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The Stanley Cup’s Namesake Produced a Great Trophy. Not Much Else.

The Stanley Cup’s Namesake Produced a Great Trophy. Not Much Else.


He was the governor general of Canada 130 years ago. And in truth, he was something of a nonentity.

Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley would long since have been lost to history were it not for one thing: He ponied up 10 guineas for a trophy. That little cup became one of the sport’s most revered trophies. Perhaps you’ve heard of it — the Stanley Cup.

Stanley was born in 1841 in London, the son of the Earl of Derby, a three-time prime minister. He followed the path of many upper-crust types before him: student at Eton, the prestigious English boarding school; Conservative member of parliament; lord of the admiralty. Then in 1888, Queen Victoria named him governor general of Canada.

The announcement was hardly major international news. In a New York Times article on Feb. 9, 1888, he was given second billing to the Marquis of Lansdowne, who was leaving Canada for India. The entire article was a paragraph.

Lord Stanley, who was just under six feet, arrived in Canada to little fanfare wearing a black suit with a Prince Albert coat. He had a short beard and mustache and was slightly bald. A news report commented on his commandeering presence and described him as “decidedly good looking.”

As for making news, Stanley “willingly consented to speak, but said he had nothing to tell.” It would become a pattern. He dabbled in issues of fishing rights and sparked anger over a state ball he canceled. He didn’t much like his posting.

If Stanley did not love being in Canada, he did seem to love one thing about it: hockey. His children took to the sport, including his daughter Isobel, who became a pioneer of the women’s game.

Perhaps that is what prompted Stanley to make the decision that secured his fame. He paid 10 guineas, about $50 then and over $1,000 now, for a bowl to be awarded to the winner of a hockey tournament. Its name, at first, was the less felicitous Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup.

After only five years in Canada, Stanley returned to England in 1893 when his older brother died, and he became Earl of Derby. He was gone when the cup was awarded for the first time to the Montreal Hockey Club in 1893.

The little cup began to grow, in stature and size. In the 1920s, after Stanley’s death, it was expanded to allow the adding of the names of players on the winning team, in part because some players had scratched their names on it. It took its current form in 1963. The original bowl is at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

And so is Lord Stanley.

Though he never saw the trophy that bears his name, he was inducted into the Hall in 1945.

The Hall of Fame itself concedes: “It is likely that after he returned to his homeland, he had little further thought of the Cup he donated while in Canada.”

Stanley died in 1908. His 125-word Times obituary did not mention hockey.

But while the people of 1888 or 1908 may not have seen it coming, the nondescript, mustachioed son of the Earl of Derby was destined to be remembered every year in late May and early June. Governors general like the Earl of Minto, Viscount Monck and Lord Byng of Vimy may somewhere be regretting not reaching into their pockets for 10 guineas.



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