People play basketball in St. Stephen, N.B. in this undated handout photo. For years, it lay hidden under drab blue carpet on the top floor of a building that housed everything from a printing press company and dance hall to a gym and storeroom for a miscellany of goods. But in 2010 when a fire swept through the historic structure in St. Stephen, N.B., the cleanup uncovered a buried treasure that’s now at the centre of a transatlantic debate over a little-known piece of basketball lore. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Handout/Peter Corby

New Brunswick town stakes claim to world’s oldest basketball court

A post fire cleanup uncovered a buried treasure that’s now at the centre of a transatlantic debate over a little-known piece of basketball lore

For years, it lay hidden under drab blue carpet on the top floor of a non-descript building that housed everything from a printing press and dance hall to a gym and storeroom.

But in 2010 when a fire swept through the historic structure in St. Stephen, N.B., the cleanup uncovered a buried treasure that’s now at the centre of a transatlantic debate over a little-known piece of basketball lore.

“Upstairs there was carpet all over the gymnasium floor and pulling up the carpet, by God there it was — all hardwood,” said Peter Corby, president of the non-profit group Canada 1st Basketball Inc.

“And that’s the forgotten floor.”

The floor is what Corby and other self-proclaimed Canadian “basketball nuts” claim is the oldest basketball court in the world and where research suggests the first game was played on Oct. 17, 1893.

The assertion has touched off an international tug-of-war with historians who say Paris has the oldest basketball court still in use. It was there, in the basement of a Parisian YMCA, that a game of hoops was played in December of 1893, just a couple of years after the game was invented.

Corby, a former athletic director and teacher who’s heading a group hoping to preserve the New Brunswick court, insists that the St. Stephen YMCA game was played months earlier, giving lie to the Paris claim.

“I guess Donald Trump would call that fake news!” he joked in an interview from his home in Fredericton.

“We were playing basketball months before their claim. We’ve researched it and researched it with our local newspapers and the YMCA …. Our date is way before their date.”

Corby traces the story of the floor back to one of the original players of the game, Lyman Archibald, a Canadian who studied at the YMCA Training School in Massachusetts under James Naismith — basketball’s inventor.

According to Historica Canada, Naismith was looking for an indoor recreational sport when he was teaching at the YMCA in Springfield and came up with a game that used peach baskets, a ball and 13 rules governing such things as running with the ball, tripping and pushing.

Many of his students returned to Canada, helping spread the game across the country.

In St. Stephen, the game took hold when Archibald, who was originally from Nova Scotia, was assigned to be the director of the local YMCA where he introduced the small community to basketball. Corby says it inspired a passion for the game that is still felt in the town of about 4,600 people.

That enduring enthusiasm led Corby and his group to work with the current owner of the building, the St. Croix Vocational Centre, to figure out a way that Canada 1st Basketball could buy it and turn it into a basketball heritage museum.

Under the arrangement, Corby has just under two years to raise enough money to buy the building for an amount that has yet to be determined.

The work is part of a dream for Corby and his group to celebrate both the game and Canada’s critical role in its beginnings, much like Cooperstown, N.Y., has done with its National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“There is no physical building in Canada that houses a Canadian basketball hall of fame,” he said, adding that there will be a special event on Oct. 17 to commemorate 125 years of basketball being played in St. Stephen.

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said being in the space — a court of about 14 metres by 9.3 metres under baby blue walls and an ornate green and white ceiling — conjures up visions of what it was like a century ago when nine players per team squared off against each other.

“When you get in there, you can start envisioning those guys playing ball there and you can feel it,” he said in an interview. “It does not look like a gym — it’s got a gym floor, but it’s got tin ceilings. Those are beautiful ceilings.”

He’s hoping the federal government helps out with funding so Corby and his crew can transform the building into a lasting tribute to the sport.

It could also be a tourist boon for the seaside town, known more for being the home of Canada’s oldest candy company, Ganong.

“Basketball is huge. There are people who would want to walk on this floor or see it or play on it,” MacEachern said. “Not everyone has that opportunity to have the oldest basketball court in the world sitting in front of you!”

Related: 50-million-year-old fossil found in B.C. town makes history

– By Alison Auld in Halifax, with notes from Michael MacDonald

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

LETTER: Time to roll back power prices

FortisBC is overcharging customers, Andy Shadrack argues

Taekwondo is a family obsession at Nelson’s Yom Chi Martial Arts

The Jordahls have found success with their Baker Street dojang

Nelson city hall will fly Pride flag this year

Council will develop a policy for future flag decisions

Louise Baxter found after 72 hour search

Cranbrook hiker had been missing since Sunday, August 12, near Jumbo Pass.

VIDEO: Happy birthday Kaslo

Village marks 125th birthday with reopening of city hall, sealing of time capsule

Updated: ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin has died

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn reports Franklin passed Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit

Woman in custody after topless crane climb near Toronto waterfront

Toronto police have apprehend a woman who climbed crane cab near waterfront

‘Hot and dirty work:’ Commander describes fighting massive Ontario wildfire

Ontario has seen more than 1,000 forest fires so far this year, compared to 561 in all of 2017.

‘Billion-piece jigsaw puzzle:’ Canadians key to 1st complete map of wheat genome

The paper has 202 authors from 73 research agencies in 20 countries.

70 years after Babe Ruth’s death, fans still flock to grave

After Ruth died of throat cancer at age 53, tens of thousands of fans came to pay respects

Airbnb’s federal budget proposal tells Liberals, ‘we want to be regulated’

Submission says ‘we want to be regulated’ and asks the government to avoid forcing existing rules

Greens won’t run candidate in Burnaby South as ‘leader’s courtesy’ to Singh: May

Green Leader Elizabeth May says the decision is an extension of a ‘leader’s courtesy’

UPDATED: B.C. RCMP dismantle Kinder Morgan protest camp

RCMP say they will enforce a court injunction today and remove Trans Mountain pipeline protesters who have been camped outside a Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby.

Italy says death toll will mount in Genoa bridge collapse

Authorities worried about the stability of remaining large sections of a partially collapsed bridge evacuated about 630 people from nearby apartments.

Most Read