Charles Joseph Sylvanus “Syl” Apps made his Olympic debut at Berlin 1936 finishing sixth in the pole vault and setting a personal best of 4.00 metres. Prior to Berlin 1936, Apps won pole vault gold at the 1934 British Empire Games in England, and then lead the McMaster Marauders to the Canadian intercollegiate football championships, winning the Vanier Trophy.
Being an Olympian almost didn’t happen for Apps. In 1935, Conn Smythe, the then principal owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL), saw what a talented athlete Apps was while playing collegiate football at McMaster University and offered him a contract to play hockey. Apps turned down the offer initially so that he could remain an amateur athlete and compete in the Olympic Games.
It was in the sport of hockey where Apps became a legend in Canada. Following Berlin 1936, Apps accepted the contract previously offered by Smythe and joined the Toronto Maple Leafs where he was an immediate success winning the NHL’s first ever rookie of the year Calder Trophy in 1937.
By 1941, Apps was captain of the Maple Leafs – a position he would hold his entire hockey career. In the 1942 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Leafs were down to the Detroit Red Wings three games to none. Apps had yet to record a point. The Leafs came back to win the next four games, in what still remains, the greatest comeback in NHL history with Apps recording seven points going on to finish the post season as the Leafs top scorer. Following that season Apps joined the Army, with most of his teammates following suit.
An excellent skater and stick handler, Apps, who wore jersey #10, spent his entire hockey career from 1936-48 in Toronto, winning three Stanley Cups, racking up 201 goals, and winning the 1942 Lady Byng Trophy awarded to the player who “exhibits the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” The NHL named Apps as one of the “100 Greatest Players” to ever play in the league as part of the league’s centennial celebrations in 2017.
At the age of 33, and at the top of his game, Apps retired from hockey taking a marketing job at Simpson’s department store. He became a politician, a member of the Ontario Legislature, and then a member of the Canadian cabinet serving as Minister of Correctional Services from 1971-74 (ironically as a hockey player, he only served 56 minutes in the penalty box).
Several institutions in Ontario are named in his honour, including the Syl and Molly Apps Research Centre in Kingston, the Syl Apps Youth Centre in Oakville, and the Syl Apps Community Centre in Paris. In 1998, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame created the Syl Apps Award given to Ontario’s Athlete of the Year. In 2001, Canada Post included Apps in a series of NHL All-Star 47-cent postage stamps.
Apps legacy extends beyond his own career. Two more Apps generations excelled in sport, including his son Syl Apps Jr., who played in the NHL and was named the 1975 NHL All-Star Game MVP. His granddaughter, Gillian Apps, is a three-time Olympic champion representing Canada in women’s ice hockey at Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2010. His grandson, Syl Apps III played hockey at Princeton University with a stint in the minor leagues, and grandson Darren Barber won Olympic gold with Canada’s men’s eight rowing crew at Barcelona 1992.
Apps was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and Olympic Hall of Fame in 1975, and made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1977.
Apps died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 83.
|1936 Berlin||Athletics||Pole Vault - Men||6th|