This article appeared in the March 5, 2020 issue of the Express Weekly News, By Teresa Carey . . .
The Winnipeg Falcons made history when they won Canada’s first-ever Olympic medal in hockey in 1920. This year, the Gimli Ice Festival is paying tribute to the team, marking the 100 year anniversary of their gold medal win with two pond hockey games at Gimli Harbour, Mar. 7.
The Falcons, a team comprised almost exclusively of Icelandic immigrants, is still remembered in the Interlake to this day. Most of the original players had roots in the Gimli area, and many locals remember them with pride.
“People are still walking around wearing Falcon hats,” said Kim Malchuk, organizer of the pond hockey games for the Gimli Ice Festival.
Steve Perkins, grandson of Slim Halderson, an original Falcon member, will be coming in from Winnipeg to drop the puck to kick off the first game, which begins at 1 p.m.
“He is just tickled pink,” Malchuk said.
The 68-year-old, who was about 13 or 14 when his grandfather passed away, thinks it is “just super” and is happy to be taking part, although he had no idea he was descended from one of the famed Falcons.
“I knew (my grandfather) played hockey but I never even knew he was in the Olympics until he passed,” Perkins said during a telephone interview. “It was never talked about. It struck me as kind of weird. Today it would be a big deal.”
“When he passed, they gave me the medal,” he added.
The history of the Winnipeg Falcons is a case study in the importance of persistence. The original members, Wally Byron, Slim Halderson, Frank Fredrickson, Konnie Johannesson, Mike Goodman, Huck Woodman, Bobby Benson and Chris Fridfinnson, were discriminated against for being “foreigners”.
“They tried for many years to get into the Winnipeg league, but they were discriminated against. Six out of the eight players were of Icelandic descent,” said Malchuk. “They just kept trying and trying, year after year, to get into the league.”
“In the 1919-20 season (after World War I), they finally got accepted. The very first season they ended up winning the division, they ended up winning the province and were invited to the U of T where they would win the Allan Cup to represent Canada for the Winter Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium,” Malchuk explained.
“Five days after winning the Allan Cup, they found themselves on a ship. They were welcomed to Belgium with open arms.”
The Falcons’ performance was stellar from start to finish. They won the first game against Czechoslovakia, 15-0. Then they played the US team in the semi-finals and beat them, 2-0. For their final game, they beat Sweden,12-1.
“This was the first time hockey even was a part of the winter Olympics. Their first year entering a league and they end up winning a gold medal. It was pretty special,” Malchuk said.
A rink measuring 50 ft. by 100 ft., reminiscent of what would have been played on a hundred years ago, is being cleared by local business owner, Travis Toomey, who is also supplying the warm up shack for game day. The Gimli Recreation Centre staff will be painting the lines, while the rink is being flooded by the Gimli Fire Department.
Participants of this Special Pond Hockey event, some of whom are descendants of the original Falcons, will receive a complimentary Falcons 1920-2020 hockey jersey and also be presented with a commemorative medal (replicas of the originals) after their game. Players, as well as all of the Falcons’ descendants attending the festival will also receive copies of “Falcon Gold”, authored by Gimli writer Kathy Arnason, and donated by the family of Dr. Irvin Olafson.
“This tournament is not about who wins and who loses,” Malchuk said. “It’s all about paying tribute to the Falcons.”
“Everything is unfolding so beautifully. I think it will definitely be a celebration that won’t be forgotten soon,” she said.