famous for its connection to ice hockey history. It holds the distinction of having hosted the first-ever recorded organized indoor ice hockey match on March 3, 1875. The ice surface dimensions set the standard for today's North American ice hockey rinks. It was also the location of the first Stanley Cup playoff games in 1894 and the location of the founding of the first championship ice hockey league, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada in 1886. Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, the donor of the Stanley Cup, witnessed his first ice hockey game there in 1889. In 1896, telegraph wires were connected at the Rink to do simultaneous score-by-score description of a Stanley Cup challenge series between Montreal and Winnipeg, Manitoba teams, a first of its kind.
It was located in central Montreal between Drummond Street and Stanley Street, just north of René Lévesque Boulevard (formerly Dorchester Boulevard). It was located one block to the west of Dominion Square (today's Dorchester Square), where the Montreal Winter Carnivals of the 1800s were held. The rink closed in 1937 and today the site is occupied by a parking garage.
Designed by Lawford & Nelson, Architects, the building was a long 252 ft x 113 ft, two-story brick edifice with a 52 ft-high pitched roof supported from within by curving wooden trusses, which arched over the entire width of the structure. Tall, round-arched windows punctuated its length and illuminated its interior, while evening skating was made possible by 500 gas-jet lighting fixtures set in coloured glass globes. At a later date, the lighting was converted to electric, making the building the first in Canada to be electrified.
The ice surface measured 204 ft. by 80 ft., dimensions very similar to today's National Hockey League (NHL) ice rinks. It was surrounded by a 10 ft.-wide platform, or promenade, which was elevated approximately 1 ft. above the ice surface and upon which spectators could stand or skaters could rest. Later, a gallery was added with a royal box for visiting dignitaries.
At the time of its construction, the Rink's location at 49 Drummond Street (now renumbered to 1187), placed it in the centre of the English community in Montreal, in the vicinity of McGill University. The area is known today as the "Square Mile", the area of central Montreal populated then by rich English industrialists and the budding centre of commerce in Canada. One block east was Dominion Square, where annual outdoor winter sporting events were held and later the Montreal Winter Carnival was held. Across the street to the east, the Windsor Hotel, a long-time centre of social life and meeting place of several sports organizations, was built in 1875. Nearby is old Windsor Station, which was the eastern terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, built in 1889.
The Victoria Skating Club was incorporated on June 9, 1862, with a sizable capitalization of $20,000, for the purpose of buying the land and building the rink. The rink was opened in 1862.
- The first game
On March 3, 1875, the Rink hosted what has been recognized as the first indoor organized ice hockey game, between members of the Club, organized by James Creighton, a member of the Victoria Skating Club and a figure skating judge. The match lays claim to this distinction because of several factors which establish its link to modern ice hockey: it featured two teams (nine players per side), goaltenders, a referee, a puck, a pre-determined set of rules, including a pre-determined length of time (60 minutes) with a recorded score. Games prior to this had mostly been outdoors, with sticks and balls, with informal rules and informal team sizes. In order to limit injuries to spectators and damage to glass windows, the game was played with a wooden puck instead of a lacrosse ball, possibly the first time such an object was used. The two teams, members of the Club, included a number of McGill University students. Sticks and skates for this game were imported from Nova Scotia, including Mic-mac sticks and Starr skates. This first game was pre-announced to the general public in the pages of The (Montreal) Gazette newspaper:
Victoria Rink - A game of Hockey will be played at the Victoria Skating Rink this evening, between two nines chose from among the members. Good fun may be expected, as some of the players are reputed to be exceedingly expert at the game. Some fears have been expressed on the part of intending spectators that accidents were were likely to occur through the ball flying about in too lively a manner, to the imminent danger of lookers on, but we understand that the game will be played with a flat circular piece of wood, thus preventing all danger of its leaving the surface of the ice. Subscribers will be admitted on presentation of their tickets.
By moving ice hockey game indoors, the smaller dimensions of the rink initiated a major change from the outdoor version of the game, limiting organized contests to a nine-man limit per team. Until that time, outdoor games had no prescribed number of players, the number being more or less the number that could fit on a frozen pond or river and often ranged in the dozens. The nine-man per side rule would last until the 1880s, when it was reduced during the Montreal Winter Carnival Hockey Tournament to seven per side.
- Role in organized ice hockey
The Rink was home to the Montreal Victorias, first organized in 1881. Play at first was by exhibition only as there were no leagues. The Rink was used for exhibition games or as an indoor facility if the outdoor rink was not available during the annual Winter Carnivals. It was for the 1883 Carnival that hockey team sizes were reduced further, to seven per side, which was the common size for the next thirty years. Eventually the tournament play led to plans for a league. The Rink hosted the founding meeting of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) league in December 1886. The AHAC was the second organized ice hockey league in Canada, and the first championship league.
Lord Stanley, later to donate the Stanley Cup trophy, witnessed his first ice hockey game at the Victoria Rink on February 4, 1889, seeing the Victorias defeat the Montreal Hockey Club 2–1. According to The Globe, "the vice-regal party was immensely delighted with it." The Rink would later host the first Stanley Cup playoffs in 1894. By that time, the building had gained an elevated balcony for additional spectators and a projecting loge, precursor of today's luxury boxes. In 1896, the rink was connected by telegraph to distribute the Montreal-Winnipeg Stanley Cup series score immediately. This is considered the first ice hockey broadcast by wire.
As ice hockey increased in popularity, the Victoria's hockey clubs moved on to ice hockey arenas with larger seating capacities such as the Montreal Arena, and later the Montreal Forum. By the 1920s, the building was no longer used for ice hockey and it was left to neglect and to deteriorate. The gallery became unsafe to use. The Victoria closed for good in 1937 and a parking garage was built in its place.
Today, the highest level of ice hockey is played nearby at the Bell Centre, the home arena of the NHL Montreal Canadiens, located two blocks south. Ice skating for pleasure remains a popular pastime and an indoor ice skating rink exists nearby in the concourse of the 'Le 1000 de la Gauchetiere' office building, open year-round.
In 2002, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced that it would acknowledge the site of the Rink with "a commemorative plaque or other historical site marker to remind the passers-by of the existence of the Victoria Skating Rink, the birthplace of organized hockey." The commemoration has been marked in two ways. On May 22, 2008, a commemorative plaque was dedicated at the Bell Centre, along with a plaque honouring James Creighton. Further, the IIHF created the Victoria Cup, a trophy named for the arena, for which -- along with 1 million Swiss francs -- one National Hockey League team and the champion of the European Champions Hockey League play off annually.
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- IIHF recognizes Victoria Skating Rink as birthplace of hockey
- Virtual Museum exhibit on venue
- 1870 Skating carnival