Aug 24, 2015
The very first use of the term ‘Hall of Fame’ came about in 1900 with the creation of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, part of the original New York University. The movement to create other halls of fame dedicated to various disciplines accelerated in the 1930’s.
On June 12, 1939, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, commissioner of Major League Baseball, announced, “I now declare the National Baseball Museum and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York – home of baseball — open!” Fifteen thousand baseball fans applauded furiously and jostled each other to be among the first to step through the doors of the newly-opened baseball shrine.
Such a momentous occasion prompted a thought amongst hockey people: why shouldn’t we have a similar hall of fame for our sport?!? The idea resonated, with former hockey great ‘Cyclone’ Taylor, who was one of the more vocal proponents for such an institution. The first references to a “mythical hockey hall of fame” were published in December 1940 by the Montreal Gazette.
On April 17, 1941, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), accepting a motion made by Captain James T. Sutherland, appointed a three-man committee to study the origins of the game of hockey.
Sutherland, residing in Kingston, Ontario, had played hockey with the Athletic Club of Kingston in the first officially recognized hockey league. In 1910, after forming the Kingston Frontenacs, a junior team that was part of the Ontario Hockey Association, he was appointed a district representative for the league, and rose through the executive ranks to the role of president by 1915, a position he held for three years. During that same time, Captain Sutherland served as president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Among his many accomplishments was the establishment of the Memorial Cup, a trophy honouring those men who gave their lives during the first Great War and emblematic of the junior hockey championship of Canada.
Through his entire hockey life, Captain Sutherland claimed that Kingston was the birthplace of hockey. “Historians are said to differ considerably on the place in which the great Caesar first saw the ‘light of day,’ and similarly in respect to the birthplace of Canada’s national winter sport, hockey,” stated Sutherland. “There may be some who still claim sundry and diverse places as being the authentic spot or locality. Whatever measure of merit the claim of other places may have, I think it is generally admitted and has been substantially proven on many former occasions that the actual birthplace of organized hockey is the city of Kingston, in the year 1888.”
Although Sutherland had the year wrong (it was 1886), he based his claim on a game played between Queen’s University and the Royal Military College at Dix’s Rink, on the harbour in front of Kingston’s municipal buildings.
In the early 1940’s, Sutherland was a driving force behind the establishment of a hall of fame for hockey. The Montreal Gazette reported on April 25, 1941, that a movement had begun “started by Fred Corcoran to have something similar for hockey now that baseball and golf have their own hall of fame.” That November, the idea had garnered enough interest that Leo Dandurand, owner of the Montreal Canadiens between 1921 and 1935, and a key sporting figure in Montreal, discussed the idea of a hall of fame with the National Hockey League.