Article by: Sue London
During the 1880’s, William Vosburgh erected a full-sized community skating rink in Beamsville. The rink was widely used by the townsfolk for leisurely skating, as well as the home to the Beamsville men’s hockey team. Spectators stood several deep around the boards to watch the games. The hockey league included teams from Grimsby, Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland and Hamilton. By about 1896, the standard practice was to use two four-foot metal poles embedded into the ice, six feet apart and ten feet from the end of the rink. To determine if a goal was scored, an official would be stationed at the end of the rink, watching to see if the puck passed between these poles. Many times, the official’s decision would be called into dispute by the players. Teams would constantly argue over disputed goals and sometimes accuse the home team of biased officiating.
To solve the problem, Beamsville goaltender, Billy Fairbrother, dissatisfied about constant disputes about goals scored between the pipes, got some netting from a local fisherman friend and strung it between two posts. The players were immediately satisfied with the new system, as the net reduced the amount of arguments and kept games moving faster. Billy Fairbrother was soon credited for the idea by the Southern Ontario Hockey Association, which is now part of the Ontario Hockey Association. The Hockey Hall of Fame’s records indicate this happened in either 1897 or 1898.
The idea rapidly spread, leading to the next development in the evolution of the hockey net in Montreal, where the first framed, portable hockey net was marketed in 1899. It is believed that Vosburgh took a hold of the idea and most likely worked with Fairbrother to fashion the first framed net in his Black Smith Shop in 1898. Hockey Hall of Fame’s records indicate the invention is from Montreal (by Art Ross & Co.), but many years after Billy Fairbrother’s death, sports writers for Toronto papers confirmed that, indeed, it was Billy who designed and used the first hockey goal net. Unfortunately, Billy didn’t patent his idea or profit financially from the sales of hockey nets that were sold around the world. Although, we can be proud knowing this all did originated through an idea from a young goaltender in Beamsville.