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Chocolate and basketball

4:00 PM, Friday 27 May 2022 (20 minutes)

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian, at the International YMCA College in Massachusetts.  As a student, Lyman Archibald (a native of Nova Scotia) played on this first basketball team. Soonafter, Archibald moved to St. Stephen, New Brunswick to oversee the town’s YMCA. He introduced the new sport, and the first game in Canada was played here on October 17, 1893. Undoubtedly, the participants who lodged a leather ball into peach baskets that day would have never conceived of the popularity and worldwide economic value the sport would one day achieve.

The events of that day in St. Stephen would be clouded over by the passing years and the obsolescence of the gym space, as the YMCA left the two-story brick building on the town’s main street. As years passed, the history of the building and its sporting lineage was all but forgotten until a post-fire cleanup in 2010 uncovered the original gym floor. After some initial research, it was determined without any doubt that this humble Victorian commercial building that now housed a second-hand shop boasted the world’s oldest basketball court (its few predecessors had succumbed to fire or demolition, making the St. Stephen building the holder of the title).

A local citizen-led group led by 4th-generation St. Stephen chocolate maker David Ganong has recently purchased the building and is pursuing a full restoration of the court and former YMCA spaces. While caring for the original, a contemporary connecting wing will house an immersive and interactive centre where visitors can experience the history and excitement of the sport as well as house a portion of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame.

The owners and project drivers have engaged me as an architectural and heritage advisor, along with an historic building engineering specialist. This paper will uncover this fortuitous discovery, along with the careful building evaluation steps, the best practices in choosing what elements are to remain or be modernized, and how this building can reinvigorate a town’s self-image, sense of place, and its connection to international sport.

Curator - Beaverbrook Art Gallery
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