Dr. James Naismith (1861-1939)
James Naismith was born in Ramsay township on November 6, 1861. He was the son of Scottish immigrants, John and Margaret Naismith. When a typhoid epidemic claimed his parents, he went to live with his uncle Peter Young, who raised James, his older sister Annie and his younger brother Robbie to be God fearing, independent thinkers.
The Young Farm. James Naismith was raised here by his Uncle Peter, after the death of his parents.
Young James demonstrated an early enthusiasm and ability for sports. Popular activities were swimming, fishing, tug-of-war, wrestling, and skating. He and his playmates also invented their own games, such as "duck on the rock."
Naismith would walk to the school house at Bennie’s Corners from his house almost three miles away. Apple trees lined either side of 8th Concession route and in November ducks would sun themselves on the rocks of the bank of the Indian River. The boys would often try their luck at hitting those ducks with apples found on the road: "Duck on the Rock". This game was adapted and played at other times of the year using a large stone and placing a pumpkin or another stone on top and arcing a smaller stone at the target. This was one of the games that inspired Naismith in later years.
"Bennie’s Corners was a gathering place for a group of the country boys who lived in the vicinity. Their work was finished and they were spending their leisure time in different kinds of contests. High jumping, wrestling and fighting were natural boys activities. Usually the boys played some kind of game in which most of the group joined. In their favorite game "Duck on the Rock," one boy guarded his duck from the stones of others and the fun began as the boys gathered the stray shots. The games of the evening finished, the boys made their way to the swimming hole in the Indian River."
"In the winter the old swimming hole was once more in use, the log fires burned every evening as the sharp blades of the skates cut the glazed surface of the Indian River. "
The 'Duck on a Rock' rock
'New' style skates.
The Naismith Museum and Hall of Fame, Almonte
When Naismith was fifteen he became friends with Robert Tait McKenzie. This was to be a friendship that would last his entire life. McKenzie shared similar beliefs with Naismith.
In 1876, Naismith dropped out of high school to become a lumberjack. He would eventually return to high school and graduated in 1883 at the age of twenty one. Out of a desire to help others and to please his Uncle and Sister, he decided to study theology at McGill University in Montreal.
At McGill, Naismith was a hard working model student. Two fellow students would remind him of the health benefits of keeping active. Following their advice proved to be a turning point. Naismith would dedicate the rest of his life to sport and healthy living.
Naismith became involved in a number of sports. He participated actively as a member of the school’s rugby, lacrosse and gymnastic teams. It was the opinion of many that his interests in athletics conflicted with his studies for the ministry. Despite this he accepted the position of Head of the Gymnasium and appointed R. Tait McKenzie his assistant.
Robert Tait McKenzie and James Naismith as teenagers.
Dr. James Naismith and Dr. R.Tait McKenzie at the Mill of Kintail.
The Mill of Kintail
Competitors for the Wicksteed Medals, McGill University.
McGill University Rugby Team 1887 to 1888
Naismith graduated in the top ten of his class in 1887, with a Bachelor of Arts. In the fall of that year he enrolled at the Presbyterian College at McGill.
As he neared graduation in 1890, Naismith was unsure of which career he would choose: ministry or athletics. He found a school in Springfield, Massachusetts which would satisfy both his interests. The International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School combined spirituality and athletics in a program designed to train Physical Directors. Naismith did well in his classes and continued his participation in sports, primarily football on a team known as "Stagg‘s Stubby Christians". By his second year at college he was also teaching. He and his colleagues became aware of the lack of a suitable form of indoor recreation for the young men. The director challenged him to invent a new indoor sport for the students.
After two weeks of trial and error, Naismith borrowed elements from different games from his past, including rugby, lacrosse and even duck on a rock. He decided that the game would have to be easy to learn, require a minimal amount of equipment and eliminate the roughness of outdoor sports.
On December 21, 1891, the first game of basketball was played. It was an instant hit with the young men. One student, Frank Mahan, suggested that the new sport be called "Naismith Ball", but Naismith quickly rejected that name. He agreed with Mahan’s next suggestion of "Basketball".
Photo of the Presbyterian College Journal staff
Naismith plays football.