The Finer Points: A history lesson on Lord Stanley


By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

Starting tomorrow, 16 teams will begin the grueling two-month battle that is the NHL playoffs. They will sacrifice blood, sweat, tears and teeth all for the chance to get their name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Lord Stanley – a name we’ll all hear mentioned quite often in the upcoming months. But who is he, exactly? Many, even those who don’t follow closely, know of the three-foot high, 35-pound glistening silver chalice that actually has its own bodyguards. But what do they know of the man for whom the trophy is named?

Sir Fredrick Arthur Stanley, the donor of Canada’s greatest gift, was actually born in London, England in 1841 to Edward George Geoffrey Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby, and Emma Caroline Wilbraham. He would marry Lady Constance Villiers in 1864 and they had 10 children, eight sons and two daughters, many of whom would later gain their father’s fondness for hockey.

Lord Stanley attended Eton College and was eventually elected to the House of Commons, a position he was not entirely comfortable with. He would hold many other political positions, including Civil Lord of Admiralty, Financial Secretary to the War Office, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for the Colonies. A much more detailed biography can be found here.

At 47, he was appointed by Queen Victoria to the position of Governor General of Canada, taking office on June 11, 1888. That winter, he witnessed his first hockey game while attending the Montreal Winter Carnival. Something caught his attention and never let go during that match in which the Montreal Victorias defeated the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association 2-1.

A little over three years later, in March of 1892, Stanley decided hockey needed a symbol, an icon the people of Canada would look up to that would help grow the game. According to Legends of Hockey, he let his idea be known in a letter to Lord Kilcoursie, which was read at a dinner honoring the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association. The letter read:

I have for some time been thinking 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 of Canada. There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.

A year later in 1893, his last in office, he would donate a trophy that, nearly 120 years later, would remain one of the most sought after trophies, not just in Canada, but around the world.

Lord Stanley purchased the original trophy, a decorative punch bowl, from G. R. Collis and Company, a silversmith in Sheffield, England now called Boodle and Dunthorne Jewellers, for the sum of 10 guineas, $48.67 US. Engraved on one side of the bowl were the words “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup” and on the other “From Stanley of Preston.”

Nowadays, hockey players come to North America from all over the planet to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, some leaving home as young as 15 in order to play junior hockey and begin their road to immortality. But as far as some travel today, one of the most fascinating stories is that of the Dawson City Nuggets who made a 4,400-mile trip in 1905 from Yukon to Ontario by bicycle, dogsled, stage coach, boat and train in order to take on the Ottawa Silver Seven. Even back then, the draw of the Stanley Cup was overwhelming.

The Stanley Cup was originally intended solely for amateur teams and it remained that way until teams from the National Hockey Association began vying for the trophy in 1910. It became sole possession of the NHL in 1926 and has been awarded every year since, with the exception of 1918-19 (Spanish Influenza outbreak) and 2004-05 (lockout). You can click here for a complete list and detailed summary of every Stanley Cup winner. Who will be crowned champion next? We’ll find out in two very exciting months.

*Editor’s Note: Hockey is a very fast-paced game and the large number of sometimes-complicated rules can make it hard to follow for a casual/new viewer. The Finer Points is a weekly column that will explain the subtleties and complexities of hockey in an easy-to-understand manner so fans can spend more time enjoying the game and less time trying to figure out what is going on.  

Is there a facet of the game that has you scratching your head? Send an email to to get a clearer picture of what is happening on the ice.


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