AB Sport History Library



1890-1899 Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian teaching physical education at the International YMCA Training School, now Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. The indoor game was designed to help keep his young male students in shape between the football and baseball seasons. Introduced to YMCAs by Springfield College trainees, basketball appears first in Canada in St. Stephen, New Brunswick and in Montreal, and then spreads quickly throughout Eastern Canada. Girls and women immediately take up this new game, often a modified version, playing it in schools and colleges.


1900-1909 As the west opens up in Canada, so does basketball come to the new province of Alberta. Raymond claims the honour of the first boy's high school basketball team in 1903, followed in 1904 by Lacombe for the first girls' high school team. The Calgary school board introduced basketball to its physical education curriculum in 1906. The lack of indoor facilities hindered the game until schools, and especially YMCAs, began to equip their buildings with gymnasiums. With the opening of the Edmonton YMCA in 1908, the first boys' and men's basketball league in northern Alberta had a place to play, and within a year, there was a junior, intermediate, and senior league. By the end of this decade, basketball was being played in most major centres in the province, certainly where there was a YMCA, and intercity challenge matches became more frequent.


1910-1919 Basketball continued to expand throughout the province with teams and leagues sprouting up all over. In 1911, for example, the University of Alberta organized its first men's team, and by 1915 it had a women's team. The men's team played in the Edmonton YMCA senior league, and the women's team played in an Intercollegiate Basketball league in the city. The Calgary Interscholastic Athletic Association established a basketball section in 1913. In southern Alberta, teams from Raymond, Stirling, and Magrath travelled south of the border to compete with teams in Montana and Utah. World War I impacted men's basketball, especially at the senior interscholastic levels, as more and more players enlisted. In Edmonton, where girls' teams from McDougall Commercial High School were gaining a reputation for success, many wanted to continue playing basketball after they graduated. In 1915 they formed the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, later known as the "Edmonton Grads", and a basketball dynasty was born.


1920-1929 With basketball's popularity increasing, new organizations were founded to oversee its growth. At the college level, the Western Canadian Intervarsity Athletic Union (for men only) was formed in 1920 with the University of Alberta winning the first basketball championship (the Rigby Trophy). In 1921, the Alberta Basketball Association was organized, headed by Cecil Race, registrar at the University of Alberta. He also played a major role in the founding of the Canadian Basketball Association in 1923. The first Alberta provincial championships, for both women and men, were now underway. In 1922, the Edmonton Grads beat the London Shamrocks for the first women's Canadian title, and the following year the Cleveland Favorite Knits came to Edmonton for the inaugural Underwood International Trophy challenge, and were defeated by the Grads. This was the beginning of big time basketball in Edmonton, played in the Arena on a wooden floor over the ice before thousands of cheering spectators. Basketball was growing across Canada, and the first sanctioned National Basketball Championships were held in 1924 for both women and men. The Grads won the women's championship and the Union Jacks from Raymond, Alberta won the men's. The Grads travelled to Europe in 1924, in conjunction with the Paris Olympics, where they defeated a series of teams and were declared world champions by the International Basketball Federation. In 1928, they journeyed to Europe again, beat all opponents, and retained their world title.


1930-1939 The Depression era was a difficult time for most sports including basketball, because it was difficult for teams to find the funds to travel even within the province and certainly to bring in teams from far away. While the Grads continued to dominate women's basketball by winning all available championships, the Raymond Union Jacks were a strong Alberta contender winning the provincial men's title 15 times between 1921 and 1941, and advancing to several inter-provincial championships. Men's basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936, and although the Grads traveled to Berlin as part of the Canadian contingent, they were forced to watch from the sidelines. They did, however, win all their games during a European exhibition tour, and were yet again declared world champions.


1940-1959 Many sports including basketball were also affected by World War II as men took off to fight and women were left to maintain the home front and contribute to the war effort. The war made travel even more difficult and many competitions, especially Dominion championships, were routinely cancelled as were all European and world championships, including the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. The Edmonton Grads, for example, disbanded in June 1940 partly because the Edmonton Arena, where their international series always took place, was taken over by the federal government for military training. The modern era of basketball in Canada, as is true of many sports, is said to have begun after the war when air travel became more common and universities began to take the game more seriously. At the University of Alberta, for example, Dr. Maury Van Vliet arrived in 1946 as both Director of Physical Education and Head Coach of the Golden Bears Basketball Team. Under his leadership, the basketball program underwent many changes. The team began to travel by air and regularly played teams based in the United States both at home and on the road. By the time Van Vliet retired as coach in 1956, the Bears had won the Rigby Trophy (WCIAU championship) seven years in a row and the provincial title three times. The building of bigger and better facilities in the post-war era also helped the development of basketball. In 1958, the Bears and Pandas were able to move games from the small gym in Athabasca Hall to the more spacious Main Gym in the West Wing, built as part of a special Jubilee year expansion.


1960-1979 University and college basketball in the province continued to develop in this era. Men's and women's basketball at the University of Calgary had a stellar year in 1966 with both winning the WCIAU championships. In 1971, the WCIAU split into the Canada West Universities Athletic Association, with Alberta, UBC, Calgary, Lethbridge, Saskatchewan, and Victoria as charter members, and the Great Plains Athletic Association, consisting primarily of schools in Manitoba. The University of Alberta Golden Bears captured the Canada West basketball title in 1973, 1974, and 1977, while the University of Calgary Dinos men's team won in 1976, and the women's team in 1979. The University of Alberta Pandas made their first national Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship appearance in 1977. At the college level, the Western Inter-College Conference (WICC) began its first competitive season in 1964 in the officially sanctioned sport of men's basketball. Teams from Mount Royal College, Camrose Lutheran College, Lethbridge Community College, NAIT and SAIT participated. In 1968, the WICC changed its name to Alberta College Athletic Conference (now with 10 members) and in 1970 entered into an affiliation with college athletic conferences in the other western provinces to form the 4-West Conference. The next year, the first 4-West Conference Championships were staged in men's and women's basketball. The Canadian Colleges Athletic Association was founded in 1974 with national championships inaugurated at the same time. In 1963, wheelchair basketball teams from Edmonton and Winnipeg met in Saskatoon, perhaps the first inter-provincial wheelchair basketball competition. From 1969 until 1978, basketball was part of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association but in 1978 it was organized as a separate sport. The Alberta Northern Lights Wheelchair Basketball Society was formed in 1976 to provide recreational and competitive opportunities in central and northern Alberta. In Calgary, the Raiders (later the Calgary Grizzlies) were formed in 1977 as part of the Calgary Disable Sports Club.


1980-1999 The arrival of Don Horwood as head coach of the University of Alberta men's basketball team in 1983 marked the beginning of a highly successful program. The team won the Canada West title in 1985, its first ever CIS championship in 1994, and again in 1995. Horwood was named CIAU coach both years. In 1999, under Coach Trix Baker, the University of Alberta Pandas also won the CIS title. The University of Calgary Dinos women's basketball team won the Canada West championship five times in this period and in 1989 they were the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) champions. The Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League was formed in 1985, and the following year the Calgary Grizzlies won the first national championship, which was held in Calgary.


2000-Present At the university level, the Canada West conference absorbed teams from the Great Plains Athletic Conference with basketball merging in 2001-02. Canada West is one of four conferences in CIS, and today there are 14 schools participating in Canada West varsity sports. By the time Coach Don Horwood at the University of Alberta retired in 2009, he had been named CIS Coach of the Year three times; his team had won Canada West seven times, made appearances at 11 CIS championships, and captured the national title three times. The GO Centre (the "G" stands for the Edmonton Grads) opened in Edmonton in 2011 as a recreational and competitive facility for primarily basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics. There are nine basketball courts as well as a competition gym with seating for 2,800 spectators. It is also the new home of Edmonton Energy, a team in the professional International Basketball League.

Further Readings

Hall, M. Ann. The Grads Are Playing Tonight!: The Story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2011.

Melnick, Ralph. Senda Berenson, The Unlikely Founder of Women’s Basketball. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

Mitchelson, E. Barry. The Evolution of Men’s Basketball in Canada, 1892-1936. MA thesis. University of Alberta, 1968.

Naismith, James. Basketball Its Origin and Development. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996 (originally published in 1941).

Nemeth, Mary. “A Patch of Hoops Heaven,” Maclean’s, 20 March 1995, pp. 48-49.

Rains, Rob. James Naismith: the Man Who Invented Basketball. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009

“School Basketball Started with Formation of Province,” Edmonton Journal, 1 June 1934, p.16.

Basketball Introduction

Although basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, it took some time for the game to take hold in Alberta. As primarily an indoor game, its early development was hindered by the lack of suitable gymnasiums. Early photos often show the game being play outdoors in summertime on a rough and unmarked surface with crude baskets attached to a pole at both ends of the court.

By the early 1900s, the game began to appear first in schools and especially in those with gymnasiums. Similarly, as YMCAs were built in cities and towns, the game became an established feature of their early programs. With more and more teams, leagues were established so that by the time World War I began, basketball in some form was played in most major centers in Alberta. It was also a game played from the start by girls and women, although the rules were sometimes modified to make the game less vigorous for females.

Throughout the years, basketball has remained true to Naismith's original version, although certainly there have been some rule changes during this time. Girls and women for the most part now play the same game as do boys and men. What has changed is the extent to which basketball can now be found in a multitude of clubs, community leagues, schools, colleges, and universities throughout the province. It is played by children, youth, and adults. Both the able-bodied and those with physical disabilities enjoy the game and at the highest levels of competition. Yet, for all its modern-day sophistication and organization, it can still be played as a pick-up game sometimes just one-on-one.

The following timeline provides a brief history of the development of the game in Alberta. It should be noted that there is as yet no coherent history of the game in Canada, and neither is there much written about the game in Alberta. The famous Edmonton Commercial Graduates, who dominated women's basketball in North America, and indeed the world, between 1915 and 1940, have received a good deal of attention. However, the full story of the game in this province has yet to be written.

Frozen Hoops - Fiction or Fact

The history of Canadian basketball is laced with inaccuracies. Let’s set the record straight.

FICTION: The inventor of basketball was Dr. James A. Naismith

FACT: History may be fickle. Take for example the name of Dr. Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

Encyclopedias and reference books pride themselves on the fact that they are usually accurate to the letter. In this case though, the letter is in fact the problem as these books state that Naismith's full name was Dr. James A. Naismith.

If Naismith did have a middle name, what was it then? Alvin, Andrew, Ace or even stealing some basketball jargon,Well, according to his surviving family members and a few historians, Naismith never had a middle name let alone initial, despite the fact that the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica states that he adopted the initial A. in later life.

So, the natural question is now asking, "Where did that A. come from?"

Mrs. James Sherman Naismith, second wife of the late James Sherman Naismith, who was the youngest of Naismith's five offspring (born 1913), told this writer many years ago that the father of basketball inherited theletter A. from his unique writing style.

"He (Dr. Naismith) always wrote James and made the last 's' in James very large," said Mrs. Naismith, who was predeceased by her husband in 1980. "It was a great big letter S coming all the way up and I guess a lot of people took it for a letter A instead. Someone wrote it that way in a newspaper a long time ago and it stayed that way."

So why didn't the good doctor speak up and correct the infraction?

"My husband said his father probably didn't care or even notice. He was just too busy. And my husband's family really didn't take notice either," said Mrs. Naismith, who resided in Corpus Christie Texas at the time of the interview. "The only time my husband said anything about his dad was when he overheard his father's name with the letter A. inserted."

Also living in Corpus Christie was James P. Naismith, grandson of the original Dr. J. "It's true what they say that my grandfather never had a middle initial," says James P., who was three years old when his grandfather died in 1939. "According to my father (James Sherman) the A. came from the way my grandfather signed his name. He always abbreviated James to Jas. and everyone took it for James A.

"I guess someone wrote it down wrong and the rest of the people just followed copycats. I guess they thought, "Hey it's in this book, so it must right," and no one ever bothered to check it out."I still see books with it wrong but with stories like this, people will have it correct in time."

The one and perhaps only Naismith offspring who seemed really upset with the name error was his second born and second girl, the late Helen Carolyn. Dr. John Dewar, whose 1965 dissertation of Florida State University was entitled "The life and contributions of James Naismith," had a chance to talk to Helen (then Mrs. Helen Dodd) at her residence in St. Louis Missouri in 1965. "She was very upset when she told me that her father never had a middle initial," says Dewar, who has been involved in all facets of Canadian basketball for more than 50 years.

"According to Mrs. Dodd, the letter A. came from the pronunciation on how he said his name. He spoke slowly and said "eh" between his name. It just came out that way and it stuck. People thought he was saying Dr. James A. Naismith. "I guess you could say it was the proverbial Canadian "eh" and his Canadian heritage. That's another one I've heard of how the A. came about. “The same was confirmed by this writer in the 1980s' when talking to Mrs. Dodd.

All five of her brother and sisters had passed away the last John Edwin in the 1980s'.

In a 1959 letter to Major James Leys, founder of the Memorial Museum to R. Tait McKenzie, another Canadian educator and close friend of Naismith, detailing the biography on her father, Helen had under his name James Naismith, in brackets and underlined - "He had no middle name or initial.”

In Springfield Mass., birthplace of basketball, Joe O'Brien then executive director of the Naismith Hall of Fame, told this writer in the 1990s' that Naismith had no middle name, "There is no legitimate proof that we know of that he had a middle name or even middle initial."

If you're still not convinced, talk to historians from Almonte Ontario, birthplace of Naismith. "We have heard or read that he has middle initial A. but no birth certificate or record shows us that," says historian John Dunn.

So why do people continue to refer to the farther of basketball as Dr. James A. Naismith? Perhaps they are copycats or unaware of the truth? Did Naismith really adopt a middle initial or name or is history wrong? Was it the way the Dr. learned how to write or was it just Canadian slang that confused everyone?

This writer has spent more than 25 years correcting the error and only recently received a letter from Encyclopedia Britannica of the correction. So is it true or not? I guess only the good Dr. will know for sure "eh".

Naismith Ball - The Original 13 Rules

  1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.

  2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).

  3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.

  4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.

  5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.

  6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3, 4, and such as described in Rule 5.

  7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).

  8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.

  9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play by the person first touching it. In case of a dispute, the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds; if he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.

  10. The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.

  11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made, and keep account of the goals with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.

  12. The time shall be two 15-minute halves, with five minutes' rest between.

  13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.

Canadian Basketball Quotes

The invention of basketball was not an accident. It was developed to meet a need. Those boys simply would not play "Drop the Handkerchief." - James Naismith

The rule was "No autopsy, no foul." - Stewart Granger, on the pickup games of his childhood.

"He's the one who's working in the NBA and I'm unemployed." - Former Canadian

National Team coach Jack Donohue (left) on advice he would give to former player Jay Triano as he was about to join part of the Toronto Raptors coaching staff.

Another Donohue gem: "If you fall into a puddle wearing a new suit, you can either whine for months about ruining your suit or check for fish."

"You can't coach basketball Forrest, you play it." - Dr. James Naismith to F.C. "Phog" Allen in 1906.

"Oh, my gracious! They are murdering my game." - Dr. James Naismith, while watching especially physical play in a 1910 Kansas-Missouri game.

"I am sure that no man can derive more pleasure from money or power than I do from seeing a pair of basketball goals in some out of the way place--deep in the Wisconsin woods an old barrel hoop nailed to a tree, or a weather-beaten shed on the Mexican border with a rusty iron hoop nailed to one end." - Dr. James Naismith.

“I used to collect hockey cards. It was like Vegas at my school. You'd go to school with your box of cards, and at recess and lunchtime there were all these games we'd play.” – Steve Nash.