‘Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey’

Event to feature regional history book on winter sport

William Sproule’s book, “Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey,” is the feature of the Dec. 9 author event held by the U.P. Notable Book Club. The event will be held via Zoom. (Photo courtesy of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association)

MARQUETTE — Hockey seasons are underway, which means many fans are getting a fix of their favorite sport at their favorite rinks. However, anyone wanting to know a little background about hockey — and maybe just some regional history — should take part in the U.P. Notable Book Club’s Dec. 9 event about the book titled “Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey.”

The Crystal Falls Community District Library, which schedules author events with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association focusing on winners of the U.P. Notable Book List, will feature William Sproule whose authoritative history book of the birth of professional hockey in the Copper Country makes a bold claim for its birthplace, the UPPAA said.

The event is open to all U.P. residents free of charge. It will begin at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 via Zoom. Contact Evelyn Gathu in advance at egathu@uproc.lib.mi.us or 906-875-3344. The UPPAA recommends participants borrow a copy of the book from their local library or purchase it from a local bookseller in advance to get the most out of the event.

Sproule is a professor emeritus at Michigan Tech University where he taught transportation engineering, public transit, airport planning and hockey history. He is a member of several associations including the Historical Society of Michigan and the Society for International Hockey Research.

Sproule is a co-author of the airport textbook, “Planning and Design of Airports,” author of several conference proceedings on automated people mover systems and author of several other local books: “Copper Country Streetcars” and “Michigan Tech Hockey: !00 Years of Memories.”

At the Dec. 9 event, Sproule plans to discuss Houghton hockey book but likely will tie in the Michigan Tech hockey story, the UPPAA said.

UPPAA President Victor R. Volkman wrote about “Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey” in the U.P. Book Review.

“If you’ve got a taste for hockey nostalgia, the local history of the Copper Country or you just enjoy one of Michigan’s most popular winter pastimes, you will enjoy William J. Sproule’s ‘Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey’ for the humanity it brings to the players and their cold winter sagas of the early 1900s,” Volkman said.

Volkman said Sproule tells the story of how a Canadian-born dentist and Houghton entrepreneur, Jack “Doc” Gibson, changed hockey by openly paying players to come to the Copper Country to play hockey.

Gibson teamed up with local businessman James Dee to recruit the best Canadian players and pay them to compete for the Portage Lake hockey team, thus making them the first-ever professional hockey team, Volkman said.

Sproule’s book concentrates on the period of 1900-06 where the Upper Peninsula in general and Houghton in particular dominated the early seasons of professional hockey on this continent, said Volkman, who noted the book includes full reprints of contemporary sports news stories and photographs of venues, players, their jerseys and equipment.

“Sproule does a deep dive into game statistics so you can learn the players’ names and how well they did game by game,” Volkman said.

He also wrote, “By now you’re surely wondering, how and why did this happen in Houghton, as opposed to Minneapolis, Detroit or even Montreal? Given that hockey was already the national pastime in Canada, why wouldn’t they have the first professional hockey teams? It turns out that the Ontario Hockey Association dominated the sport and their insistence on amateur teams eventually created the economic opportunity for Houghton.

“The town was ideally situated with rail links, courtesy of the copper mining industry, to move players from Canada into the U.S. and from that vantage being able to field a team to challenge American teams as far away as Pennsylvania. The OHA’s amateur-only ethic was purely intended to keep working-class riff-raff off the ice so hockey could remain a gentleman’s sport.”

Sproule’s book, Volkman said, excels in detail in the second half of the book where he dissects every game of the 1904, 1905, and 1906 seasons when Copper Country teams ruled the professional leagues. Statistics for all the International Hockey League teams are provided, including teams from Calumet, Portage Lake, Michigan Soo, Canadian Soo and Pittsburgh.

The UPPAA said the book can be purchased at Copper World in Calumet, Grandpa’s Barn in Copper Harbor, Michigan Made in Houghton and Marquette, the North Wind Books at Finlandia University in Hancock, Jim’s Foodmart in Houghton and Keweenaw National Historic Park in Calumet. Copper World and the Michigan Tech bookstores are the best places to order the book online, the UPPAA said.

Snowbound Books in Marquette indicated it plans to carry the book.

More information about the U.P. Notable Book list, U.P. Book Review and UPPAA can be found on www.UPNotable.com. The UPPAA supports authors and publishers who live in or write about the Upper Peninsula and is a Michigan nonprofit association with more than 100 members, many of whose books are featured on the organization’s website at www.uppaa.org. UPPAA welcomes membership and participation from anyone with a U.P. connection who is interested in writing.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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