An iconic heritage minute about basketball and peach baskets may be etched in the minds of Canadians, but a New Brunswick town is looking to cement its own status within one of the most important in the world.
St. Stephen built itself for several years as home to the oldest existing basketball court in the world.
A committee is now stepping up fundraising efforts to commemorate the first game played on the field inside the city’s old YMCA on October 17, 1893.
“This court was not built for basketball, basketball was built for this court,” said Canada First Basketball Inc. committee chairman Richard Fulton.
According to the story, Nova Scotia’s Lyman Walker Archibald was one of many apprentices of basketball founder and fellow Canadian James Naismith.
Under Naismith’s guidance, Archibald learned the game in Massachusetts and played in the world’s first-ever basketball game. He would soon be one of many players from that inaugural game who would expand to introduce the sport across Canada.
Archibald became director of recreation at the YMCA of St. Stephen and hosted a game on a hardwood floor inside the top floor of a brick building in downtown St. Stephen.
History has been made.
Archivists have cited a local newspaper article from this period to confirm when this game was played.
And then, everything was apparently forgotten.
“SECRET HIDDEN IN THE COMMUNITY”
Time passed, basketball spread around the world, and the humble brick building on King Street in St. Stephen experienced its own evolution.
The local YMCA is gone, and new entities have come and gone, including a barbershop, a print shop, a pharmacy – believed to be the first in New Brunswick – and a thrift store. All the while, the frame of the oldest basketball court in the world has remained intact and uncelebrated.
Then there was a fire.
Damage from the 2010 fire remains and could be part of an exhibit inside the location. (Nick Moore/CTV Atlantic)
The 2010 incident caused uncomfortable damage near the courthouse, but was largely spared smoke and flames. A rug was removed during cleaning, revealing the basketball court’s original hardwood floor.
That’s when the backstory of the place came to the fore.
“I was sitting in the council chambers right after the fire and was told we had the oldest basketball court in the world,” St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said.
“And I still remember my hair up and thinking, ‘What do you mean we have the oldest basketball court? Why are we just talking about this?
“It was a hidden secret in the community. »
It was the advice many needed to make a second attempt at true commemoration. A few fresh coats of green and blue paint have been added and a basket of peaches has been properly attached to the wall. But there is still a lot to do.
“IT CAN BE A HUGE TOURIST ATTRACTION”
To date, several steps have been taken to proceed with preservation, including an architectural inspection. The building was also purchased by the municipality. Now a new fundraising effort is gearing up for a giant leap forward.
“As far as local fundraising goes, this is the first major initiative,” said Dave Fraser, member of the organizing committee.
An event on June 25 will feature dinner, live music, a silent auction and tours of the yard, with all proceeds going to the ongoing restoration of the venue.
Fulton predicts that it will take approximately three to four years for the site to have its grand public opening, which will feature exhibits and artifacts that not only highlight the area’s local basketball roots, but the sport’s strong ties. across Canada.
For example, the very first league game of what would become the NBA was played in Canada on Nov. 1, 1946. Fulton said the success of the Toronto Raptors also did wonders to boost the growth of basketball across the country. country.
Damage from the 2010 fire may also be included as a tribute to how the court’s history was rediscovered.
The total cost of the St. Stephen project is expected to be around $10 million.
“Of which we’ve looted just over a million dollars now, so we have a ways to go,” Fulton said. “It can also be a huge tourist attraction, preserving not only the history of the grounds, but also the history of the game and the history of St. Stephen.”