Monday, October 26, 2009

Canadian Hockey pioneer honored with grave marker 79 years after his death

james_creightonJames Creighton (1850-1930) One of the pioneers of organized hockey in Canada

It took almost 80 years, but the gravesite of one of the game’s early pioneers finally has a marker at Ottawa’s Beechwood cemetery.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper presided over a ceremony, on Saturday, to unveil a grave marker and plaque to honor James Creighton.


Prime Minister Harper (l)  and SIHR founder Bill Fitsell unveil the Crieghton gravestone at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa. Oct 24, 2009

Creighton was an avid sportsman who excelled in hockey, both as a player and an innovative organizer during the formative stages of the game.

He helped introduce the sport to Montreal in 1875 and captained teams in every recorded game there during the development years.

Creighton is credited with the organizing the first indoor hockey game,in 1875, at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink.

His hockey interest continued in Ottawa during a distinguished career as Law Clerk to the Senate between 1882 and 1930.

It seemed peculiar that a man of his accomplishment’s, and noted civil service, would be buried in Canada’s National Cemetery with an unmarked grave.

It was learned later that no proper gravestone was erected for him at Beechwood Cemetery because his wife passed away shortly after him and the couple had no children.

Thanks to the work of SIHR (The Society for International Hockey Research), a campaign was made to recognize one of hockey’s early pioneers.

Led by SIHR’s co-founder Bill Fitsell and a committee chaired by honorary president Edward Grenda, a plan of action was made in co-operation with the Beechwood Cemetery.

A fundraising campaign was set up on SIHR’s website and by August of 2009, sufficient funds were in place for the monument.

The biggest donors came in the form of Ottawa Senator’s owner Eugene Melnyk and Calgary Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss.

A Melnyk spokesman said the Senators owner saw a front-page story in the Ottawa Citizen and was surprised to learn that Creighton was buried in an unmarked plot at Beechwood.

Melnyk wanted "to ensure proper recognition for Mr. Creighton’s contribution to modern-day hockey,” the spokesman said.

With the funds in place it was arranged that Prime Minister Harper be invited to attend the ceremony.

The Prime Minister is a member of SIHR and is currently writing his own book on hockey history.

According to a spokesman for the PM, he began research on his book as leader of the opposition and still takes a few minutes out of his busy day to work on it.

The Prime Minister unveiled a plaque in Montreal’s Bell Centre (home of the Montreal Canadiens) in May of 2008 to honor Creighton.

image A plaque honoring Creighton’s accomplishments in hockey was also dedicated at the ceremony on Saturday.

“It was with great pride that I named Mr. Creighton as a Canadian of National Historic Significance last year and I am delighted to be here today,” the Prime Minister said.

“This monument marks another milestone in honoring the legacy of one of our country's pioneers. Canada needed a sport that would call to its winter soul. Before anyone else, Creighton heard that call and defined the game that from coast-to-coast transcends French and English, East and West; urban and rural and defines us as Canadians.

“Future generations of Canadian hockey fans who wish to pay homage to this founding father of our national sport will now be able to do so. Canadians will find him at rest in Canada’s national cemetery, surrounded by notables of Canadian political, military, economic and cultural history.”

The Prime Minister noted that Creighton remained even played hockey in the fledging Parliamentary League as part of the Rideau Hall Rebels.

image Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at the new gravestone for James Creighton.

“Creighton is responsible for ‘Canadianizing’ the game of hockey,” SIHR’s Bill Fitsell said, “by incorporating elements from sports such as field hockey, hurling, rugby and lacrosse into the game.

He was key to getting the game underway.”

SIHR still wishes to take the work of Mr. Creighton to another level, as an honored member in the Builder’s category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"He played a significant role and it's rather unfortunate, and somewhat inappropriate, that he has been ignored in that fashion," Edward Grenda said.

“The hall has yet to acknowledge the pair's nomination of Creighton,” Fitsell said.

“Hopefully,this event will spur that recognition of the hockey pioneer.”


For his contribution to the project, Mr. Melnyk was acknowledged on the plaque. By the time Mr. Hotchkiss’ donation arrived, the plaque was already in production. A new plaque bearing Mr. Hotchkiss as a major contributor will be made and replace the currrent one.

More on the Society for International Hockey Research can be found on their website.

Author D’Arcy Jenish’s article on Mr. Creighton and the grave marker project from the January 2008 Legion Magazine

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