by Jas Faulkner, contributing editrix
There is nothing like the moment when you approach a place that has significance to something you love. No matter how small or humble it might seem to the uninformed observer, those who know the true meaning of a place can feel the connection, that etiological vibe that grabs you whether you’re standing near everyone’s edenic beginnings at Olduvai or at the edge of hockey’s first puck drop at Long Pond. It’s proof of life, the pulse and hum that seems to waft through the air and resonate right down to your mitochondria. It’s something only the true faithful can know. And who are we to say if the little guys at the cellular level are digging the ambiance or not? I’d venture a guess that they love the cleansing power of a breath of cold, open air and the scrape of blades on pond ice, especially if they’re hockey fans.
For Rob Frost, chairman of the Long Pond Heritage Classic, the emotional connection with the place is hard to deny:
” It is a magical place that is hard to describe. When you glide across the ice where our love of hockey began it is truly a very special experience.”
If they and by extension, you are a hockey fan, you’ll want to visit Long Pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia. At first blush it might look like any other natural pond. Depending on the season, you’ll see a stretch of still water or ice surrounded by trees. Near the pond is a small, square sign, a comparatively humble indicator of the location’s history. According to novelist Thomas Halliburton, hockey was born on Long Pond. He wrote that students from the nearby Kings Collegiate School moved their games of hurley to the frozen pond on Howard Dill’s farm, thus setting motion the evolution of the game that would eventually become integral to Canada’s national identity.
“In Canada it is certainly more than a game. I am sure hockey is comparable to the way soccer is treated in parts of Europe or South America. It isn’t just our national sport, it is part of our culture. Every Canadian child has played hockey in some shape or form, everyone watches national games, it is really a part of who we are.” -Rob Frost LPHC chairman
Is just visiting Long Pond enough? A quick web search revealed that pilgrimages to Long Pond are de rigueur for anyone who loves hockey, especially those who see pond hockey as the purest, truest form of the game. Imagining the first lines of young men skating out on the ice with field sticks inevitably leads to trains of thought about a series fit for such storied ice. The wishes behind “What if” and “Wouldn’t it be great..” are now solidified as a date circled on a calendar. (This year it will be held on February 9th.) Now in its second year, the Long Pond Heritage Classic brings together hockey fans from all walks of life for a celebration that goes to the roots of the sport.
Like many events, the Long Pond Heritage Classic came about in response to a need that was not being met by any other means. Rob Frost, LPHC chairman remembers an article in the Globe and Mail about a budgetary shortfall that endangered the Hockey Heritage Museum.
According to Frost, “Mark Cullen (Canada’s Garden guru at Home Hardware) contacted our local Home Hardware owner to see if there was anything he could do to help. They developed the concept, brought it to the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society, and we ran with it.
“The funds in general go to the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society/ Museum, which is a great collection of hockey artifacts. The society continues to look into any and all connections in hockey and its origins. We have worked with scholars from other schools, and are always open to talking to others.”
Like any event, the LPHC is still growing. Frost and company continue to find ways to make the Classic within reach for more people.
“Last year we were really focused on the corporate market, which priced a few people out of the opportunity. This year we have tried to make it more accessible to everyone, so there are ways to be involved starting at $0, and then up to a full package at $300. We also have a bigger line up of celeb players, and have changed the format slightly.
“Anyone over the age of 16 is more than welcome to sign up to play. Or if not playing people can still purchase tickets to the banquet, come out to the Friday night games, or just come to the pond on Saturday to watch the action.”
The event is a mix of old and new. Players wear throwback sweaters and are given the option of playing with a straight stick. Efforts to make the game even more authentic continue. “We have talked about having people play on old skates,” said Frost.
Incorporating the new for the LPHC group meant pulling from one of the best aspects of the game’s cultural present: Stressing the ethos that hockey is for everyone. Last year’s games included a sledge hockey demonstration at intermission.
The wish list for the event doesn’t stop there. Frost hopes to see more figures from hockey’s past as part of the games at Long Pond. Bigger names mean greater attendance. That would help fund the research and archival work at the heritage center and spread awareness of Windsor’s place in hockey’s history. According to Frost, the connection with the city and the school that was home to the first hockey players
“Yes I suppose there is a connection. King’s Collegiate school has become King’s Edgehill School, and still sits in the same place where the original players would have come from. The history is still alive and livable. It came from here, and we are very proud of that. Canadian hockey has created the greatest hockey minds to play the game: Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Crosby, and so on.”
The day will belong to the young men who brought the game to life over a hundred years ago. When asked what he would say to those first players if he could, Frost knew exactly what he would tell them:
“Thank you! We love our hockey, and it all started evolving right here in Windsor.”
Want to learn more about the Long Pong Heritage Classic?
Visit their website at http://longpondclassic.com/