The earliest written record of the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association dates from 1923. The lack of records for this period would indicate that the fledgling Association had barely got off the ground when a series of events dealt a serious blow. Those events included: the Real Estate "bust" of 1913, World War I 1914-18, and the "Flu" epidemic of 1918.
As well, it was still the "horse and buggy" era, and very few of the smaller centres had electricity, let alone a water system. Most competition was on a local level using open-air rinks or ponds. Any inter-city competition was largely limited to the bigger centres or those with good rail connections.
In the early years, the game was two 30-minute periods with no substitutions, although records indicate this changed in 1910-11 to the present "periods" with substitutes allowed.
In 1912, the Taber Chefs, a team of eight players (five of the "cooks" raised $800), travelled by special rail car to Winnipeg to enter the Allan Cup. The first game was an 8-8 tie but owing to colds and illness of several players the second game was forfeited.
In 1912-13, Lloyd Turner renovated an old roller skating rink into an ice arena in Calgary. It became known as the Sherman Arena and was home to famous teams such as the Tigers.
Conditions improved after World War I, with many outdoor rinks being built. The rinks often had high boards on one side and both ends, with lower boards on the rink shack side, which was also the spectator area. There was no uniform size for rinks, with water supply having a bearing on this, and rinks were often smaller than today’s standard rinks. In fact, as late as 1957, the AAHA Handbook recommended rinks be built "as nearly as possible, 200 ft. long and 85 ft. wide." Lighting usually consisted of four to six strings across the rink with extra light at each end in the goal area.
Equipment was different compared to today’s standards. Felt padding was the usual type of shin pad. A knee pad was introduced similar to what was used by football players. Shoulder pads and helmets were still for the future. If it was cold, you wore a toque or cap with ear flaps. Skates had improved and Automobile C and D became the favorite type. Gloves for both skaters and goalkeepers were seldom seen. Hockey sticks were about $1. They were not laminated and were quite sturdy, usually lasting the entire season. Pucks were inexpensive, although if some went over the boards the game was usually held up until the puck was retrieved from the snowbanks.
The rules were interesting. Seven men were allowed on the ice at the same time with the seventh man designated as a "rover". There were no markings on the ice. As late as 1933, the AAHA was agitating for adoption of the forward pass. If you accepted a pass from a player behind you it was an automatic off-side as was also the case if you touched the puck with your skates. Boarding was a "no-no", as was heavy body checking. Such rules encouraged stick handling skating and the "sweep" and "poke" checks. Referees used bells instead of whistles.
Games with neighboring towns were highlights. Highways were non-existent and most cars were placed on "blocks" during the winter. As a result nearly all travel was done by train and this usually meant an overnight stay with the result that such games were a rarity.
Ladies hockey was very popular in this period and the two major cities together with smaller centres had teams.
Most players of minor age played on school teams and age was not a determining factor as to the division of hockey in which you played. I do not think that this applied to the larger centres such as Calgary and Edmonton because of the fact that they had so much innercity competition.
In the 1920s, the Edmonton South Side Rink was a hive of activity. Well known teams included Calgary Jimmies, Edmonton Hustlers, Edmonton Canadians and Calgary Tigers in the minor ranks, and Intermediate and Senior teams such as Calgary Hustlers, E.A.C., Calgary Canadians, Okotoks, Gleichen Gunners, High River Flyers, Calgary Fouex, Canmore (who won Senior title in three consecutive years), and Pass teams such as Blairmore, Coleman and Bellevue.
The late 1920s and early 1930s saw the building of numerous enclosed arenas. By the mid-30s, most towns, villages and hamlets had some form of skating and hockey facilities although the vast majority were still open air.
The "dirty thirties" were not as hard on hockey as one might think. Money was scarce but what cheaper way to have some recreation than skating and playing hockey? There was an upsurge in Intermediate hockey with clubs such as E.A.C., Edmonton Superiors, Calgary Rangers, Lethbridge Maple Leafs, Luscar Indians, Drumheller Miners, Edmonton Victorias, and Edmonton Dominions.
During World War II, most senior hockey players found themselves in the Armed Services. Rivalry between various "stations" was very keen and much interesting hockey resulted as quite a number of the teams were "stocked" with players from the National Hockey League. These teams dominated the playoff picture until 1944 when an edict from the Department of National Defence removed them from competition.
After that, Senior hockey gradually declined. Instead Intermediate hockey came to the fore with such Leagues as Calgary "Big Six" and the Central Alberta League. These two Leagues were certainly among the better Intermediate leagues in Western Canada throughout the 1950s. The Big Six stopped operation following the 1973-74 season.
In the 1950s, the era of artificial rinks began, which made a profound difference in the approach to hockey. Rather than being a four-month season, hockey became almost a year-round operation. In the early years of this period most rinks were made possible by hard work on the part of the communities. In later years matching grants from governments gave a great impetus to construction with the result that many smaller centres boasted covered rinks.
The frequent reference to teams of Senior, Junior and Intermediate calibre has only been made possible through the development of healthy minor hockey organizations in Alberta throughout the years.
Anyone who attended Annual Meetings of the AAHA throughout the early 1950s would have been struck by the paucity of minor representatives. The meetings were not large gatherings and most of the representatives came from senior, junior and intermediate divisions carrying proxies from minor teams.
The Minor Committee was formed in 1960 allowing minor hockey to become a provincial operation. Annual Meetings became large gatherings with the vast bulk of the attendance coming from minor organizations.