ST. STEPHEN – In 1892, Lyman Archibald brought the game of basketball to members of the YMCA in St. Stephen, as part of its fitness program. Archibald was a former student of James Naismith, who is credited for having invented the game of basketball. But times change, and eventually, the old basketball court lay near-forgotten for several decades.

Then, while fighting a structural fire in the building, which is currently the site of the St. Croix Vocational Centre Wood & Wardrobe thrift store, firefighters discovered the old gymnasium on the upper floor of the building. The room was still intact, and the original wood floor and tin ceiling were still there. Then, through historical research, it was discovered that not only is this likely the oldest basketball court in Canada, but it may also be the oldest in the world. Now, a group of people are dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the basketball court, as well as turning the building into a sports museum, where they would like to house the Canada Basketball Hall of Fame.

“We are working to preserve and conserve what we believe to be the oldest basketball court in the world, in St. Stephen,” said Robert Otto, president of the board of directors for Canada 1st Basketball, Inc. “It was kind of known, but it was sort of lost as I understand it, in the collective memory of the town. Certainly, the fire is the impetus for people to dig back into that history and rediscover it.”

Otto said Canada 1st Basketball, Inc. is looking to raise funds that will be used to purchase the building, and then stabilize it to ensure that the building is safe and that everything is up to code. The organization recently received a large donation from former N.B. Premier Frank McKenna and the TD Bank.

“The donation was for $25,000,” said Otto. “We are looking to raise funds to purchase the building, stabilize it and make sure that the building is stabilized and that the court is going to be preserved in its current state, and also to do some planning and engineering for what we hope to be a larger basketball centre focused around the oldest court.”

Otto said the organization has identified some potential donors for the project, and they approached McKenna, who, according to Otto, was “generous enough both to hear our explanation of what we hope to do, and consider it, and then obviously make a decision to provide a very generous donation to the project.”

If you would like to make a donation to help preserve what may just be the oldest basketball court in the world, please visit the group page at www.facebook.com/Canada1stBasketball, or contact the Town of St. Stephen.

“We’re in the midst of our phase one fundraising campaign. The total we’re shooting for the phase one portion is actually about $1 million, so it’s substantial. When we have something we believe in, we’ve had some historical research done that indicates we’ve got the oldest basketball court in the world. There’s only one of those, and we have it in St. Stephen.”

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sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca