Monday, February 22, 2010

1948 Olympic Hockey Champions: RCAF FLYERS

THROWN TOGETHER at the last minute because Canada needed to field a team for the 1948 Olympics that were then being held in St Moritz, Switzerland.

But in pre-Olympic exhibition games, the RCAF Flyers hockey team was so badly thrashed, people were saying,

"And THIS is the hockey team Canada is sending to the Olympics? Pourquoi??

Well, actually, Canada was having a real problem fielding a team that met then new, and more stringent amateur guidelines set out for participants at the St. Moritz Olympic Games of 1948.

In fact, it started to look like NO Canadian team would be sent overseas for the Olympics. And that, almost made Squadron Leader A. Gardiner "Sandy" Watson lose his marbles.

Working out of RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa, Sandy immediately went to see his air force superiors. In those days the RCAF could solve anything, and often did.

Sandy convinced the "brass" that the Royal Canadian Air Force could field a good team, just by selecting the best players from RCAF Stations all over the country! Team membership would be based on an individual's current hockey stats. And this type of team formation, could all be done on a shoestring budget. That sounded good to Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Wilf Curtis, who had already been running the entire air force on a shoestring budget… because of our damnable federal government.

So Wilf gave the nod, and the Canadian Olympic hockey team of 1948, manned entirely by active airmen of the RCAF, was formed. Enter the RCAF FLYERS!.

This irregular Canadian team entry was most strange.

PREVIOUS Canadian Olympic team entries were Allan Cup, or senior league champions. You know, teams that had played together certainly for months, if not years. But the St. Moritz team's player roster was only finalized just hours before the RCAF Flyer's team's departure from New York aboard the the luxury ocean-liner, the Queen Mary.

Incidentally, this was the first time that the Royal Bank of Canada would be called upon and would answer the call to help sponsor a Canadian Olympic team to compete at the Olympics. RBC paid for the hockey team's Queen Mary ocean-liner voyage overseas. And the RBC have been helping to sponsor Canadian Olympians ever since, including the current Canadian Olympic team. But helping the RCAF Flyers was their first such Olympic venture…

HOWEVER, once the RCAF Flyers arrived in Europe, those "boys"… were on their own!

Remember those were the days of zero funding for Canadian Olympians, and it ain't a whole lot better now! But I digress…

So the RCAF Flyers soldiered on, and paid their own way.

The team began playing in exhibition games (and singing!) all across Europe… to raise money to eat, and to put a temporary roof over their heads, all the while, practising for the big day…

And their initial lacklustre progress was watched, and publicly ridiculed, back home.

But then the RCAF flyers hit the ice in St Moritz…

And Canadians weren't laughing now. Seems those RCAF Flyers just kept winning. Not whining, like Canadians do now.

And when the RCAF Flyers wrapped up by defeating the Russian Team to claim Olympic Gold for Canada, a shallow, jeering Canadian public… that had formally been entirely aloof, and unsupportive, was now awestruck.

“Canada’s Sweetheart,” Barbara Ann Scott, who also won Olympic gold for Canada at the St. Moritz games (besides being the first, and only Canadian to ever win in women's senior figure skating) also happened to be the RCAF Flyers NUMBER ONE FAN at those important games.

Miss Scott was there cheering the Canadian team on to gold, and was later then hoisted up onto the player's shoulders right after the winning game on February 8, 1948. A photograph captured that happy moment, and it became THE photo of the Games.

Canada would win hockey gold again in 1952.

But then, not again, until 2002… 50 years later!

The RCAF FLYERS won their Olympic gold back in 1948 by true grit. The team had only a couple weeks together to get it right. And they certainly did!

And yes, that is an official RCAF FLYERS '48 OLYMPIC TEAM lapel pin.

Only 20 were made at the time, and only for team members. I own one.


mike said...

I also have a pin as well (Frank Boucher was my great uncle). It was given to me many years ago by my grandmother Madeleine Boucher. How would I go about getting a print of the team photo? Thanks, Mike Casagrande

Never Was An Arrow II said...

Well, if you send me your email, I could send you two digital versions of the photos I have...

mike said... Thank you!

HarryB said...

Funny enough, I have a pin as well. I got it on ebay for the princely sum of 3 dollars. Mine is missing the screw on back though. It would be great to know just who it belonged to but I suppose thats lost to time. Would it be possible to get digital copies of those team photos as well? My email is

Anonymous said...

I just viewed your site. I have a pin as well, that was given to me from Sandy Watson, about 10 years ago.I did not know that only 20 were made!

Anonymous said...

Hi there - the team was actually not made entirely up of active RCAF persnonnel - a couple were navy, one was army, and a few others were sworn into the RCAF right before they left Canada. Further, the RCAF did not beat the Russians to win gold. The Russians did not participate in the 1948 winter Olympics. Their final game was against the Swiss. Czechoslovakia won silver, and the Swiss won bronze.