mountain heirs

The 1923 Banff Winter Carnival featured — well, where to start? The program for the Alberta mountain festival in February and March included a 100-mile dog-sled race with a purse of $1,000 for the leading musher, along with snowshoeing, trap-shooting, curling, ski-jumping and “ski-running,” tobogganing, and displays of “fancy and art skating.” Also in the cards: a buffalo barbecue and “swimming in the hot sulfur springs of the government baths.”

The buffalo barbecue was competitive, it turns out, with 77-year-old Colonel James Walker, famous Calgary rancher, soldier, and veteran of the North-West Mounted Police, meat-eating his way to victory ahead of 1500-odd participants. Fifteen teams started the dog-sled Grand Prix, though only four finished, in a blizzard. First across the line in a time of 13 hours and 16 minutes: Shorty Russick and his seven “wolfhounds” from The Pas, Manitoba.

And (of course) there was hockey.

The women’s tournament brought together four teams to compete for the Alpine Cup, the winner of which (said Carnival organizers) would be declared women’s world champions. The holders were on hand, the Vancouver Amazons, along with the Edmonton Monarchs and the Calgary Regents. It was the Fernie Swastikas who triumphed — that’s them here, above, in the dark and (and not yet Nazified) swastika’d sweaters. The team went undefeated that entire winter and were, in Banff, the best of the bunch, by all reports, though the tournament there does seem to have ended with a bit of a whimper.

After beating Vancouver, Fernie played Calgary twice. The first encounter ended in a tie, 0-0. The second game was 1-1 after three periods and remained that way through two ten-minute overtimes. In a third overtime, both teams scored, leaving it at 2-2.

This was on a Saturday night, and organizers declared that the deciding game would go on Monday morning. Over the weekend, after two Calgary players went home, the rest of the Regents declared that they had to leave, too. Despite a flurry of negotiations, Fernie, as the only team to take the Monday ice, was presented with the Alpine Cup.

It didn’t end there. Later the same day, the Swastikas agreed to play an exhibition game in Calgary against the Regents to raise money for the home team’s coffers. That was another 0-0.

None of this dampened the pride with which Fernie welcomed its champions. Thursday morning, when the Swastikas rolled into town on Train 67 from Alberta, much of the town was out to greet them. The mayor had asked all business to close up in honour of the victors, and everybody flocked to the station. A correspondent from The Lethbridge Herald saw it all:

The train was met by a crowd numbering up in the thousands and when the girls stepped from the train they were given three hearty cheers to which the girls replied with their club yell.

A parade wound through town, headed by the RCMP on horseback and the Fernie Pipe Band, “who kept things lively.”  The Swastikas were conveyed in a sleigh decorated with their team colours, red and white. They were followed by floats crowded with schoolchildren; Mayor Henderson rode with the Swastika’s mascot, “an effigy dressed in hockey togs, red sweater and Swastika on the end of a hockey stick.”

(Image: National Parks Branch / Library and Archives Canada / PA-058059)