George Back in Fort Franklin, 1825

George Back in Fort Franklin, 1825

First Recorded Hockey Game in the Northwest Territories

Statement of Significance

Under the command of Sir John Franklin, the Second Overland Expedition to the Arctic Ocean, 1825 – 1827, overwintered at Fort Franklin (Déline), located on Great Bear Lake near the outflow of the Bear River, Northwest Territories. During their stay, the men entertained themselves with a variety of ‘amusements’ including skating and playing hockey on the ice. On October 20, 1825 the first major snowstorm of the season ended their on-ice activities. Franklin records this in his journal for the day of the storm, noting “[w]e were visited by the first decided snow storm which continued without intermission 36 hours. Though this change put a period to the amusements of skating and the evening games on the ice we could not but rejoice, as there was now sufficient snow on the ground for putting in practice the winter modes of travelling.” Later, in a letter to geologist Roderick Murchison, dated 6 November 1825, Franklin notes, “[w]e endeavour to keep ourselves in good humour, health, and spirits by an agreeable variety of useful occupation and amusement. Till the snow fell the game of hockey played on the ice was the morning’s sport.” Though it is clear from these entries that men under Franklin’s command both skated and played hockey in October 1825, it is not known whether they were skating while playing “hockey” or were engaging in two separate activities at different times during the day.

Franklin’s record marks the earliest eye-witness account of a game of ice hockey being played in the Northwest Territories, perhaps in Canada, and given hockey’s status as one of Canada’s national sports, it is an event of territorial significance. Stories have been passed down through generations telling of people “flying around” and playing on the ice.

Key elements that define the heritage character of the First Recorded Hockey Game in the Northwest Territories, 1825, Déline include:

  • It establishes the small, Aboriginal community of Déline as a significant location in the history of the development hockey in Canada and in the circumpolar world.
  • Oral histories recall people ‘flying around’ and playing on the ice.
  • It provides continuing inspiration for young NWT hockey players, especially those from Déline, to excel in the conduct of their game.
  • It is not a traditional Dene sport, but shows the adoption of other traditions and it promotes healthy living and an active life.
  • Andrews, T. (2010) Assessment Report: First Recorded Hockey Game in the Northwest Territories, 1825, Déline. Report on file, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Yellowknife.
  • Davis, R. (ed.) (1998) Sir John Franklin’s Journals and Correspondence: The Second Arctic Land Expedition, 1825 – 1827. Toronto: Champlain Society, pg. 132.