The sports arena known as “The Dee” stands on the site of the old Amphidrome, where in 1903 professional hockey was born. The Amphidrome sadly burned down in 1927, but the new stadium quickly assumed the mantle, and the cherished game is still played here, on the shores of Portage Lake.
The story of how the players of the Portage Lake Hockey Club got paid to skate starts back in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, when Jack “Doc” Gibson and his team were expelled from the Ontario Hockey Association for accepting cash—$10 gold coins to be exact—a sin in the eyes of the staunchly amateur league.
Gibson left Canada for the United States to set up a dental practice in Houghton, Michigan, and there he became the “Father of Professional Hockey.” He established the Portage Lake team, paid all the players, and staged two games against the semi-professional Montreal Wanderers in front of big crowds at the castle-like Amphidrome. The success of this early stab at professional hockey convinced Gibson that a league could be sustained here, and he set up the International Professional Hockey League.
The Portage Lake Hockey Club joined with teams from Pittsburgh, Calumet, and the two Sault Ste. Maries of Michigan and Ontario, but the IPHL would fold after the 1906-07 season. Other professional leagues across Canada and the U.S. started up in its wake, including the National Hockey Association (predecessor of today’s NHL), but none could claim the title of being the First.
The new Amphidrome, built in 1943, was named after James R. Dee, the operator of the Houghton Warehouse Company that built the original arena. Today the Dee has historical markers and exhibits about the early days, and is home to the local high school team, the Houghton Gremlins, as well as the Portage Lake Pioneers of the Great Lakes Hockey League.
Know Before You Go
Houghton is on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Dee is right on Portage Lake, along E. Lakeshore Drive. There is a regular schedule of games in season, as well as times for open skate and open hockey.