Thomas Laird Paton, athlete, businessman, volunteer (born 30 September 1855 in Montréal, QC; died 10 February 1909 in Montréal). Paton was an accomplished amateur athlete who excelled in lacrosse and hockey. A goaltender with the Montreal Hockey Club, he helped his team to six straight league championships (1888–93). In his final season, the club was awarded the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup — what would later become known as the Stanley Cup. Paton was also a tireless promoter of amateur athletics in Montréal and served on a variety of sporting bodies, including the Montreal Curling Club and the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.
Born in Canada to Scottish immigrants, Laird Paton and Ann Scott, Thomas Laird (Tom) Paton grew up in Montréal, part of a large Scottish community in the city. His father was a carpenter and builder, who, by 1873, had established his own company, Laird Paton & Son Ltd, with his sons James and William. (The collections of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation include two toboggans produced by the company.)
The family belonged to Erskine Presbyterian Church. Tom Paton was baptized and later married at Erskine, and eventually had his own children baptized there as well. Erskine played an important role in the formation of the national Presbyterian Church in Canada (1875), which itself has an interesting link to hockey. According to the Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives, the union of the Presbyterian churches was first celebrated at the Victoria Skating Rink on 15 June 1875, which three months earlier (3 March 1875) had been the site of the first recorded organized indoor hockey game.
In the 19th century, Montréal was a hotbed of sports development and organization, the home of numerous athletic clubs (e.g., the Montreal Curling Club) and arguably the birthplace of modern lacrosse. Tom Paton was an important figure in the Montréal sporting world. He began playing for the Montreal Lacrosse Club in 1876, while in his early twenties, and was a fixture on the roster for 15 years. He would later serve as president of the club.
Paton was also an avid snowshoer who in 1878 won the two-mile Montreal Snow Shoe Club Cup, and took the silver medal in the Annual Club Steeple Chase over Mount Royal. In 1881, the 25-year-old clerk became a founding member of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA), the first such organization in Canada. Founded by three prominent sporting organizations — the Montreal Lacrosse Club, Montreal Snow Shoe Club and Montreal Bicycle Club — it would eventually serve as an umbrella for other clubs, including the Montreal Hockey Club (founded 1884). Paton remained a longtime executive with the MAAA, including a stint as its president.
In addition to his success as a lacrosse player and snowshoer, Paton was a keen hockey player, one of the founding members of the Montreal Hockey Club. He has also been credited with introducing hockey to Toronto during a trip to the city in 1887. The earliest reference to this story appeared in 1893, in an article on “Hockey in Ontario” by W.A.H. Kerr in the Dominion Illustrated Monthly. According to Kerr,Paton was on a business trip to Toronto when he informed J. Massey and C. McHenry that hockey “was fast becoming the leading game in winter” in Montréal and that they should get Torontonians interested in the sport. “With characteristic energy [Paton] telegraphed Montreal that day for 18 sticks, a puck, and a few copies of the rules.” When the equipment arrived the next evening, Paton organized a scrimmage with 10 keen skaters. Arthur Farrell, author of Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game (1899), also credited him with bringing the game to Toronto, as have later historians of the sport — Michael McKinley in Hockey: A People’s History (2006) and Stephen Smith in Puckstruck (2014).
From 1885 until 1893, Paton played goaltender for the Montreal Hockey Club. Starting in 1887, the team competed in the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (which until 1905, only included anglophone teams). Paton’s time in net was highlighted by flashes of dominance. For two consecutive seasons (1889–90 and 1890–91), he was head and shoulders above his peers, posting back-to-back undefeated campaigns. With his dynamic play in net, it’s not surprising that Paton’s team won six straight league titles (1888–93).
After the Montreal Hockey Club once again finished atop the AHAC standings, at the end of the 1892–93 season, they became the first recipients of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup — what would later become known as the Stanley Cup. Donated in 1893 by Governor General Frederick Stanley, it would soon become the ultimate prize in hockey. From 1893 until 1912, the trophy was contested among the champions of Canada’s amateur hockey leagues, in what was known as the Challenge Era.
Personal Life and Volunteer Activity
Paton retired from hockey in 1893, having finished his career on a high note after securing another league championship and the Stanley Cup. He soon had further reason to celebrate. On 20 April 1893, he married Lilly [also Lillie] S. Bowie at Erskine Presbyterian in Montréal. The couple had four children, William George, Stewart Laird, Isabelle and Thomas Laird. According to Montréal city directories, Paton was employed as a manufacturer’s agent at the time of his marriage and, by 1908, ran a business providing mill supplies.
Paton continued to serve as an ambassador of sport in Montréal, tirelessly promoting a variety of amateur sports. He served on the executive of several sporting associations, including a period as president of the Montreal Snow Shoe Club, the famous Tuques Bleues. Aside from his involvement in snowshoeing, Paton also served as vice-president of the Canadian Amateur Skating Association and as president of the Montreal Curling Club, the oldest active sporting association in North America.
Paton’s activism and volunteerism was not only confined to the world of sport. He was also the chair of the charitable committee of the St Andrew’s Society, an organization dedicated to celebrating Scottish heritage in Canada.
In 1907, Paton became seriously ill and, according to the Montreal Gazette, never fully recovered. Two years later, on 10 February 1909, he passed away suddenly at the age of 54. Paton had travelled to his summer home at Lakeside for a respite, but went into cardiac arrest and died soon after arriving. He was survived by his wife, who had been at the Montreal Curling Club rink at the time of his death. Paton was interred at Mount Royal Cemetery with his son Thomas, who died in 1901 as an infant.
On 11 February 1909, the Montreal Gazette informed its readers that Paton had died: a “prominent patron and devotee of amateur sport… he was a man who had an army of friends and no enemies. He was never other than a genial man with charitable instincts.” An obituary also appeared in The Globe, a Toronto newspaper, which called Paton “one of Montreal’s best known sportsmen.” Interestingly, neither the Gazette nor The Globe mentioned his Stanley Cup victory, while only the Gazette mentioned his prowess as a hockey player. Both publications mentioned his skills on the lacrosse field, with The Globe reporting that “in his younger days he was a prominent lacrosse player.” This is perhaps not surprising, as lacrosse was still considered by many to be the national sport; hockey and the Stanley Cup had not yet attained the dominance they now enjoy in the national consciousness.
In the wake of his death, the MAAA honoured their founding member by creating the Thomas L. Paton trophy, which was awarded annually by the association in a physical fitness competition.
Although few Canadians know the story of Tom Paton, his contribution to Canadian sport was considerable. In addition to his achievements on the lacrosse field and on the ice, his commitment to amateur athletics in Montréal had wider significance, given the city’s leading role in the development of organized sport. Paton’s story is particularly important to the history of hockey, which would later become Canada’s official winter sport. According to some hockey historians, it was Paton who introduced hockey to Toronto, helping transform the sport from what was merely a game to a national pastime. And, of course, while many goaltenders have won the Stanley Cup since 1893, only Paton can lay claim to be the first.