This week we hit the Dirty Thirties in Olympic.ca’s look back at the last 150 years of Canadian sport.
If you want to revisit any of the key moments from the decades that came before, you can find all of them here.
The 1930s may have been dominated by the Great Depression, which did impact attendance at both Olympic Games in 1932, but there were still plenty of bright lights when it came to Canadian sporting accomplishments.
1930 – Hamilton Hosts Inaugural British Empire Games
Now known as the Commonwealth Games, the first incarnation in Hamilton, Ontario featured 11 countries represented by 400 athletes. Joining Canada were Australia, Bermuda, British Guyana, England, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales. They competed in seven sports: athletics, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming, diving, and wrestling. Canada won 54 medals, second only to England’s 61. Among the Canadian medallists was sprinter Percy Williams who won 100 yard gold two years after his double Olympic triumph in Amsterdam. The total cost for the Games was just under $100,000.
1932 – Canada Wins Winter Olympic Medals Other Than Hockey
At the first two editions of the Olympic Winter Games, Canada only won one medal at each – a gold medal in ice hockey. But things were vastly different at Lake Placid 1932. Yes, there was a third straight hockey gold. But there were also five speed skating medals and one in figure skating, making it Canada’s most successful Winter Games until Albertville 1992. Alex Hurd and Willy Logan were both double medallists, with Hurd winning 500m bronze and 1500m silver. He shared the podium with Logan in the latter who won that bronze in addition to his 5000m bronze. Frank Stack added a bronze in the 10,000m. Canada’s first figure skating medallist was Montgomery Wilson who captured bronze in men’s singles.
1932 – Canada’s First Indigenous Olympic Champion
Aside from being one of Canada’s earliest First Nations Olympians, Kenneth Moore is the country’s first indigenous athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. At Lake Placid 1932 he was a member of the Winnipeg Hockey Club that won gold. Moore only played in one game, a 10-0 win over Poland in the round robin in which he scored one of the goals.
1932 – Double Shot of Triple Olympic Medallists
Phil Edwards and Alex Wilson were Canada’s leaders on the track at Los Angeles 1932, securing five medals between them to becomes the country’s first ever triple medallists at a single Olympic Games. After they stood together as bronze medal-winning teammates in the 4x400m relay, they also shared the podium in the 800m as Wilson took silver and Edwards claimed bronze. Edwards took another bronze in the 1500m while Wilson added his own bronze in the 400m.
1932 – Canada’s Last Field Event Olympic Champion for 84 years
When Duncan McNaughton captured high jump gold at Los Angeles 1932, he couldn’t know that no Canadian athlete would win Olympic gold in a field event again until Rio 2016 when Derek Drouin also won the high jump. McNaughton hadn’t competed at the national trials, but was already living in Los Angeles where he was studying at USC. Named to the team anyways, he ended up in a four-way tie for first place. In the tiebreaker, none of the men could clear either of the heights but McNaughton was able to clear 1.97m, which gave him the gold medal over his close friend and training mate Robert Van Osdel of the United States. When McNaughton had his medal stolen the next year, Van Osdel, now a dentist, used his own silver medal to make a mold and create a replica gold for McNaughton.
1936 – Phil Edwards, Man of Bronze
Phil Edwards holds a unique position in Olympic history as the only athlete to win five bronze medals in track and field and no other medals. Over the course of three Games, from Amsterdam 1928 to Berlin 1936, Edwards won two bronze as part of the 4x400m relay, two in the 800m and one in the 1500m. In winning his final bronze in Berlin, he became Canada’s most decorated Olympian, a record he held until the 21st century when his five medal total was finally matched and then surpassed. He remains tied as Canada’s most decorated summer Olympian with rowing coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie. Edwards efforts resulted in him being named the first ever recipient of the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete in 1936.
1936 – Canada’s First and Only Olympic Basketball Medal
With Canadian inventor James Naismith in attendance, basketball made its Olympic debut at Berlin 1936 with a men’s tournament. Canada advanced to the final on the strength of five wins, with 170 points scored and just 85 given up. But the gold medal game against the United States was held under less than ideal circumstances. Unfamiliar with basketball, the German hosts had placed the venue outdoors on sand and clay courts on the Reichssportfeld. Heavy rain during the final turned the courts to mud, severely limiting mobility, which led to a low-scoring affair, won 19-8 by the Americans. The silver remains Canada’s only Olympic medal in basketball and was the country’s last medal in any summer Olympic team sport until 2012.
1936 – Canadians Succeed in Olympic Debut of Canoeing
The Olympic debut of canoe and kayak at Berlin 1936 included three medals for Canada. Frank Amyot won gold in the C-1 1000m while Frank Saker and Harvey Charters were double medallists with silver in the C-2 10,000m and bronze in the C-2 1000m. While the “C” in the names of those events can stand for “canoe”, in many parts of the world it still refers to “Canadian”, which is how they differentiate the boat propelled by a single-bladed paddle from the kayak which uses a double-bladed paddle while keeping both under the umbrella of canoeing. That led to a great photo caption of Amyot in the Official Report for Berlin 1936 which reads “Canada wins the Canadian race!”.