winterspiele 1936: on the way to germany, via the highway of mourning

The Duchess of Atholl at Quebec in 1930. Credit: Clifford M. Johnston/Library and Archives Canada/PA-56403

A Good Crossing, Though Rough: The Duchess of Atholl at Quebec in 1930. (Photo: Clifford M. Johnston/Library and Archives Canada/PA-56403)

There’s nothing I’d like more than to be able to report that Canadian Pacific went out of their way to flood a rink on the top deck of the Duchess of Atholl when she sailed for Europe in early 1936. Canada’s Olympic hockey was aboard, after all, and surely they could have done with the ice-time on their nine days crossing the Atlantic. A couple of months later, in July, U.S. Olympic athletes heading for the Berlin summer games would go to elaborate ends to train aboard the SS Manhattan — the track team and fencers and basketball players had the run of the Sun Deck, while the boxers were on the Promenade and the swimmers (using special harnesses) splashed in the ship’s pool — but it’s with disappointment that I have to declare that Canadian sticks and skates stayed stowed in January.

Mrs. Braden said it was a good crossing, though rough. That’s confusing, I know, but that’s what she said, Mrs. Braden. Marie Braden, from Toronto? She was aboard purely as a fan, heading to Germany to cheer the hockey team with her husband, George, who was president of the senior Toronto Dukes hockey club and, in his spare time, general manager of the Canada Cycle and Motor Company. They had a wire-haired terrier called Whiskers back in Toronto, whom Mrs. Braden walked daily in High Park, which I know because she was writing letters back to the Toronto Daily Star’s “Over The Tea Cups” social column with all the news of the voyage.

The Bradens were friendly with Malcolm Cochrane, manager of the hockey team, and his wife, not to mention Mr. and Mrs. Albert Pudas. To fill the hole of Whiskers’ absence, the Bradens’ friends bought them a life-size toy terrier in the ship’s shop, and he was soon christened “Olympic” and dressed in Canadians colours for the journey to Germany.

According to Mrs. Braden, the hockey team stood the seas fairly well. Captain Herman Murray of Montreal was the sickest of the lot, for which (as I wrote in my book Puckstruck) he may have been congratulated for taking a leadership role — though if so, it’s also possible that he was too busy puking to laugh or care.

I also wrote that passengers dubbed the Duchess of Atholl the Rocking Duchess, though I can’t recall where I got that. I said they disembarked at Liverpool, which is just wrong: the Canadians and their entourage landed in Greenock, near Glasgow in Scotland, on Sunday, January 26.

King George V had died while the ship was at sea. Mrs. Braden wrote home about going ashore wearing black armbands and the Canadians planning to attend the royal funeral “as a body.” That’s possible: they were in London on the Monday, while the funeral wasn’t until Tuesday. I have, it’s true, entertained a vision of maple leaf’d Bearcats clumping past the catafalque in St. George’s Chapel, heads bowed, sticks raised in salute, but I’m guessing that they were in fact out on the streets of London on the day, with the hundreds of thousands of others who turned out to pay their respects and turn the English capital, as one report put it, into “a highway of mourning.”

“Quarrelsome Europe called a truce on her bickerings,” reported the Associated Press. In Berlin, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler took his cabinet and many generals to St. George’s Church for a service in honour of the late monarch, and flags flew at half-staff across the Reich.

Hockey paused, too. Back in Canada, the original news of the king’s death had prompted the NHL to postpone a game between the Leafs Canadiens. In Shelburne, Ontario, the sad news arrived as a junior game was about to start, and the players and spectators stood silent for two minutes and then everybody sang God Save the King. In St. Catharines a game between the Colonels and Merritton was halted and not resumed.

Wednesday, January 29, Canada’s Olympic team was in Paris to play their first and only European exhibition ahead of the tournament. Jakie Nash was in goal as the team took on the Français Volants. I don’t know what Mrs. Braden thought of, but I’m assuming she was pleased: Canada won by a score of 5-2, on goals by Bill Thomson (two), Kenny Farmer, Hugh Farquharson, and Arnold Deacon.


One thought on “winterspiele 1936: on the way to germany, via the highway of mourning

  1. Very nice piece, thanks. “A good crossing, though rough” is i think how Andy described those rapids last summer in which he scraped his leg a bit.


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