OTTAWA (CP) - The controversy over the birthplace of hockey has taken a twist after the discovery of an 1825 letter mentioning the game, the Ottawa Citizen reported Saturday.
An Internet-surfing history buff hit upon a long-overlooked letter from British explorer Sir John Franklin in which he describes himself and his men playing the game on frozen Great Bear Lake, now part of the Northwest Territories, in November 1825.
That's nearly 20 years earlier and thousands of kilometres to the west of any previously known reference to the sport in Canada, and it appears to be the first time the words "hockey'' and "ice'' were joined in a single thought.
"We endeavour to keep ourselves in good humour, health and spirits by an agreeable variety of useful occupation and amusement,'' Franklin wrote during his second Arctic expedition to his friend Roderick Murchison, a prominent geologist back in Britain.
"Till the snow fell, the game of hockey played on the ice was the morning's sport.''
The letter was sent from Fort Franklin, the expedition's wintering site on the southwest shore of Great Bear Lake and the location of a small community today.
Joseph Nieforth of Toronto had been following the high-profile and increasingly bitter debate between those who claim the game was born in Nova Scotia and those who insist it began in Montreal.
He pulled up canadiana.org, a searchable database of early Canadian books and historical documents, and plugged in the word "hockey.''
A picture of a page from an 1896 biography of Franklin with reference to the 1825 hockey game popped up on his screen.
"To find a reference so early and so far north, this is amazing,'' said Nieforth, 39.
His discovery was passed on to fellow hockey historians, including Paul Kitchen, who mentions the Franklin reference in a new Library and Archives of Canada online exhibit launched on Saturday.
Franklin died with his crewmen during a bid to chart the Northwest Passage in the late 1840s.
The town of Windsor, N.S. - self-proclaimed "birthplace of hockey'' - has long based its claim on an 1844 reference to a game of "hurley'' in a novel by Windsor native Thomas Chandler Haliburton.
An organized version of the game is generally accepted to have begun with a match in Montreal in 1875.