For more than 100 years, hockey has been the main winter sport in Newfoundland and Labrador. While it didn’t reach some areas of the province until the mid-1900s, hockey began its important and worthwhile impact on the Avalon Peninsula population in the 1890s.
Overcoming major obstacles to become a permanent aspect of life, hockey expanded from its St. John’s beginning into other areas of the Avalon Peninsula, especially Conception Bay and Bell Island, and followed industry and transportation into every section of the province. The expansion went across the island with Grand Falls, Buchans and Corner Brook leading the way.
Around the time of the World War I, hockey was an annual winter activity in a wide range of smaller communities, played often on frozen harbours and on ponds and rivers close to the communities.
In many cases, the manner in which harbours faced the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of St. Lawrence was a prime consideration in when and how often hockey was played. Winds and tides were often main influences on where and when hockey was played.
There was no great abundance of equipment in the early stages and, because of tough economic times, cash was often not available for skates, sticks and the like. In fact, in many towns, frozen horse or cow droppings were used as pucks, and catalogues and magazines were used as leg pads.
Overall, as in many Canadian locations, hockey was played under the best conditions possible and, despite the obvious drawbacks, it was played.
The crash of Newfoundland banks in 1894 caused banks from mainland Canada to move into Newfoundland, mainly in the immediate St. John’s area. These banks transferred employees from Canada to work in their branches.
The majority of these employees were young males and came from Nova Scotia where hockey was started and developed. Many of these young men brought the sport of hockey with them and were very instrumental in having hockey become a permanent sport in Newfoundland.
Individuals, mainly from Montreal, who came to Newfoundland with the Reid Company that was building the trans-island railways, included some experienced hockey players, and they joined the bank employees in bringing competition to Newfoundland.
There is a serious contention that the financial commitments generated by the trans-island project played a major role in the bank crash.
The situation came together when the St. John’s Hockey League was formed in 1899. Its objective was to improve local players as well as the bank and Reid personnel.
While the new Prince’s Rink was open, there was a general demand for public general skating to the deterrent of hockey. The first league games were played during mealtimes so as not to interfere with skating.
It should be noted that Don Johnson, who exerted a large influence on hockey within Newfoundland and Labrador and even within Canada, came to St. John’s from his native Halifax because of a Bank of Nova Scotia transfer in 1959.
The Reid Influence
The Reid Newfoundland Company built a trans-island railway across Newfoundland in 1898 and it was that company’s president, R.G. Reid, who is credited with being the person most responsible for introducing the game of ice hockey to Newfoundland that same year.
With the initial St. John’s railway station located in the Fort William area where Hotel Newfoundland was built, Reid utilized some of his vacant land in the same area for the construction of a rink.
The foundation was laid December 11, 1898 and the facility was called The Prince’s Rink, after the Prince of Wales who would later become Edward VII.
The Prince’s Rink was the leading hockey facility in Newfoundland until it was destroyed by fire in 1941. Many other sports and activities utilized the facilities of the Prince’s Rink.
With local players improving their skills and talents rapidly, Sir Edward Morris donated a trophy for a Newfoundland/Truro, Nova Scotia competition that had five games played in 1901 and 1902. In 1901 at St. John’s, Truro won 6-2 and 1-0 with a third game tied 3-3. Truro won 2-1 and 3-1 at Truro in 1902. That was the end of the series.
Bob Simms, Will Woodley, Arch Munn, Jim Vinicome, George Marshall, J.C “Plus” Parsons, Arthur Herder and manager A.E. Hayward comprised the Newfoundland team.
In 1911, a team from Windsor, Nova Scotia played a three-game series in St. John’s. The hosts won 5-4 and the visitors won 4-3 prior to a 2-2 tie in the third contest.
St. John’s native Jack McGrath played for Windsor. McGrath starred athletically while attending St. Bon’s. He graduated from Dalhousie University, served as secretary to U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, and is reported to have played a prominent role in bringing professional hockey to the United States.
There was a 1914 series between St. John’s all-stars and the Halifax Progressives.