Hockey and the First World War

By Ellen Bond

In the early 1900s, playing hockey could lead to fighting for your country. The skills that made you a good hockey player—strength, endurance, patience, toughness—were desirable to the army. In its rough-and-tumble way, hockey was seen as a way to prepare yourself for war. The best soldiers were often hockey players and many players volunteered to fight in the First World War.

Allan McLean “Scotty” Davidson was one of those volunteers. Born on March 6, 1891, in Kingston, Ontario, Davidson began playing hockey with the Kingston Junior Frontenacs. As their captain, he helped the team win the Ontario Hockey Association Junior Championship in 1910 and 1911. The next year, Davidson moved to Calgary to play for the Calgary Athletics’ senior team. They won the Alberta Cup in 1911–1912 but lost their challenge to the Winnipeg Victorias for the Allan Cup (Canadian Senior Championship).

In 1912, Davidson started playing professionally for the Toronto Blueshirts (now Toronto Maple Leafs) in the National Hockey Association. Davidson was the team’s captain and leading goal scorer the next year and helped win Toronto’s first Stanley Cup in 1914. In his two seasons with the Blueshirts, Davidson scored 46 goals in 44 games. He could skate backwards faster than most players could skate forwards, according to Edward Allan, a hockey writer for the Toronto Mail and Empire newspaper.

Black-and-white photo of the Toronto Blueshirts in 1914.

Toronto Blueshirts, Stanley Cup Champions of 1914. Scotty Davidson is in the centre of the front row. Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum.

As a star hockey player, Davidson had all the skills the army was looking for. He may have been the first professional hockey player to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF), joining in September 1914. Scotty volunteered to be a “bomb thrower”, lobbing grenades at enemy troops. Some newspapers carried stories about Davidson in the army and described his bravery in the face of danger.

Scotty Davidson died in the field on June 16, 1915. His CEF service file states that Davidson “was killed instantly by a shell falling in the trench. He was practically blown to pieces.” A newspaper account of his death claimed that Davidson would have earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal or the Victoria Cross if he had survived the battle. Fellow soldier and Kingston resident, Captain George Richardson said Davidson was one of the bravest men in his company. He was fearless, willing and ready to save his comrades at every opportunity. Davidson’s name is memorialized on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

A page from the service file of Scotty Davidson describing how he was killed in action.

A page from Davidson’s digitized service file describes how he was killed in action (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 280738)

Scotty Davidson sounds like the type of athlete I would have loved to watch play hockey. He was a smooth skater, a goal scorer and a leader. In 1925, Maclean’s magazine named Scotty the top right-winger in its all-star team of the best hockey players. An opposing coach, Ernie Hamilton, said about Scotty’s shot, “I never saw such hard shooting.” The roots of our freedom are founded on the lives of people such as Scotty. He was a glorious athlete whose life was cut far too short.

Scotty Davidson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950. Scotty’s sacrifice is honoured by the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.


Ellen Bond is a project assistant with the Online Content Team at Library and Archives Canada.

Why would a team refuse the Stanley Cup?

By J. Andrew Ross

Last year, the National Hockey League (NHL) celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup. The celebration year was no doubt chosen because 2017 was also the NHL’s centennial year. However, even though 125 years earlier, on March 18, 1892, it had been announced that Governor General Frederick Arthur Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley, wished to donate a challenge cup for the hockey championship of the Dominion of Canada, that cup only arrived in Canada the following year. Further complicating matters, the team that was to receive the Stanley Cup actually refused it, and was only persuaded to take possession of the trophy in 1894.

Anniversaries aside, the story of how the Stanley Cup eventually became Canada’s holiest sports icon can be told through the collection of Library and Archives Canada.

By the time his cup arrived in Canada, Stanley had returned to England before the end of his term as governor general, having become the 16th Earl of Derby upon his brother’s death. Stanley appointed Ottawa Evening Journal publisher Philip Dansken (“P.D.”) Ross as one of two trustees of the trophy, and left it to him to fashion the rules of competition.

The entry in Ross’s diary for Sunday, April 23, 1893, notes that he sat down that day to draft the new rules, which were printed in his newspaper on May 1, 1893.

A grainy newspaper clipping of an article with the headline “‘The Stanley Cup.’ His Excellency’s gift to the hockey associations.”

Excerpt from “The Stanley Cup,Evening Journal (Ottawa), May 1, 1893, page 5 (AMICUS 7655475)

While the bowl had already been engraved as the “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup,” Ross immediately asserted that it should be known as the Stanley Cup in honour of its donor. He confirmed that it would be presented in the first instance to the reigning champions of the elite hockey league of the era, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC), with the idea that they would then defend it against the champions of the Ontario Hockey Association. Ross arranged for the Stanley Cup to be presented to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) team as the reigning champions of the AHAC, “until the championship of the [AHAC] … be decided next year [i.e., 1894], when the Cup shall go to the winning team.”

On May 15, 1893, Sheriff John Sweetland of Ottawa, the other Stanley Cup trustee, travelled to Montreal to present the trophy at the MAAA’s annual meeting. When he arrived with the Stanley Cup—at that time just a simple bowl on a wooden base—he learned that the executive officers of the hockey team had declined to attend the ceremony. The minutes of the meeting, which are in the MAAA fonds (and available online), note: “Sheriff Sweetland then made the presentation, which was accepted by Mr. Taylor [the MAAA president] owing to the unavoidable absence of Mr Stewart the President of the Mtl Hockey Club on behalf of the Assn and the abovenamed club.”

A handwritten note explaining who presented the Hockey Challenge Cup, and who accepted it and why.

Extract from the May 15, 1893, annual meeting, page 315, MAAA Minute-book, MG28 I 351, Library and Archives Canada.

It is not clear whether Sweetland realized that he and the Cup had been snubbed, but the hockey club’s absence had not been “unavoidable.” They had deliberately boycotted the event upon learning that the Cup was to be presented to the MAAA executive and not the team—and that the Cup had been engraved with “Montreal AAA/1893” on a ring around the wooden base of the bowl. The conflict was apparently rooted in the resentment of the hockey club members about being known by the name “MAAA,” rather than the Montreal Hockey Club (Montreal HC). It was a petty point of honour since the hockey club wore the MAAA emblem of the winged wheel on their uniforms, but one that clearly mattered to the proud hockey players.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing, sitting on chairs or reclining. Most are wearing the team uniform and hockey skates.

MAAA 1890 (Montreal Hockey Club) (Hockey Hall of Fame/Library and Archives Canada/PA-050689). Credit: Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was only after almost a year of contentious negotiations—at one point, the MAAA threatened to send the Cup back to the trustees!—that, in March 1894, the Montreal HC finally agreed to take possession of the Stanley Cup. A few weeks later, the club won the AHAC championship yet again, making them the first winners (as opposed to simply the holders) of the Cup. This time, the team took responsibility for the engraving, and pointedly used “Montreal 1894.” With no reference being made to the MAAA, honour was seemingly served.

The next season, the Montreal HC became the first team to successfully defend the trophy in the first Stanley Cup series. Its insistence on getting its own name on the Cup may have been worth the effort, even if its prolonged refusal to accept the trophy risked making the Cup irrelevant. But the Stanley Cup was finally awarded, and the rest is history.


Andrew Ross is an archivist in the Government Archives Division, and the author of Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945.