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Gazette, The (Montreal)
19 September 2009, page A12
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Tribute planned for 'father' of modern hockey

Tribute planned for 'father' of modern hockey

James Creighton buried in unmarked grave; organized first game played in Montreal in 1875

By RANDY BOSWELL, Canwest News ServiceSeptember 19, 2009

The 19th-century sportsman credited with pioneering modern hockey will finally be honoured next month with a monument and a ceremonial tribute - possibly to be presided over by Prime Minister Stephen Harper - at the Ottawa cemetery where the national game's "founding father" lies buried in an unmarked grave, Canwest News Service has learned.

Nova Scotia-born James Creighton, a former Senate law clerk who died in Ottawa in 1930, is widely viewed by sports historians as the pivotal figure in the birth of organized hockey in Montreal in the 1870s.

Harper, a hockey history buff who attended the unveiling of a federal plaque in Montreal last year commemorating Creighton as person of national historic significance, has been invited to unveil the monument at Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery on Oct. 24.

A PMO spokesperson said it isn't clear yet if Harper will be available to attend the ceremony.

The planned event represents the culmination of a two-year effort by the Society for International Hockey Research - which counts Harper as a member - to recognize Creighton as the man most responsible for giving shape to a sport often described as Canada's true national religion.

The unveiling will also highlight the generosity of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who responded with a key donation following a Canwest News Service story earlier this year that revealed how fundraising challenges were threatening to scuttle the planned tribute to Creighton.

At the time, a Melnyk spokesman said the businessman was surprised to learn Creighton was buried in an unmarked plot at Beechwood and wanted "to ensure proper recognition for Mr. Creighton's contribution to modern-day hockey."

Ed Grenda, the history society's honorary president, told Canwest News Service that the ceremony will include the placing of a biographical plaque and an inscribed gravestone at the spot where Creighton and his wife, Eleanor, have been buried for more than 75 years without any commemorative marker.

"We're giving this individual his due - which he did not receive almost 80 years ago," said Grenda. "We received contributions from across Canada for this."

The event is scheduled to take place a few hours before the first CBC Hockey Night in Canada broadcast of a senator's home game of the 2009-10 season.

Creighton, born in Halifax in 1850, has been identified as the key player in spreading the organized version of the sport from Halifax to Montreal to Ottawa in the 1870s and 1880s.

He is also credited with adapting a set of field hockey rules to create a codified ice sport, and is known to be the organizer of (and one of the players in) hockey's first recorded indoor game - a March 3, 1875, match at Montreal's Victoria Skating Rink - that the International Ice Hockey Federation recognizes as the birth of modern hockey.

"In other words, Creighton is the closest thing hockey has to a founding father," Harper said at the March 2008 ceremony in Montreal, where the prime minister also called Creighton's anonymous burial in Ottawa a "cruel reward" given his critical contribution to the country's signature sport.

Grenda indicated on Friday that the Creighton cemetery tribute has been a non-partisan project supported by both Harper's high-profile endorsement and Ottawa Liberal MP Mauril Belanger's behind-the-scenes efforts to make the commemoration happen.

"This is an all-party affair, not politically tinged," noted Grenda.

"We're preparing a number of things to make this a major hockey event."

Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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