The Ottawa Evening Journal of March 8,1889, reports:
At Rideau Skating rink this morning two hockey matches were played. The first a ladies match between Government House and the Rideau Skating club resulting in a win for the Government House. The sides were composed as follows:
Government House -- Miss Lister (captain), Mrs. Bagot, Hon. Isobel Stanley and Miss Kingsford.
Rideau Skating club -- Mrs. Jones (captain), Mrs. Crombie and the two Miss Scotts.
All these ladies are particularly fine skaters and played most excellently.
The second game was a scratch match between sides under Capt. Bagot and Capt. Wise respectively. The following gentlemen played: Capt. Bagot, Capt. McMahon, Hon. Victor Stanley and the Hon. Ferdinand, Algernon and W. Stanley vs. Capt. Wise and Messrs. Brophy, Wise, Scott and Bradley. Bagot's side were, after a good game, victorious. The ice was in splendid condition.
The Ottawa Daily Citizen printed a shorter summary the next day. Its wording is close enough to that of the Journal piece to suggest that both are based on the same press release. These two articles document what could be the earliest recorded women's hockey game.
Several factors had to come together to make this game possible. First, obviously, was the invention of hockey. The game existed in an informal pond hockey form in mid-nineteenth-century Nova Scotia. J.G.A. Creighton took it from there to McGill in 1875, codifying it and bringing it indoors at Montreal's Victoria Rink. Alumni of the McGill club, Creighton and geologist A.P. Low, helped organize the Ottawa Hockey Club to compete in the 1884 Montreal Winter Carnival. Interest in hockey waxed and waned through the Eighties (the sport nearly succumbed at one point to a roller hockey craze), but its potential to become a breakout success was always there, thanks to Ottawa's infatuation with skating.
Nineteenth-century Ottawans loved to skate. With its cold, hard winter and its position at the confluence of three rivers, not to mention the Rideau Canal, the city was ideally formed for skating. Each December found the citizenry out on the Canal and the Rideau River, testing the ice, and occasionally falling through it. They maintained open air rinks on the Rideau River at New Edinburgh and on the Ottawa beside the government wharf, and patronized covered rinks in town, notably the Royal, and Dey's Rink. Costume skating carnivals were highlights of the social scene. The newspapers listed the names of the attendees, arranging them in male and female columns, a boon to later genealogical researchers. These lists also benefit hockey historians, because they record the pool of skaters from which the earliest Ottawa hockey teams drew their players.
By 1887 the demand for ice time was putting a strain on available rinks. The Capital Skating Club, grandest of the local skating bodies, had difficulty gaining its desired time slot at Dey's Rink. So a decision was made to build a new rink, finer than Montreal's Victoria rink, and exclusive to the members of the skating club, now reconstituted as the Rideau Skating Club. Land was purchased on Theodore Street (now Laurier East), vice-regal sponsorship secured, and construction begun. The half-erected structure collapsed in a windstorm on Nov. 18, 1888, but the backers quickly decided to press on, and the building was ready for skating by mid-January 1889.
Concurrent with these developments was the arrival in June 1888 of the new Governor-General Lord Stanley and his household of sport-crazy offspring. The boys immediately began to boot a football around the Rideau Hall grounds, and when the snow came their new sporting pals introduced them to hockey. Lord Stanley became a patron of the Rideau Skating Rink and participated in its opening festivities.
Because of its name the Rideau Skating Rink has caused some confusion among hockey historians. There was an open air rink at Rideau Hall, the vice-regal residence, which the Stanleys and their friends used for practice, but games took place at the Rideau Skating Rink on Theodore, or else Dey's Rink. The Rideau Skating Rink is all but forgotten now, and most Ottawans would be surprised to learn that it stood on the site of the present Arts Building at the University of Ottawa. I have yet to find a photo that shows more than a corner of it poking around the edge of Tabaret Hall, but an architectural painting of the university's late-19th-century expansion plans on display inside Tabaret clearly shows the skating rink and its sister curling rink.
Who were the eight women who played in that March 8, 1889, game? This image from the Public Archives of Canada is thought to be the earliest photo of women's hockey, showing Isobel Stanley and friends on the Rideau Hall rink. It is not a picture of the March 8 game, but it is interesting that there are eight female skaters in it, the same number that played that game. The same line up? Maybe.
The Government House team was made up of Miss Lister, Mrs Bagot, Isobel Stanley and Miss Kingsford. Isobel was Lord Stanley's daughter. It's a pretty safe bet that Mrs. Bagot was married to Capt. Bagot of the men's game, an Aide-de-Camp to Lord Stanley. Are Misses Lister and Kingsford ladies-in-waiting? Was Miss Kingsford the daughter of William Kingsford, the civil engineer and author of a multi-volume history of Canada? More research needed.
For the Rideau Skating Club we have Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Crombie and the two Misses Scott. Here's where the skating carnival accounts come in handy. C.J. Jones was on the Rideau Skating Club's board of management, and attended the Jan. 25, 1889, "At Home" hosted by Lord Stanley at the new rink. L.K. Jones and E.D. Jones were at the same event. Are they related? Mrs. Crombie was at all the club events, sometimes dressed as a gypsy. We find plain 'Crombie' at a Feb. 18, 1888, Capital Skating Club assembly. Businessman? Parliamentarian? Definitely more work needed there. I have a hunch the two Misses Scott are part of the large family headed by R.W. Scott, author of the prohibitionist Canada Temperance Act of 1878, and father of D'Arcy Scott, politician and hockey player. There must be diaries.
Was this truly the first women's hockey game? Maybe not. The top of the social pyramid tends to get more ink than the bottom. It's perfectly possible that there were women skating around with sticks in their hands on the Rideau River in any given year after 1883. Or on Lake Banook a generation before for that matter. The news report above does not say "first ever".