Canada's Sports Hall of Fame Canadian History and Society: Through the Lens of Sport Virtual Museum of Canada


Video Transcript

[Narrator, Warrant Officer Jody Marchuk in uniform]

There has always been a long and close connection between sports and the military, and with this connection are a number of richly, rewarding stories of some of Canada's bravest and inspiring servicemen and women.
One of the first servicemen to contribute to Canada was Percival Molson.

[Images of Percival Molson and First World War uniform, gun and medal bar].

The outstanding all-around athlete who had not only won the Stanley Cup in 1897, but also competed in the 440-yards event at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis. Molson was tragically killed not long after taking part in one of the most significant battles in Canadian military history, the battle for Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

[Footage of the First World War at Vimy Ridge]

Vimy was a symbolic moment for Canada because it was the first time Canadian Units had fought together as one cohesive corps. In recognition of Molson's heroic contributions to both Canadian sports and military, the University of McGill named their football stadium the Percival Molson Memorial Stadium.

Passchendaele was another of the symbolic battles in the First World War, well known for its horrendous conditions and senseless loss of life.

[Army barrage map 1917, with overlaid images from First World War of muddy fields and trenches]

In the fall of 1917, and after proving their worth at Vimy, the Canadian Expeditionary Forces were sent to Ypres in Belgium to support the struggling ANZAC and Allied Forces, and capture the strategically important village of Passchendaele. In such terrible conditions, communications between the platoons was extremely difficult and talented soldiers were required to leave the shelter and safety of the trenches in order to run to the other trenches and pass on vital messages and then run back to indicate the message have been received.

[Images of Alex Decoteau and his medals]

The exceptionally talented Cree endurance runner, Alex Decoteau, was chosen to be one of these runners. Sadly, Decoteau was killed by a sniper's bullet on October 30th four days into the bush. He was one of over 4,000 Canadian soldiers to die in the two weeks of fighting.

[Alex Decoteau - Born: November 19, 1887, Died: October 30, 1917].

By the outbreak of the Second World War only 20 years later, the everyday realities of war had drastically changed but the brutality of war was no different.

[Footage of the 1944 Tea Bowl Game]

As a direct need to boost morale, military commanders actively encouraged their soldiers to train and compete in sport whenever they could. One of the more popular sports was football and military teams were organized throughout the bases stationed across England, which resulted in the infamous Tea Bowl and Coffee Bowl football games played out between the Canadian and American militaries in front of huge English crowds in the early spring of 1944.

[Tea Bowl Feb. 14, 1944 Final Score Canada: 16, USA: 6]

One of the everyday realities in the Second World War that was different was the inclusion of women. The size of military commitment and organization was so enormous that large numbers of women were required to take on roles that have been traditionally the preserve of men.

[Images of CWAC uniform and CWAC logo]

The Canadian Women's Army Corps or CWAC were the first women, other than nurses, to make a significant contribution to the army alongside their male counterparts.

[Images of Winnie Roach-Leuszler after swimming]

One of these women was endurance swimmer Winnie Roach-Leuszler, who enlisted in the Canadian Womens Army Corps in 1944.

[Images of Conn Smythe in First World War uniform and Conn Smythe wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater]

Conn Smythe was another Canadian serviceman. Smythe had spent fourteen months in German Prisoner of War Camps in the First World War but by 1939 had become one of Canada's foremost sports leaders as the founder of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Team.

[Image of Conn Smythe in Second World War uniform and images of anti-aircraft shells]

So strong was his commitment to the war effort that he joined the Army again, but this time as a Major in charge of his own unit. Not only that, he formed his own anti-aircraft unit specifically out of sportsmen from Toronto, the Sportsmen's Battery in the 30th Battery Royal Canadian Artillery.

One athlete who also opted to give up what appeared to be a successful athletic career in order to serve with distinction, but this time in the Navy, was John Loaring.

[Image of John Loaring in Navy uniform]

[Footage of Hitler and competition at the 1936 Olympic Games]

In Hitler's Olympics in Berlin in 1936, an Olympic Games that was put on to show the world the might of Nazi Germany, Loaring was a naive, young, and inexperienced 400m hurdler who overcame so many odds that he not only finished with a silver medal but was also voted by the totalitarian German media as the toughest competitor of the entire Olympic Games.

[Images of : John Loaring in athletic uniform; John Loaring and two Canadian team mates at 1936 Olympic Games; 1936 participation medal from 1936 Berlin Olympic Games]

There was no question he would go on to be the next world athletic star but by 1939, war had broken out. Without hesitating, Loaring enlisted in the Navy where he served with great distinction.

It wasn't just the Army and Navy that were connected to Canadian sports but the Air Force too.

[Images of Daryl - "Doc" - Seaman in an airplane during Second World War and images of four of his war medals]

Daryl Seaman who was to bring professional ice hockey to the City of Calgary when he moved the Atlanta Flames, was a hero pilot in the Second World War.

[Image of Daryl Seaman and two colleagues standing outside of an aircraft.]

During the war, Seaman consistently displayed the strong leadership skills that were to drive his later career.
It shouldn't be forgotten that out of the brutality, horrors, and adversity of these wars came progress. As the war progressed, the British government anticipated the need for special unit for spinal injury casualties.

[Images of Dr. Ludwig Guttmann],

Doctor Ludwig Guttmann directed this unit at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital starting in 1944 which later became the National Spinal Injury Centre or NSIC. He realized that sport had the rich potential to help in the rehabilitation of the injured soldiers.

The first competition between disabled athletes was held on July 28th, 1948, and by 1960 these games have grown into the Paralympic Games.

[Images of Mark Fuchko holding Paralympic torch, with his father, in a kayak, riding a horse, playing ice sledge hockey and at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro]

The Soldier On program was formed in Canada in 2007 as a joint initiative of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the Department of National Defence and aims to use sport to improve the quality of life of current and former Canadian Forces personnel who have suffered major injuries and trauma. Mark Fuchko was injured in Afghanistan in 2008 resulting in his becoming as a double amputee. He credits the Soldier On program for helping him get back up on his feet by introducing him to different adaptive sports, such as sledge hockey. The program also provided a peer network not only for him, but for his family.

Previous Next