Did Henry Sinclair Inspire the Creation of Ice Hockey During His Fictitious Voyage to America in 1398? These Self-Described Hockey Historians Say Yes!
The CIA has released online some 13 million declassified files, most of which were declassified a decade or more ago but which were previously unavailable in digital form. One document stood out as potentially interesting, but sadly there wasn’t enough information in the file to do more than tantalize. A memorandum for the Office of Special Activities from February 12, 1963 is entitled simply “Egyptian Pyramids” and indicates only that a set of “duplicate positives” had been forwarded. It looks like it was a request to forward some photos of the pyramids, possibly aerial photos like those referenced in 1952 CIA documents, but wouldn’t it be fun if it were something else? The Special Activities Division is the CIA’s covert operations division.
When I was doing some research on claims related to Henry Sinclair and the Knights Templar, I came across what has to be the most unusual application of the growing myth of Sinclair that I have yet encountered. In an edited academic volume called The Year’s Work in Medievalism, 2009, I found an article by Cory James Rushdon describing efforts to locate the Holy Grail and its attendant modern myths in Canada, specifically by tying Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney to Oak Island. As I mentioned yesterday and a hundred times before, this myth is a modern creation by Scottish nationalists, Sinclair family flunkies, and lunatics. It bears no resemblance to facts and has none behind it save for the Zeno Narrative, a Renaissance hoax that actually speaks of a guy named Zichmni traveling to Greenland. Richard Henry Major and later Frederick J. Pohl tried to change that, turning Zichmni into Sinclair and Greenland into Nova Scotia, based on wishful thinking, errors, and rank speculation.
But Rushdon presents the most unusual version of the story I have yet heard, and it comes to us from the Society of North American Hockey Historians and Researchers, a group founded in 2004 that no longer exists in its present form. Its former website at sonahrr.com is no longer active. The group was founded by George Fosty, a historian and the co-founder of Stryker-Indigo Publishing. It appears that Fosty expanded the organization, which is now the Society of North American Historians & Researchers, to cover more sports than just hockey. According to the new organization’s website, the organization was founded because Fosty and his colleagues were concerned that Canadians did not adequately credit European influences in the development of ice hockey. “Today, SONAHR historians are in the forefront of efforts to recognize the role of British hockey in the evolution of the game in Canada and the role of Native Canadians in the development of early Canadian ice hockey traditions.”
Here is how Rushdon describes, with gentle mockery, a page on the old SONAHHR website:
From a Canadian perspective, it is most gratifying to find, on the website of the Society of North American Hockey Historians and Researchers, that the St. Clair/Glooscap theory somehow explains the origins of ice hockey: late medieval Scottish settlers introduced shinty or shinny, a form of field hockey, to the Mi’kmaq, who then reintroduced it to later settlers, giving rise inexorably to Wayne Gretzky and Canadian domination of the sport.
The older version of the website, accessed through the Wayback Machine, approvingly cited such evidence as the hoax Kensington Rune Stone as proof of European contact (and thus importation of hockey!) to North America in the fourteenth century. This was in service of a rather grand claim—of 1904 vintage—that the Vikings taught Native Americans how to play lacrosse, a game the site claimed to derive from knattleikr, an Icelandic ball game played by hitting balls with sticks, though the rules are unknown. It went on to speculate that so-called “blue-eyed Indians” were actually Norse settlers. “Skeptics claim that there is no evidence of Norse settlements outside of Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland. However, these same skeptics can not explain the similarities between Norse and Indian legends as well as the similarities between lacrosse and knattleikr?”
The site devoted an entire page to hailing Henry Sinclair as the “first Canadian” and summarizing his life and times, as given by Frederick J. Pohl. Of special note is that the site accepted at face value all of Pohl’s claims about Sinclair being worshiped as the god Glooscap on account of the Mi’kmaq being overawed by his whiteness and his boat. Even the Westford Knight is taken as proof of Sinclair! Pretty much every fringe claim about Sinclair ever made appears on the page, which then concludes with a ridiculous finale that accepts modern Mi’kmaq oral claims about their knowledge of a Scottish ice hockey game called shinny at face value, but only when they agree with fringe history:
The Mi’kmaqs would later claim to have knowledge of Shinny for hundreds of years and given that Shinny was a popular pastime of the Scots, this strongly implies that Shinny was one of the games introduced to the Mi’kmaqs at the time of the Henry Sinclair expedition to Nova Scotia. […] In the end, we may never know the complete story of Sinclair and the Glooscap. What we do know however is, in addition to the previous mentioned archaeological discoveries, as early as c. 1749 AD the Mi’kmaqs were playing a form of primitive shinny on the frozen ice of the Dartmouth lakes making them the first recognized Canadians to have played hockey on ice.”
The implication is quite clear: Somehow, 350 years after Sinclair cause the natives to bow down in worship of his whiteness, they were still playing Scottish shinny because he was just so awesome a white guy. Shinny is an informal type of hockey played on ice, which as far as I can find was first described in the nineteenth century, and derived from shinty, a form of wintertime field hockey dating back to Celtic times.
Note the circular reasoning: The Mi’kmaq claim is assumed to be true because of a belief in the Henry Sinclair myth, which then proves the Henry Sinclair myth!
Our author, however, leaves out the fact that the game classified as being of the shinny type was nearly universal in the Americas, but was most common in the Great Plains and Southwestern United States. In most locations, it was a women’s sport, and the sheer number of variants show that the Mi’kmaq version, should it be closer to the Scottish rules than others, might be so only due to coincidence or contamination between first European contact and the first European record of the Mi’kmaq version in 1749. Nova Scotia, after all, is called New Scotland for a reason: By royal charter, a Scotsman had had the right to settle the area since 1632. Scottish settlers were in contact with the Mi’kmaq during the long fight to oust the French from what had then been French Acadia.
At some point after 2012, however, the Society must have thought better of the claim that Henry Sinclair more or less invented ice hockey by giving shinny to the Mi’kmaq. The current website has revised the history of hockey to remove the Scottish influence, at least for public consumption: “On the East Coast, the Mi’kmaqs began developing their own hockey traditions using wood ‘pucks’ and ice hockey sticks. This game was very similar to the European game of shinny.”
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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