by Bruce Cherney (part 1)
In the 1936 Winter Olympics, Canada finished first and second in men’s hockey. At least that was the observation of P.J. Mulqueen, the chairman of the Olympic Committee of the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. Mulqueen made the statement after stepping off the liner Montclare at Halifax Harbour on March 2, 1936, on his way home to Toronto following the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Mulqueen’s comment came on the heels of what was one of the most controversial hockey tournaments in Olympic history. What was so strange about the tournament was that “hockey powerhouse” Great Britain won the gold medal — the first and only time that the island nation would claim hockey supremacy at the Olympics.
Even before Olympic hockey got underway, it was acknowledged by pundits of the games that Canada and the U.S. would advance to the final round, with Germany, Sweden or Switzerland also having a chance to qualify for the finals. But none of the “experts” picked Great Britain to contest for a medal.
How did it happen when Canada was the heavy favourite to claim the gold medal? Canada had won every Olympic gold medal contested for hockey, starting with the Winnipeg Falcons in 1920 (although the Antwerp Olympics that year were a summer games, hockey was an official medal sport — the first Winter Olympics were held four year later), prior to the 1936 Winter Games in Germany.
Well, the British side was filled with ringers from Canada. The majority of the 13-member squad learned to play in Canada. All except for two — who were born in Canada, but held British passports — were born in Britain (Phil Drackett, Vendetta on Ice, Ice Hockey World, Norwich, 1992).
And among the Canadians were two players from Winnipeg who played a decisive role in the British victory, especially 30-year-old goaltender Jimmy Foster. The other ringer from Winnipeg was Alex Archer, a high-scoring forward.
Starting in 1935-36, the seven teams in the top flight of British hockey began actively recruiting players from Canada. Newspapers reported that some 30 players from Canada were playing in the British league.
A Canadian Press (CP) reporter wrote on February 12, 1936, that the players born in Britain, but raised in Canada, were like other Canadian children, since “they substituted a puck or a hockey stick for a teething ring.”
Another CP article on February 18, 1936, reported that: “It was Foster who won the hockey championship for England, who took the title away from his own Canada for the first time in history. It was he who directly brought about the most amazing upset of these games.”
According to the same report: “Jimmy Foster, who used to work in the Canadian Pacific Railway shops in Winnipeg, played his first hockey on this side of the Atlantic ... Although he was born in England, Jimmy was brought up and played goal in Winnipeg.”
Foster was actually born in Glasgow, Scotland, in September 1905. At the age of six, he and his family moved to Winnipeg, where he fell in love with the great Canadian game. He went on to star in the Winnipeg Junior Hockey League, with the Elmwood Millionaires and on the University of Manitoba hockey team, before moving to Moncton in 1931.
Even the Manchester Guardian on February 18 acknowledged the British only won because they used Canadian hockey players.
“Hence it is unfair to speak of a triumph of British ice hockey. Canada lost the title under its own name but won it under Britain,” according to the British newspaper.
Great Britain’s use of the two Canadian hockey stars to win the gold medal was against the existing International Hockey Federation (IHF) rules, although the British believed they had found a loophole that permitted their Canadians to play in the Olympics.
On February 6, E.A. Gilroy, the president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), who was from Portage la Prairie, urged the IHF to suspend Foster and Archer (CP February 6, 1936), both of whom had already been ruled ineligible to play for Britain by the CAHA. In total, the CAHA had suspended 20 Canadian players then playing in England. Canadians Gordon Dailley and John Gerald Davey, who played for Britain at the Olympics, had also been suspended by the CAHA.
According to the CAHA regulation passed a year earlier, a player leaving Canada to play hockey had to apply for a transfer to maintain his good standing, otherwise he was automatically suspended. Gilroy and the Canadian contingent asked the IHF to rule on the validity of the CAHA requirement and its application to international hockey.
In Canada’s favour was the support of other countries competing in hockey at the Winter Olympics, as well as the vast majority of the IHF membership.
The CAHA informed the IHF that Foster and Archer had “suspended themselves” by failing to apply for a transfer.
Foster went to England in the fall to play for the Richmond Hawks, while Archer left Canada to play for the Wembley Lions. Foster had last played in Canada for the Moncton Hawks, which won the Allan Cup, the top trophy for Canadian amateur hockey, in 1933 and 1934.
(Next week: part 2)