100 yr gold winnipeg falcons
A Golden Moment, presented by Molson
Andrew Podnieks
April 26, 2020
© Le studio du hockey

NOTE: This is an excerpt from Canada’s Olympic Hockey History.


The Falcon Hockey Club began playing in 1908 when the Viking and Athletic Clubs joined forces, but disbanded after only one season. In 1912, Hebbie Axford, Bill Fridfinnson, John Davidson and Harvey Benson reorganized the Falcons with a new group of young players, winning the Independent Intermediate League their first winter of competition.

The following year the team moved up to the more skilled, three-team Independent Senior League, playing Portage La Prairie and Selkirk, and winning the championship in just their second season. For 1915–16, they played in Division II of the Patriotic League, along with Winnipeg and Vics. The entire team then joined the army in 1916 and played hockey for the 223rd Battalion. When they returned from overseas they captured the championship for Western Canada the same season.

Incredibly, five members from the 1912 team helped the Falcons this Olympic year — Frank Fredrickson, Bobby and Harvey Benson, Wally Byron and Connie Johannesson (although Harry Benson didn't make the trip to Antwerp). With this superb nucleus, this mostly Icelandic–Canadian contingent played together for a number of years, developing a bond as teammates both on and off the ice and becoming one of the greatest early-era teams in Canadian amateur hockey history.

Rather than selecting an all-star team at the last minute, the Canadian Olympic Committee felt that the group of amateur players most deserving to represent Canada — and the team most likely to win — would be Canada's amateur titlists, the Allan Cup champions. To qualify for the Allan Cup finals, the Falcons whipped the Fort William Maple Leafs in Winnipeg by scores of 7–2 and 9–1 before carrying on to Toronto to play Varsity (the University of Toronto team) in a two-game total-goals series for amateur supremacy in Canada and the right to travel to Belgium as Canada's national hockey team.

Jaded Torontonians, who thought they had the best hockey players in the country, were treated to great "western" hockey. The result was that the Varsity team was hammered 8–3 on March 28 and 3–2 the following night before a stunned Hogtown crowd. The Falcons were Allan Cup champions and on their way to Belgium.

100 yr gold rink 1920
© IIHF Archives


Getting to the host city was a significant part of Olympic participation in the early days of the Games. The total cost of the voyage from Canada to Antwerp was estimated at $10,000, a colossal sum that was collected from Allan Cup receipts as well as from handsome donations from both the Manitoba government ($2,000) and the City of Winnipeg ($500).

After winning the Allan Cup, the Falcons carried on directly from Toronto to Ottawa and then to Montreal, where they were welcomed by William Northey, Allan Cup trustee, and members of the Montreal AAA (Amateur Athletic Association) team. The Falcons arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick on April 3, where they boarded the CPR steamship SS Melita two days later.

The voyage to Liverpool took a week and was reasonably uneventful, save for team captain Frank Fredrickson's falling out of his bunk and hurting his head. The ship's carpenter, meanwhile, carved two dozen hockey sticks from "rough" wood the team had obtained in Montreal; these were the only sticks the Falcons would be using in the Olympics! The players also met four pilots on deck who volunteered to fly the team on the last leg of their journey from London to Antwerp. Foul weather, however, eventually scuppered these plans, so the team left for Antwerp by ship from Dover to Ostend.


There were two equally influential reasons why hockey was finally made an Olympic event for the first time at these 1920 Summer Games. (The first official Olympic Winter Games were held in 1924.) One reason was that for the first time, the International Olympic Committee was able to secure commitments to compete from at least five European nations — Belgium, France, Switzerland, Sweden and the newly-created Czechoslovakia (Germany and Austria, because of their involvement in World War I, were not allowed to participate in these Games).

The second reason was that the managers of Antwerp's Le Palais de Glace arena refused to allow their building to be used for figure skating unless hockey were included in the package! Because these two technicalities took time to arrange, it was not until mid-January that the competing nations (the five Europeans, as well as Canada and the United States) were informed of the event's inclusion in the Olympics.

100 yr gold falcons
© winnipegfalcons.com


The rules of the Games called for seven-man hockey (the six modern positions as well as a rover) and games would be divided into two, twenty-minute halves separated by a ten-minute intermission. Tie games would go into overtime until a winner was decided. No substitutes were allowed, and if a man were injured, one from the other team had to come off the ice to even things up. This happened in the second half of Canada's game against Sweden when Connie Johannesson was injured. Both teams played six a side while he recovered from blocking a shot, and in the five minutes he was off Canada scored five goals.

Canadian rules of play were adopted for these Olympics, thanks entirely to the force of argument presented by William Hewitt (father of Foster), whose knowledge of hockey brought him instant respect in the international hockey community. In fact, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) was so impressed by Hewitt they gave him the honour of refereeing the first match in the history of Olympic hockey, Sweden versus Belgium.

Incredibly, there were four goal judges, two at each end, a group of timekeepers, and a penalty-timekeeper who took his place in the corner of the rink, isolated from his colleagues. Such was the success of Hewitt's competitive, yet gentlemanly, interpretation of the rules as a referee that, at IOC meetings during the course of the Games, the Committee decided to adopt Canadian rules of play for all future international competitions.

Hewitt described the goal nets at the Antwerp Ice Palace as more like "folded gates" than the nets used in Canada, and although painted the traditional red, they were secured to the ice only by short nails. The dimensions of the natural-ice rink were miniscule by Canadian standards, just 165 feet long by 58½ feet wide. The rink was obviously built to accommodate figure skating and ice dancing, not hockey. The boarding was panelled and painted white, making bounces irregular. During games, netting was hoisted all around the rink to protect fans.

Interestingly, chairs and tables were placed at one end and side of the rink so those patrons who wished to dine and drink while watching the hockey action — and listen to an orchestra which played ceaselessly from morning till dark — could do so comfortably (early outdoor luxury boxes, as it were!).

Before each game, the national anthems of the competing teams were played, and after the final bell, O Canada was played again to honour the winning team, the spectators standing in due respect.


Sartorially speaking, Team Canada players appeared in black and yellow uniforms with a large maple leaf sewn across the breast of the jersey. They were flummoxed by the appearance of two members of the French team, one who sported a long black beard, the other who was in his early forties and bald!

The Swedes came to the tournament familiar primarily with another form of hockey called bandy, a game which used short sticks like those in field hockey and a large rubber ball. They were delighted and bemused by the "flat" Canadian ball (puck). Bandy was played on ice, but players wore speed skates and the playing area was as large as a soccer field. Thus, the Swedes were elegant skaters, but had little ability to stop and start like the Canadians and even less experience in the art of body-checking.

Also, the Swedes dressed like soccer players, wearing virtually no upper-body padding, no shin guards and very crude hockey gloves. The goaltender wore what Hewitt described as "a cross between a blacksmith's apron and an aviator's coat." As far as their play was concerned, the Swedes improved immensely in their first few days in Antwerp, most notably in their ability to check and control the puck, by watching the Canadians practice. However, when Canada's Mike Goodman refused to sell the Swedes his skates after the tournament (all the Americans gladly turned a profit), they became certain Goodman had a motor concealed in the tube of his boot or blade somewhere! A month before leaving for Europe, Goodman had, in fact, won the North American speed-skating championship.

The Czechs, meanwhile, were dismissed by Hewitt out of hand: "They run on their skates with clumsy movements and use wrist shots, and their play is all individual," he noted. The Americans, with so many Canadians on their team (see below), were clearly the only other competition in the tournament.

100 yr gold falcons win
© winnipegfalcons.com


As this was the first time hockey had been included in competition at the Olympics, there arose a dispute, particularly between the Canadians and Americans, as to which players were eligible to play for which country. More specifically, Canadians felt on principle that the United States was not playing fair when the Americans submitted a team list that included no fewer than seven Canadian-born players.

However, the Belgian Olympic Committee ruled the list was acceptable, and again spelled out the rules for eligibility to enlighten those who might have been unsure:

Admission: Only amateur athletes to be admitted to the Olympic Games.

Necessary conditions for the representation of any given country: It is necessary to be a native of any given country or a naturalized citizen of same or of the sovereign power to which said nation forms a part.

Whoever has once taken part in the Olympic Games as a citizen of any given nation, cannot be admitted in any future Olympiad as a candidate for any other nation, even if he has been naturalized in that country save and excepting cases of conquest or the creation of fresh states duly ratified by treaty.

In case of naturalization, the naturalized subject must supply adequate proofs that he was an amateur in his native country up to the time of his change of nationality.


The Bergvall system of elimination was employed, a unique knockout format between the nations. Those countries that won their first game went on to compete for the gold medal; and those that lost games to the champion — Canada — played another knockout series for the silver; and, those who lost games to the silver medallists — the United States — went on to play for the bronze (France, owing to the luck of the draw, received a bye in the first playoffs and thus qualified right away for the gold medal round). In other words, the silver medal games couldn’t begin until after the gold medal had been won, and the bronze games couldn’t begin until after the silver had been decided!

Canada swamped Czechoslovakia, 15-0, and Sweden, 12-1, having only a little trouble with the Americans before winning, 2-0. Frank Fredrickson, who later became a star in the NHL, was hands down the best player on the ice, scoring 12 goals in the three Canadian games en route to gold. He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame later in life, and the only other player from this team to make it to the NHL was Slim Halderson, who played briefly with Toronto and Detroit. At the back end, goalie Wally Byron had barely a shot to face against the Europeans, being tested only against the American team.

100 yr gold parade
© winnipegfalcons.com


On the evening of April 27, after winning the gold medal the previous day, the Falcons were fêted royally as guests of the Canadian Pacific ocean service officers in Antwerp. Two nights later, the team received its medals, and after the ceremony Mike Goodman gave a performance of trick-skating during a hugely popular show by the figure skaters. The appreciative crowd demanded an encore from Goodman, and only Goodman.

After departing Antwerp, the players visited the battlefields of Belgium and France before carrying on to Paris, where Winnipeg Mayor Waugh was awaiting their arrival with a sumptuous banquet prepared in their honour. Frank Fredrickson and team coach Gordon Sigurjonsson left for Iceland, while the rest of the team set sail from Le Havre on May 5 aboard the SS Grampian. Their departure was something of a miracle as all seamen and dock workers were on strike. Le Havre was a madhouse, and the Grampian was the only vessel to leave as scheduled.

Ten days later, the Falcons reached Quebec City and went directly to Montreal and the next day to Toronto, where they were honoured non-stop for the balance of the day, beginning with lunch given by the Sportsmen's Patriotic Association.

Later, they were guests of the City of Toronto at the Royal York Hotel, where Mayor Tommy Church welcomed the team with open arms, gifts, stories and entertainment. Sheriff Paxton presented William Hewitt with a monocle to complete the team secretary's formal attire. After Jack Slack sang a few songs, Mayor Church invited everyone to a night of boxing. He reminded them that the first fight on the card was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. sharp, and they all proceeded to the Arena Gardens (Mutual Street Arena).

The final celebration, of course, awaited the team in their hometown. They reached Winnipeg on May 22 and were given a huge parade downtown leading to Wesley College field, where they were presented the Allan Cup. After the ceremonies, the team was given its final banquet of the season, at the Fort Garry Hotel before some 400 honoured guests. The World's Champions then settled down to enjoy a peaceful summer.