Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

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The Stanley Cup, Canadian Hockey Prize Instituted 1892

Enjoying hockey games, Lord Stanley realized a challenge prize was needed. A silver punch bowl purchased in 1892, the Stanley Cup is a coveted annual award.

The First Stanley Cup

The First Stanley Cup

Watching his sons and daughter enjoy the winter sport of hockey on the winter ice in Ottawa, Governor General Lord Stanley began to ruminate about the popular game. His sons Algernon, Edward and Arthur and their peers established a competition hockey club in the 1880s – the Rideau Rebels – and played the sport on tour. Not left out, Lord Stanley’s daughter Isobel enjoyed playing the game as well. Realizing there was no annual championship award for the popular sport, the Governor General devised a plan.

“I have for some time been thinking,” Lord Stanley wrote in a letter on March 18, 1892, “that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion.” The Vice-Regal’s request in return was that the game be played by standardized rules and with fairness. The Cup was for annual challenge only, and never to be held permanently by any particular team.

Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup

The Governor-General’s “offer was enthusiastically accepted, and he subsequently requested one of this aides, Captain Colville, to purchase an appropriate trophy,” said Kevin Shea in “Unravelling the Mystery of Stanley,” . A simple, elegant silver punch bowl made in Sheffield, England was bought for 10 guineas. Initially named the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the bowl “stood 7.28 inches tall and 11.42 inches in diameter,” said Shea. It wasn’t long before the beautiful shining prize changed names to the Stanley Cup.

NHL’s Stanley Cup

The first team to receive the prize was the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association in 1893. By 1910, the cup was given to both amateur and professional teams. Hockey teams flourished with the organization of the NHL in 1917, the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) in 1911 and the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) in 1921. The PCHL and WCHL merged in 1924, but collapsed by 1926, leaving the NHL exclusively to present the coveted Stanley Cup.

Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston and Earl of Derby was appointed Canada’s Governor General on May 1, 1888. The son of politician and British Prime Minister Edward Smith-Stanley was born in London, England on January 15, 1841. Lord Stanley was 47 when he took up his North American duties. Sworn in on June 11th, the Vice-Regal moved into the official residence of Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario. The new Governor General was not lonely in his new post. He was accompanied by his wife Constance (nee Lady Villiers) and at least several of their ten children.

Lord Stanley a Fisherman

Travelling “often and widely throughout the country,” said the Archives of the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley’s “visit to Western Canada in 1889 gave him a lasting appreciation of the region’s great natural beauty as well as permitting him to meet the people of Canada’s First Nations and many western ranchers and farmers.” He also gained a healthy love of another of the nation’s beloved pastimes: fishing.

Lady Stanley’s Nursing School

The Governor General’s wife made a notable contribution to the health of Ottawa residents in 1891. Understanding the urgent need for trained care providers, she founded the “Lady Stanley Institute for Trained Nurses” for the County of Carleton General Protestant Hospital. The Institute located on Rideau Street educated nurses in two-year programs until 1924. “Lady Stanley donated and presented the graduation medals to the graduates,” said the Canadian Museum of Civilization in “Canadian Nursing History Collection Online.”

Several months before his term as Governor General was completed, Lord Stanley returned to England. His brother, Edward Henry Stanley, the 15th Earl of Derby, had passed away, giving Lord Stanley the title of 16th Earl of Derby. The Stanleys left Canada on July 15, 1893. Sir John Campbell Hamilton Gordon, Lord Aberdeen, was sworn in as Canada’s new Governor General in September of that same year.

Original Stanley Cup on Display

A legacy continuing into the next century, the spectacular challenge prize instituted by Lord Stanley of Preston, the Earl of Derby, has become a symbol of hockey history. The original graceful Stanley Cup is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario.


  • Shea, Kevin, “Unravelling the Mystery of Stanley,” Special to the Accessed March 14, 2012
  • “The Earl of Derby (Lord Stanley of Preston,” Archives of the Governor General of Canada Accessed March 14, 2012
  • “Canadian Nursing History Collection Online,” Canadian Museum of Civilization Accessed March 14, 2012

This article first appeared on  Copyright Susanna McLeod


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