Hockey's Captains, Colonels and Kings


164 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 0-919783-68-6
DDC 796





Reviewed by Robert Barney

Robert Barney was Professor of Physical Education at the University of Western Ontario in London.


According to J.W. Fitsell, his book, Hockey’s Captains, Colonels and Kings “goes a long way to recording the true history of the first half century of the game” (ice hockey). A more apt statement might be that Fitsell’s book is a modest contribution to the history of hockey’s first half century.

Hockey buffs with a yen for inquiry into the cobwebbed recesses of hockey’s origins and early evolution in Canada will certainly get their money’s worth, all $19.95 of it. A picture is sometimes worth a thousand words; this is certainly true in this case. Scores of illustrations and photos grace the work, complementing Fitsell’s journalistic literary style, a style which for the most part makes for easy reading. It is obvious that this work has been a labour of love for Fitsell, a longtime sports columnist for the Kingston Whig-Standard. Some fifteen years ago Fitsell finished a lengthy manuscript called “Hockey’s Roots.” That manuscript, though never published, was purported to have been read by Clarence Campbell, eminent czar of the NHL, and by “Lefty” Reid, curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Both praised it. Much of this work is based on information contained in the earlier manuscript.

Hockey’s Captains, Colonels and Kings explores two basic themes. Receiving the lion’s share of attention is an examination of the still unsettled arguments as to when, where, and under what circumstances hockey originated. Canadians seem to demand an origin to things —specific dates, places, associated people, etc. But the fact of the matter is that all sports evolve slowly from unorganized forms of play that eventually lead to a need for rules for the competitive activities of participants. Fitsell examines in some detail the three foremost claims for hockey’s origin and evolution — the cases for Dartmouth-Halifax, Montreal, and Kingston.

What do captains, colonels and kings have to do with Fitsell’s themes? Fitsell tells us that many of hockey’s pioneers in both organization and rules formulation were military officers. For instance, Fitsell’s “colonel” is B.A. Weston of Halifax. Weston’s experience in various forms of ice hockey played in and around the Dartmouth-Halifax area date as far back as the 1860s when he played one version of the game with local Micmac Indians. There appears to be as much legitimacy to the fact that native Canadians played a game on ice similar to what we know as hockey as there is to the well-known assertion that they also played a game similar to what eventually became lacrosse. We are quick to proudly underscore the Indian origins of lacrosse; and are quite reluctant, on the other hand, to acknowledge hockey origins in the play of Canada’s original inhabitants. Fitsell’s kings are embedded in hockey’s professional era of the 20th century. These kings are the first nationally known personalities who became heroes and inspirations to thousands. All of them are gone now, King Clancy being the last. Among the others who capture Fitsell’s attention are Howie Morenz, Eddie Shore, “Newsy” Lalonde, the Patrick boys, and Joe Malone.

That Fitsell obviously carried out in-depth research activity in libraries, archives, newspaper morgues, and sport halls of fame from coast to coast must certainly earn plaudits. The fact that he has left a vast storehouse of documentary evidence in his notes creates huge problems for those researchers who want to go beyond what Fitsell has investigated. Not even a bare-bones bibliography graces the work. As creditable as Fitsell’s arguments may sound to the general reader, without constant reference to his sources, I remain unconvinced. Something like the people from Missouri, “I have to be shown.”



Fitsell, J.W., “Hockey's Captains, Colonels and Kings,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,