Canada at the 1936 Olympic Winter Games

The 1936 Olympic Winter Games were held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, from 6 to 16 February 1936. Canada sent 29 athletes (22 men, 7 women) and placed ninth in the overall medal count with one silver medal. For the first time at the Olympic Winter Games, Canada did not win the gold medal in ice hockey. It was a controversial result, with the Port Arthur Bear Cats finishing second to a British team that included several Canadian players. The 1936 Olympic Winter Games were themselves contentious, given the anti-Semitic policies of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. Left-wing and Jewish groups in Canada and other countries proposed a boycott of the Games but were unsuccessful.

Canadian Olympic Hockey Team, 1936
Canada's men's hockey team, represented by the Port Arthur Bear Cats, participates at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics, earning the silver medal.

The Nazi Games

In 1931, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1936 Olympic Winter and Summer Games to Germany, marking the country’s return to the international community after the First World War. (At the time, the Summer and Winter Games were held in the same year, and the host of the Summer Games had the right to organize the Winter Games as well.) However, the liberal democratic Weimar Republic collapsed soon after, and by 1933 Germany was led by Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Worker’s Party, or Nazi Party.

In 1935, the German government passed the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped German Jews of their citizenship. Various left-wing and Jewish groups urged Canada (and other countries) to boycott the 1936 Games but were unsuccessful. Despite public protests and letter-writing campaigns, the Canadian Olympic Committee spent little time discussing the proposed boycott. In total, 28 countries and 646 athletes participated in the Olympic Winter Games, which were held in the Bavarian resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, near Austria.

The Games were an exercise in public relations for Nazi Germany. According to Matthew Halton of the Toronto Daily Star, who attended the Games, Germany’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels “instructed all Nazi orators to take a rest until after the Olympics.” All anti-Semitic signage around Garmisch-Partenkirchen was removed, and the town council delayed an order to expel all Jews from the area. Participants and spectators were impressed with the beautiful scenery, world-class venues and warm welcome from their German hosts. It was the first Winter Games at which the Olympic flame burned and the first covered by official film and radio reporters. It was also well attended, with some 500,000 spectators bused to events on the final day alone. Press coverage of the Games was mostly positive (with the exception of the Star’s Matthew Halton), despite the fact that only months before, Canadian newspapers had published articles critical of the Nuremberg Laws and anti-Jewish riots in Germany.

A young man on a motorcycle looks up at a sign posted on a telephone pole that reads, \u201cJews are not welcomed here,\u201d Germany, circa 1935.

Although at least one Canadian athlete (skier Lukin Robinson) declined to participate in the Games on ideological grounds, many seemed — at best — to be unaware of the wider context or implications of the Games. This was evident in the opening ceremonies, during which member nations marched past Olympic and German dignitaries accompanied by 400-piece marching bands. When Canadians gave the traditional Olympic salute to Hitler and other officials, with arms stretched out straight to the side, the crowd mistook it for the Nazi salute and cheered. The same happened at the Olympic Summer Games in Berlin later that year. A photograph from the Games also shows members of the Canadian figure skating team requesting autographs from Hitler and Goebbels.

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels sign autographs for members of the Canadian figure skating team at the 1936 Winter Games.

The general impression among Canadian athletes seems to have been positive. As one figure skater remarked to Matthew Halton, he could no longer believe the negative reports the journalist had written about Nazi Germany, as “no people as courteous as these could persecute Jews or militarize a whole country.”

Controversy Over Eligibility

The 1936 Olympic Winter Games marked the beginning of a decades-long dispute about where to draw the line between eligible amateurs and professionals. Although it was the first Olympic Winter Games to include alpine events, the Austrians and Swiss boycotted these events after their best skiers (who earned their living as ski instructors) were disqualified for being professionals.

Port Arthur Bear Cats, 1936 Olympic Games
Canada's men's hockey team, represented by the Port Arthur Bear Cats, compete in hockey action against the United States at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics. Canada won the silver medal in the event.
Port Arthur Bear Cats, 1936 Olympic Games
Canada's men's hockey team at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics.

Canada won only one medal at the 1936 Winter Games and for the first time failed to bring home a gold medal in ice hockey. Canada had some difficulty mustering a hockey team because most of the Allan Cup champion Halifax Wolves had turned professional. The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) organizers decided to send the runner-up Port Arthur Bear Cats instead. Canada also protested the inclusion of two Canadian players, goalie James Foster and forward Alex Archer, on the British team, since both played for British clubs and could therefore be considered professional athletes. Great Britain already had many players who had been born in Britain but had learned the game in Canada. The protest was withdrawn partway through the Games. The Canadians would regret this magnanimity when Foster helped defeat the Canadians 2–1 in the second round (Foster allowed only three goals in seven games during the tournament). The Bear Cats were denied the opportunity to avenge the loss, since tournament rules stipulated that victories against an opponent carried over into the final round. Thus, Canada’s loss to Great Britain in the second round gave the British the gold medal. Outraged Canadian officials claimed that the rules had been changed during the Games, and Canadian Olympic Committee chairman P.J. Mulqueen called it “one of the worst manipulations in sporting history.”

Montgomery Wilson
Canada's Montgomery Wilson competes in the figure skating event towards a bronze medal at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics.

Canada just missed a medal in figure skating when Montgomery Wilson, who won bronze at the 1932 Games, finished in fourth place in the men’s competition. Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn finished sixth in pairs skating but received a wide range of rankings from the judges, from third (Sweden) and fourth (Norway) place on the one end to 13th (Austria) and 14th (Germany) on the other.

Canadian Skiers, 1936 Olympic Winter Games
Canadian skiers at the 1936 Olympic Winter Gmaes in Garmisch-Partenkirchen: Harry Pangman, Bud Clark, Tom Mobraaten, Karl Baadsvik, Norman Gagne, William Ball.

The Canadian team struggled in other events, with injuries and illness affecting many skiers, including three of four female competitors. In the new alpine combined skiing event, Lois Butler was the highest-placed Canadian woman, finishing 15th. Her teammate, Diana Gordon-Lennox, who had broken two bones in her hand, struck a brave pose as she skied the alpine course with one arm in a cast and only one pole, finishing in 29th place. Gordon-Lennox, who spoke German and wore a monocle while skiing, was a popular athlete at the Games.

Diana Gordon-Lennox
Canada's Diana Gordon-Lennox participates in alpine skiing event at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympic Winter Games.

The highest finish for a male Canadian skier was a 14th place in ski jumping by Tormod Mobraaten. Canada’s only speed skater, Thomas White, competed in all four events, but his best result was 21st in the 10,000 m race.

Canadian Team: 29 athletes (22 men, 7 women)
Canada's Rank (Overall Medal Count): 9th (1 silver)

Canadian Medallists at the 1936 Olympic Winter Games

Port Arthur Bear Cats:
Arnold (Maxwell) Deacon
Ken Farmer
Hugh Farquharson
Norm Friday
Walter Kitchen
Raymond Milton
Dinty Moore
Herman Murray
W. Arthur (Jakie) Nash
David Neville
Gus Saxberg
Alexander Sinclair
Ralph St. Germain
William Thomson
Ice hockey (men) Silver

Further Reading

  • Richard Menkis and Harold Troper, More Than Just Games: Canada and the 1936 Olympics (2015).

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