Hockey and Olympic History

Last week, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced that they had reached an agreement with the International Olympic Committee to confirm the participation of NHL players at the Beijing Winter Olympics this coming February. COVID may have the final word on that, and you can certainly argue whether or not Canadians — or anyone — should be participating at all, given the continued incarceration of the two Michaels. (But is it right to use athletes for diplomatic purposes? Would China even listen?)

Hockey, as you may know, has been a part of the Olympics since before there were the Winter Games. The Winter Olympics began in Chamonix, France, in 1924, but hockey (and figure skating) had been part of the competition four years earlier when a spring sports festival was held in April of 1920 as part of the Olympic Games held later that summer in Antwerp, Belgium.

I’ve written about the 1920 Olympics, and Canada’s first Olympic hockey team — the Winnipeg Falcons — on my web site before (on February 21, 2018 and on February 3, 2015). Still, I thought I’d use the NHL’s announcement as a chance to determine exactly when the decision was made to include hockey at Antwerp in 1920.

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics logo and a 1924 Winter Olympics poster.

As I discovered in 2018, Antwerp had bid to host the 1920 Olympics back in 1912, but no decision was reached before the outbreak of World War I. Shortly after the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the IOC offered Antwerp the first choice to hold the Games in 1920 if the Belgians still wanted to do so. The move was seen as a way to honour the suffering of the Belgian people during the War.

Apparently, the Belgian Athletic Federation met on March 15, 1919, to discuss hosting the Olympics. It was decided to go ahead … provided the Games could be postponed until 1921. Stockholm (which had hosted in 1912) and Havana were said to be interested in hosting in 1920, and a few days later, reports would indicate that Rome, and perhaps Geneva, were also in contention. (Online sources say Amsterdam, Lyon, Atlanta, Budapest, Cleveland, and Philadelphia were in the running too.) But by April 3, 1919, it appears that Antwerp was good to go for 1920 and the city was confirmed as the Olympic host (as reported in newspapers the following day).

I also knew from previous research that the official program and schedule for the Antwerp Olympics was announced on December 16, 1919. Hockey was included for April, 1920. (Figure skating would be added later.) Still, I reasoned that couldn’t actually be the first time that anyone knew there was going to be a hockey tournament at the Olympics. But I never found an earlier date because … well … I got distracted!

I got distracted because I discovered that on Friday, December 26, 1919, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, entered a bid to host the 1924 Summer Olympics. This would appear to make Halifax the first Canadian city to go after the Olympics, well before Montreal landed the Summer Games of 1976 and even before that city had bid back in 1929 to host the Winter Games of 1932.

New York Tribune, December 28, 1919, and the Calgary Herald, January 15, 1920.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any Halifax newspapers with archives that are searchable online, but various other newspapers across Canada and the United States confirm the “Blue Nose” bid in the following days. The New York Tribune on Sunday, December 28, 1919, and The Globe in Toronto on December 29 note that the Halifax Olympic bid “follows the decision reached at a provincial convention in this city early in the month.” And, apparently, Halifax also wanted to host an International Exposition (World’s Fair) in 1924 — long before Montreal hosted Expo in 1967.

Both the Olympic and World’s Fair bids would be confirmed on January 14, 1920. “That all facilities required for the Olympic games, to be held at Halifax in 1924, will be provided, is the guarantee which the executive board of the International Exposition for Nova Scotia has cabled to the authorities in Europe…” reported the Calgary Herald the next day.

Yet by March of 1920, it was apparent that not all was well:

Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 11. – Halifax business men who are interested in the proposal to try to obtain the 1924 Olympic games for this city, are conducting a preliminary canvass to determine the best means of meeting the housing problem. Unless conditions are greatly improved, it is hardly possible that Halifax will be selected, newspapers have pointed out. It is claimed that the present facilities would hardly provide quarters for 8,000 visitors, whereas it is estimated that 100,000 would have to be accommodated if the Olympiad were awarded to the Maritime city. One plan under discussion is to provide great temporary dormitories around the city to supplement the buildings and hotels which are being planned for construction before 1924.

That story appeared in The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) on March 11, 1920.

It’s the last story I’ve found about Halifax and the 1924 Olympics.

Obviously, Halifax didn’t win the bid. In the end, the city wasn’t even in the running when Paris was chosen.

It was stated for a while that the host for the 1924 Summer Olympics would be selected at the 1920 Antwerp Games. Instead, the decision was put off until a meeting of the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, on June 3, 1921. By then, Paris had emerged as the favourite in a competition that also included Amsterdam (who would instead be awarded the 1928 Games), Barcelona, Los Angeles (1932), Prague, and Rome.

Paris, which had first hosted the Olympics in 1904, will host for the third time in 2024, with Los Angeles getting its third in 2028 (L.A. also hosted in 1984) followed by Brisbane, Australia, in 2032. After the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, next up will be the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026. The host city for the 2030 Winter Olympics is expected to be announced in 2023. Vancouver and Quebec City are said to be among the cities considering bids.

8 thoughts on “Hockey and Olympic History

  1. So interesting – again supported by outstanding period graphics and print ephemera.

    While I really enjoy the Olympic hockey tournament when the world’s best are playing – I’m not so sure Canada or the NHL should be competing when the two Michaels are rotting in Chinese jails.

  2. A little off subject but since you mention Halifax, I can’t recommend a read more than THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION, by John U. Bacon. I could not put the book down.

    A side note: the folks of Nova Scotia send a Christmas tree to Boston every November in thanks for the help that the city of Boston sent to Halifax after the explosion.

    Back to the Olympics and the NHL players, as a paying customer and fan of the Bruins, I always wonder what great benefit the League enjoys by closing shop for three weeks at the height of the season when the interest is beginning to peak. Move the games to the summer when the season is over. Basketball, a so called “winter sport” plays their Olympic Games in the summer. Why can’t we do the same? I know there are a hundred reasons but I am allowed to dream.

    I would not be surprised if the Chinese government retaliated against the league regarding sponsorship money if the NHL refused to participate. I know the Bruins receive sponsorship money from a Chinese packing company.

  3. Eric,
    I have never been a great follower of “International Hockey” (Olympics, etc.)
    But your historical essay of those early days was a revelation to me. You dig out info that no one else seems to spy.
    Great blog!

  4. With the cost, especially security, the Games are beyond Canada’s budget. We have Covid costs to pay for. True, the Olympics do offer politicos a photo op with athletes and some DOM can stand next to scantily clad female competitors, but how does that help the rest of us?
    The real reason Halifax failed in its bid was that it wanted the games to revert to the way they were originally staged in Ancient Greece. Men only as viewers. All athletes wearing what they wore at birth.
    The vote was close, but modesty won out.
    On a real note: the two Michaels travesty, the slaughter and sterilization of the Muslem minority group, the suppression of Hong Kong and China’s total disdain of human rights we should not take part. We will and the excuse is politics has no place in sport. A sham excuse. And the IOC didn’t want even a minute of silence after the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes. What the IOC likes is the kickbacks from governments and the “gift packages” and other perks they receive. And some of those who represent the IOC in some countries should be barred from entering Canada as we do other criminal elements.
    Conrad Black being the notable exception.
    Great research.
    Hard to boo Austin Matthews at Olympics then cheer when he is a Leaf. Schizophrenia?

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