24 October 2009
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you Ed Grenda, honorary President of the Society for International Hockey Research, for your kind introduction. A warm welcome also, to my colleagues from the Parliament of Canada, Royal Galipeau, Colin Mayes and Mauril Belanger.
Today, we are assembling for a ceremony almost eight decades overdue: the marking of the final resting place of James George Aylwin Creighton. When Creighton passed away here in Ottawa in his eighty-first year it was, in fact, an event of some note.
As law clerk of the Senate of Canada for the preceding 48 years, Creighton was, and remains, the longest serving senior parliamentary officer in our history. His funeral was attended by many local citizens, including his friend, the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden.
Alas, Creighton was not from this part of the country, was childless and his ailing wife, Eleanor, passed away shortly thereafter before a suitable grave stone could be arranged. So there was nothing done to mark the sparrow’s fall, as the great prairie writer Wallace Stegner might have said. It nevertheless seems strange that such a prominent citizen would rest in an unmarked grave.
But it is stranger still when one considers the full life of the man, a life which was probably not fully remembered even by those who stood here in 1930. Before Creighton came to Ottawa, he had been raised in Halifax and had lived in Montreal. He had been a journalist, an engineer and a lawyer, but he had also been a hockey player.
Indeed, he remained one during his first decade in this city, where he played on the Parliamentary and Government House teams that evolved into the famous Rideau Rebels. Creighton’s teammates included the sons of the Governor General, Lord Stanley, who, of course, later donated hockey’s most famous trophy.
But James Creighton was not simply a player. Before Creighton, shinny had been a popular but formless game played on frozen lakes and rivers from Windsor, Nova Scotia, to Kingston, Ontario, to Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories.
But, in 1875, a twenty-five-year old Creighton, then residing in Montreal, took the pastime of his Halifax youth, placed it on a rink of fixed dimensions and gave it a set number of players controlled by a code that marked out the rules of the game. Thus the modern sport of hockey was born.
During the following two decades it would spread like a wildfire across the length and breadth of our new Dominion. Just as lacrosse had appealed to our summer heart,
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 to coast, transcends French and English, East and West, urban and rural, that defines us as Canadians to this very day.
Foreigners often comment to me on how they notice Canadians change when talk turns to hockey. How a quiet, calm and unassuming people become suddenly vocal, emotional and opinionated. Hockey is, indeed, Canada’s passion.
Creighton is the closest thing we have to hockey’s founding father. Ironically, he made no such claim himself. By all accounts, Creighton was a polite, humble and gentle Canadian. Once too old to play the game, he confined himself to his work on legal and parliamentary affairs, and allowed his seminal role in the development of the sport to fade into the mists of history.
That fog has been lifted thanks to the work of the Society for International Hockey Research and, in particular, its founding president, Bill Fitsell, who is here with us today. Bill’s painstaking research into the origins of the game and its early decades has revealed Creighton’s monumental contribution to the development of the sport as well as a fuller picture of and appreciation for the man we are honouring here today.
When I first became aware of James Creighton’s unmarked grave through reading an article in Legion Magazine by Toronto hockey historian D’Arcy Jenish, who is also with us today, Creighton’s obscurity seemed to me a cruel punishment for his unpretentious nature. So our government nominated Creighton as a Person of Historic Significance for our country, a designation subsequently approved by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
I want to thank the Board and everyone else who helped give Creighton's story the recognition it deserves. The Society for International Hockey Research has led the fundraising effort to create the monument we’re unveiling today, and thanks to the generosity of donors as varied Harley Hotchkiss of the Calgary Flames, Eugene Melnyk of the Ottawa Senators, the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation and the crew of the HMCS Vancouver, James Creighton will finally get his due.
Future generations of Canadian hockey fans who wish to pay homage to this founding father of our national winter sport will now be able to do so. And they will find him here in Canada’s national cemetery, in his rightful place, among many other notables of Canadian political, military, economic and cultural history.
Thank you again to everyone who helped make this day possible.
God bless Canada.