With the Romanesque Revival architecture of the Old Post Office in Almonte as a backdrop, is a larger-than-life bronze statue of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Naismith was born in 1861 on a farm on the outskirts of a thriving mill town in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Naismith began his formal education in a one-room schoolhouse in Bennie’s Corners. He was an average student, being far more interested in exploring the fields, meadows, creeks, and woodlands surrounding his childhood home. Apart from the mandatory chores on the farm, he enjoyed vigorous physical activity like swimming and ice skating. He reputedly built his own skates using pieces of wood and metal files.
Upon graduating from Almonte High School, Naismith enrolled in McGill University in Montreal, where he excelled in various disciplines of sport and earned a bachelors degree in Physical Education. It was while he was a faculty member in Springfield, Massachusetts, that he devised the game of basketball. The first game was played in 1891 using a soccer ball and half-bushel peach baskets as targets. There were 13 rules in the original rulebook.
The game soon grew in popularity, due in no small measure to the fact that it could be played indoors, right through the depths of the harsh New England winters. Moving to Kansas University in 1898, Naismith was appointed the official coach of the varsity basketball team. In 1904, the game was introduced as a demonstration sport in the Summer Olympics of St Louis. It became an Olympic sport in 1936. A 74-year-old Naismith traveled to Berlin to award the medals to the winning teams: gold to the U.S., silver to Canada, and bronze to Mexico.
In 2011, a statue to honor Almonte’s hometown hero was installed in a quaint little square, more than a century after the first game of basketball was played.
Know Before You Go
Set back from the highway, on the edge of the amalgamated town of Mississippi Mills, is the childhood home of Dr. James Naismith. A characterful house, set in farmland, the property has changed ownership many times over the years. Designated as a heritage property by the Ontario Heritage Trust, today it serves as a bed and breakfast.