In Part One of this review, we began examining the basic factual errors that George and Darril Fosty ("the Credulous Fosty Boys") make in their book Splendid is the Sun. We also discussed the importance of definitions when using terms such a hockey in a historical context, since the meaning of that word has changed over time. It originally meant simply a game wherein you hit something with a stick. But now, the word is meant to refer to a much more specific game within that broad class of games. We arrived at the following working definition, which is detailed enough to distinguish hockey from other, similar games:
Modern hockey is a competitive game that is played on an ice rink by two teams made up of an equal number of players wearing skates, who play using a codified set of rules, and use sticks to try to propel a puck though their opponents' goal.
Attacking Known History
With this in mind, we can now move from the Credulous Fosty Boys' discussion of the ancient origins of hockey in Canada, and into the beginning of the organized game. Another example of the problems that arise with not defining your terms can be found on page 83:
Strange and incredible as it sounds, some still argue that on Christmas Day in 1855 soldiers of the Royal Canadian Rifles, stationed at the British Garrison in Kingston, Ontario, were the first to play modern ice hockey. As the previous Franklin diary note shows, Kingston was home to hockey at least 42 years earlier than the "official" account. Halifax, Nova Scotia also lays claim to the origins of Canadian and modern ice hockey as British soldiers reportedly played the game there in 1867. The Province of Quebec also claims the origins of this ancient game, citing the "first ever" organized hockey game reported to be played at the Victoria Skating Rink in Downtown Montreal on March 3, 1875. [emphases added]
When was the first modern ice hockey played, according to the Credulous Fosty Boys? We don't know, because they never define that term in the book. Clearly, there must be some distinction, since they use the term themselves here so some differentiation must be intended. But since they don't tell us what they mean by "modern" ice hockey, we can't judge the validity of their assertions about the above claims. The authors use whatever definition of "hockey" that fits their agenda best at any particular time, and are only too happy to change to another when it suits them.
The above passage continues:
Almost two years later, McGill University would organize a hockey team and within a month they would print the "official" rules of ice hockey, a seven-paragraph text remarkably similar to those long in existence for English field hockey. Six years later, McGill would proclaim themselves the Canadian and World Champions after a two-team exhibition series in 1883, at the Montreal Ice Carnival. Today, McGill proudly claims to be the older hockey club still in existence...All these fraudulent claims do nothing but promote a ridiculous timeline of ice hockey origin [sic] in Canada.
To begin with, it was the Montreal Winter Carnival, not the Ice Carnival, and four teams participated in the first recorded hockey tournament, not two teams as stated by the authors. These are further examples of basic, easily-verifiable historical facts being reported incorrectly. And it was not an exhibition series; there was a prize to be won. A photo of the trophy that was awarded to the tournament champion McGill can be found here. Note that the trophy bears the engraving WINTER CARNIVAL HOCKEY MATCH and the year, 1883. Nowhere does it say "world champion" or even "Canadian champion"; this is just more of the Credulous Fosty Boys' wild claims to further their own agenda. McGill certainly won the first recorded, organized hockey tournament, and this claim cannot be denied, unless you build up the claim to something much bigger than it actually is, which is just what the authors do.
They also assert that McGill's claim to be the oldest hockey club still in existence to be fraudulent, yet they do not provide an example of an older extant hockey club to refute the claim. The McGill hockey club was founded in 1877. Maybe they're thinking of the Blackheath Hockey Club in Britain, which is certainly older than McGill's club, and still active. Of course, that club does not play ice hockey but field hockey, so perhaps it's just the Credulous Fosty Boys using whatever definition of hockey that best suits their argument, regardless of how the word was being used in the claim they're responding to.
The authors also have a standard of evidence that is essentially non-existent. They rely on unsupported assertions and hypotheses to make their arguments, and if you are looking for more detail, or real evidence, it is not to be found in the book. What the Credulous Fosty Boys do best is to make big claims, like "the Mi'kmaqs are the true originators of hockey" that fly in the face of current historical understanding of the game. It often appears that they are willing to go to great lengths to argue that any ideas the "establishment" has about hockey history must be wrong, though they provide nothing but assertions to that end.
But that's all right, if you don't agree with the Credulous Fosty Boys or their arguments, it's just because you're one of the "skeptics more inclined to criticize new theories rather than assume traditional historical thought may be incorrect." (p. 44) This is a common ploy used by those who have no evidence for their claims: they preemptively suggest that if you don't buy their argument, you're just a closed-minded naysayer. Sorry, George and Darril, but no one should assume traditional historical thought is incorrect, as you suggest. We need to see evidence first. Provide some actual evidence and we'll see.
Where's the Evidence?
But evidence is not something the Credulous Fosty Boys do well. They accept arguments made by others at face value. For example, the claim made by Dr. Garth Vaughan, among others, that Windsor, Nova Scotia should be considered the birthplace of hockey in Canada is parroted in the book:
The first written record of hockey being played by Euro-Canadians in Canada occurs between 1802 and 1810 when English students at King's College School in Windsor, Nova Scotia, strapped on skates and played hurley-on-ice. Reference to this fact is found in the 1843 autobiography of Thomas Chandler Haliburton entitled Sam Slick in England. He writes: "Boys let out racin', yelpin', hollering and whoopin' like mad with pleasure...hurley on the long pond on the ice." (p.79)
This might be strong evidence for the claims about Windsor, if indeed it were what it is claimed to be here, and is often claimed by proponents of the Nova Scotia origins of the game. Sam Slick in England, also known as The Attache, is not an autobiography of T.C. Haliburton. It is a work of fiction. A novel. Regardless of whether Haliburton may have been drawing upon actual memories on his youth in Windsor, where he was born in 1796, as some proponents claim, the fact that the book is fiction means it cannot be relied upon as a historical source. There are no footnotes which denote which events therein are fictional and which are based on facts.
The Society for International Hockey Research's (SIHR) The Origins of Hockey report thoroughly debunks the claims that this one quote from a work of fiction can be seen as evidence of the origins of modern hockey, far more thoroughly than can be done in this review. It can be found here. Note that the quote in question is not even spoken by Haliburton's persona in the book, Squire Poker, but is said mockingly by another, Sam Slick, a character who had never been to Nova Scotia and therefore could not have known what happened there. As SIHR concludes, this quote can provide a clue as to the development of the game in that part of the world, but nothing more than that can be said. It is not evidence of anything, but the simple claim is enough for the Credulous Fosty Boys to take it as fact.
Although there is a "Selected Bibliography" in the back of the book, very few assertions or quotations in the text itself are actually referenced to something in the bibliography. It's notable that one of the sources listed in the bibliography is Erich Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods. If you're not familiar with Von Daniken's "work", take a minute now to look him up; it will help you to understand what the authors consider to be a reliable source. That is to say, the apparent standard of evidence used to include an argument in Splendid is the Sun is as follows:
1. Did someoneanyonesay that this thing is true, or might possibly be true?
2. Is this thing contrary to accepted historical or scientific fact?
If the answer to both of these questions is "yes", then the Credulous Fosty Boys are all over it, thus the moniker I have given them here. No alternative historical conjecture is too wacky for them; it seems the wackier the better. We're going to look at some of their more nutty ideas in a moment. The purpose of this is to demonstrate that the authors are eager to put forward any hypothesis that fits their agenda, regardless of how bizarre it is or how thoroughly it had been debunked. There are so many of these nutty, unsupported assertions in the book that nothing they have written can be taken seriously. Even if there were any real historical insights in the text (and I'm not saying there are), they are be buried in and completely overshadowed by the mountains of bunkum.
With all of the preceding in mind, we can now move on to examine some of the specific historical claims made in the book, and why they're hooey. We simply cannot go through each one in turn, or else we would have another book on our hands, but a taste of their claims should be enough to illustrate how the Credulous Fosty Boys go about their writing.
We find the first notable unsupported assertion on the second page of the body, page 20 of the book. The thesis of this part of Splendid is the Sun is that the origins of hockey can be traced back from its current form directly to religious ceremonies from the earliest recorded (Old World) civilizations. Thus we begin with:
It is in the accounts of the Sun God religion that we find the first records of a hockey-like game being played. Referred to by the Sumerians as Pukku-Mikku, the game was designed to honor the rebirth of man and creation. The first archaeological evidence of the story and the game date to c.2500 BC and is found on twelve clay tablets
It is on the twelfth tablet, the tale of Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree, which the first mention of Pukku-Mikku, being played on a flat dirt surface using a curved stick and a circular hollow wooden ring, occurs.
To the ancient Sumerians, the Pukku, the ring, represented the Sun God and the heavens wrapped withing the coils of the Serpent. The Mikku, the stick, was representative of the Tree of Life, the tree that had brought forth the family of man.
That is quite an amount of detail, and would be quite an interesting fact, if it were true. And it may well be true. But we don't know whether it is or not. What the Credulous Fosty Boys don't tell you is that the words pukku and mikku in the text described above have not been definitively translated by experts in the field. It is true that one translation has been made as "hockey stick and puck" by a notable scholar (Thorkild Jacobsen). However, another translated the words to mean "drum and drumstick" (Samuel Kramer), noting they may have been symbols of kingship. They are typically called "the rod and the ring" for lack of more precise terms. If we can't be sure of what the words actually mean, how can we use them as evidence of early hockey (in the archaic sense)?
Moreover, the context in which these words are used in the story are omitted. The tale states that Innana (a goddess) gives the "pukku and mikku" to Gilgamesh (a semi-divine hero), but he uses them unwisely, causing grief to the women of Uruk (a city), and so loses them and they fall to the Underworld. Does this sound like it's describing a hockey stick and a puck? Did Gilgamesh play so badly that the women of Uruk shunned him, calling him a bush-leaguer as his tools were stripped from him? It seems unlikely. But all the Credulous Fosty Boys need is for someone to have suggested that's what it means, and they'll present it as fact, without noting that it is only a hypothesis with no real corroboration.
Shortly after we get a discussion of ancient Ireland, with the note that the Tuatha de Danann was "a mixed-race European-Canaanite tribe with cultural ties to the people of Phoenicia. It has even been suggested the Tuatha de Danann are descendants of the Tribe of Dan (Tuatha meaning tribe and Danann being Dan) linking this ancient Irish tribe to the Danites and the city Dan, in Syria." (p.22)
Now, if you're like me and are into world mythology, you might immediate say "Hold up a second. I thought the Tuatha de Danann were a mythical race of beings from early Irish mythology, with no evidence that they were a real group of people." While actual historians and mythographers would surely agree with you, the Credulous Fosty Boys would simply laugh, tell you that everything established scholarship knows is false, and point to someone having made this ridiculous claim in some book somewhere. They don't actually provide a reference for the claim, which is of course is presented as a fact rather than a conjecture.
In the concluding Part Three of this review, we'll look at the "evidence" the authors present for pre-Columbian European migration of hockey, and the connections they claim between lacrosse and a similar ancient Norse game.