GATINEAU, Quebec – Mark Presley lets his mind wander, imagining William Moffatt playing hockey on a small Nova Scotia lake almost 200 years ago.
Moffatt, nicknamed "Dilly" and born in 1829, is believed to have been the original owner of what the Canadian Museum of History says is the world's oldest known hockey stick.
The son of Loyalist shipbuilders who settled on the shores of Pottle Lake, Dilly would have been less than 10 years old when the stick was fashioned from a single tree branch. He took ownership of the short-handled stick by carving his initials into its long blade.
Now the stick sits in a protective case, awaiting its unveiling when the Canadian Museum of Civilization is officially reopened as the Museum of History on Canada Day in 2017.
Presley was fascinated by the stick when he found it in a barber shop in 2008 in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. His fascination was such that he paid $1,000 for it.
"In terms of historical significance, it's just scintillating stuff," Presley said as he and the museum showed off the artifact Friday. "It's really exciting."
With the help of experts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, it was determined the tree branch was cut in Cape Breton in the mid-to-late 1830s.
Until the age of the Moffatt stick was determined, the oldest known was the so-called Rutherford hockey stick. Shaped by Alexander Rutherford in about 1852, it sold on eBay in 2001 for $2.2 million.
Through its donor-supported National Collection Fund, the museum recently purchased the Moffat stick from Presley for $300,000.
Worth every penny, said Mark O'Neill, museum president and CEO.
"Hockey is Canada's game," he said. "We developed it and we cherish it like no other country in the world."
The Moffatt family held onto the stick until it was given to the barber shop in the early 1980s, where it sat on display until Presley bought it. Presley then went on a quest, passionately researching the stick's history, its age and the multigenerational story behind it.
Charlie Moffatt, then 92, told Presley how his grandfather played hockey on Pottle Lake as a boy. Over the last few years, the stick has undergone numerous scientific analyses, said museum historian Jennifer Anderson.
"It is the earliest known hockey stick, or hurley stick, that we have yet to identify," she said.
But young Dilly wasn't playing hockey alone, she added.
"So we may yet come across others," she said. But "this is the oldest one known to anyone ... by about 25 or 30 years."