How Canadians Helped Shape the World of Sports

Canadians have founded so many of our favorite sports. Photo by Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Did you know that insulin, the light bulb and even the pacemaker were all invented by Canadians? In fact, over the last hundred years, several of the world most-beloved products have originated north of the American border. But what isn’t known is that the world of sports owes a considerable debt to the Canadians as well.

In the last 100 years, it has produced near-myth legends like Wayne Gretzky, poker superstar Daniel Negreanu and basketball MVP Steve Nash. But in addition to those stars, Canadians are also responsible for inventing sports like basketball and ice hockey.

We’re here to walk you through a condensed history as to how these maple leaf patriots made their way into the history books.

The Myth of James Naismith

First up is one of the most-known and celebrated sports in the world, basketball, courtesy of Dr. James Naismith. Who knew that all those years ago, a simple idea of attaching a peach basket to a piece of wood would change the world for years to come?

It all started at Springfield YMCA in 1891 when Naismith, who was born in Ontario and educated in Montreal, moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he was tasked by the then-director of the Springfield YMCA Dr. Luther Gulick to create a game that would help people deal with the harsh winter in the New England area.

James wanted to make a game less contact prone than say rugby or football, so he decided to implement a passing decree. Which meant rather than running with the ball or dribbling, you had to pass it.  He also implemented the idea of putting two peach baskets on either side of the court high over the heads of players.

In December 1891, the first game of basketball was played. In its original form, the game was played with nine players on each team and featured 13 rules. By 1893, the game was so popular that it became international by the YMCA movement.

By 1898, the game was introduced to the University of Kansas where Naismith coached just seven years after inventing basketball. By the

turn of the century, there were enough teams in the college circuit to make it part of their sports program and the rest, as they say, is history.

The NBA (National Basketball Association) is now the sports’ biggest proponent as a $30 billion a year league that has produced global stars like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. And the sport is now played by 26 million Americans alone.

Putting Hockey on the Ice

Another iconic Canadian sport is ice hockey. The foundations of this fast-paced game lie deep within the heart of Europe where in its original form, field hockey was enjoyed for hundreds of years. But it took a crafty Canadian named James Creighton in 1875 to update the game and establish the sport on ice.

On March 3, 1875, this lawyer and athlete assembled what would be the first ice hockey game ever. Instead of using a ball at the time, he employed a “flat circular piece of wood,” throwing it onto a thick piece of ice. In its original form, nine players were used on each side, but that number was eventually reduced to six. Creighton based the games’ original rules on six of the Hockey Association’s twelve rules.

From there, the popularity only grew to the point where it leaped over to England, and by 1893, there were 100 teams playing in Montreal alone.

The Oxford Canadian Ice Hockey Team. Champions of England, 1909-10. Photo by Unknown, Public Domain

Montreal was also pivotal in professionalizing the sport wherein in 1910, the NHA (National Hockey Association) was born. Today, the sport is celebrated at the Winter Olympics and across the world in places like Sweden, the Czech Republic and America.

Canadians have done a lot more than creating the game of basketball and hockey, they also founded lacrosse and five-pin bowling. Some Canadian sports historians have even said that some of America’s favorite pastimes like football and baseball were given to them by Canadians, but the jury remains out on that. That said, next time you’re out there shooting hoops or hitting a puck, give a thought to those two forward-thinking Canadians who gave us so much to celebrate in sports.

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