It’s hard for non-Canadians to understand just how popular ice hockey is in Canada. It’s bigger than football (soccer) in Europe. Bigger than cricket in India. Bigger even than NFL or college football in the USA. Canadians consider hockey to be THEIR game, and that is reflected in Canadian culture. If two Canadians meet somewhere, chances are they’ll probably talk about hockey.
Most young boys (and probably girls today) learn to skate, hold a hockey stick, and handle a puck while you skate. When I was in grade school, my friends and I would often play hockey on a small patch of ice my dad made for us every winter. We were clearly amateurs, but it was a lot of fun and helped pass the long winter months.
The better players (of which I wasn’t one) moved on to advanced teams and, if they’re especially talented and lucky, to play in the World Championships, Olympic Games, and professional hockey in the National Hockey League. That is the dream of many Canadian children — to play in the NHL, and hopefully to be one of the hockey stars featured in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I’ve visited the Hockey Hall of Fame twice. Once in the 1970s when it was in a smaller facility at Exhibition Place along the shore of Lake Ontario. More recently I visited it at its spacious facility in Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto. The displays have really improved a lot and it’s easy for anyone who loves hockey to spend a full day here because there is so much to see and absorb.
The Hockey Hall of Fame was established in 1943 and spotlights hockey’s great stars — names many of you would recognize like Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, and so on. But it’s also a hockey museum featuring the history of the sport, such as exhibits about important coaches, commentators, owners and others that have made important contributions to the game.
The Hockey Hall of Fame also spotlights some of hockey’s greatest and most winning teams. The Stanley Cup dynasties exhibit features nine teams that dominated the NHL for several years at a time. This area has a replica of the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room as it existed at the old Montreal Forum, shown in the photo below.
There are lots of interesting exhibits, beyond the scope of this blog, but including such things as the use of masks for hockey goalies and how they have evolved into an art form, and displays of hockey uniforms from the NHL and abroad.
There are even some of the original bleachers from the old Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Have a seat and imagine what it was like to watch Tim Horton and Johnny Bauer play.
For most people, the highlight of their visit is to see the Stanley Cup and other NHL trophies. These are stored in the Great Hall, a bank vault of an old Bank of Montreal Building that has been incorporated into the Hall of Fame.
If you love hockey, then you need to see the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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