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

WATCH: Farm Safety Day encourages local Grade 5s to stay safe

Lacombe County annual event helps keep accidents off the farm

Fire department fundraising frauds spreading across province

Fraudsters calling residents identifying themselves as a member of the local FD

Red Deer’s Jamie Woodfin lands in Project WILD’s top 12

Following showcase events and public voting, the top three artists will be chosen

Court full as schools, parents dispute Alberta gay-straight alliance law

Justice Centre argues keeping parents out of the loop violates freedom of religion and expression

Lacombe’s hydrant flushing program maintains water quality

During flushing, customers may notice a drop in water pressure

In reversal, Trump signs executive order to stop family separation

President had been wrongly insisting he had no choice but to separate families apprehended at border

After World Cup lineup photographed, England urges media to help team

Now the England camp is actually asking media: Are you with us or against us?

MISSING: Police hoping to locate man reported missing

Ponoka RCMP looking to public to help find Joseph Desjarlais

Liberals set hiring, procurement rules for federally-funded projects

Indigenous Peoples, recent immigrants, veterans, young people, people with disabilities and women to be hired

Get your hot dog water, only $40 in Vancouver

‘Hot Dog Water’ seller in Vancouver gets laughs, sales with savvy marketing

Privacy questions linger two years after Canada-U.S. terror list deal struck

Two years after Canadian and U.S. security agencies signed an updated agreement officials consider privacy risk

Manitoba MP was allegedly abusive at Red Cross shelter

Canadian Red Cross has filed a complaint that Liberal backbencher MaryAnn Mihychuk ignored protocol

A look at what Canadian teams might do in the 1st round of the NHL draft

Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton in top 10 of upcoming draft

Most Read