Just over a month to go before Olympics opened anew, and Canada wasn’t quite set: that early December of 1923, the Canadian Olympic Committee still hadn’t submitted our official entry for the first official winter games. No worries, though: P.J. Mulqueen, chair of the committee, assured Canadians that he would be filing Canada’s paper in good time ahead of the IOC’s early-January deadline.
Canada did have a top-notch team all ready to go to France: the Toronto Granites, winners of back-to-back Allan Cups senior-hockey championships, were standing by to defend the nation’s honour and the gold medal the first Canadian Olympic team had won in 1920.
Importantly, too, that December in 1923: Mulqueen had received a letter from the IOC, the Globe reported, “in which acceptance of Canada’s colours, a red maple leaf on a white jersey, was acknowledged.”
Plain and simple. That’s them pictured at the top, on the ice at Chamonix, where Canada wore them to retain gold in style. Now, 98 years later, we still don’t know who will play for Canada at February’s Beijing games, or even whether the NHL’s best will indeed venture out of North America in the ongoingness of our pandemic: the league and the NHLPA have their own early-January deadline to decide whether or not to opt out.
What we did get, this week, was the opportunity to size up a new round of Olympic duds. And to … acknowledge acceptance?
Here’s the look:
In case you, or anyone, wondered why or wherefore it came to this, Hockey Canada published an exegesis. I didn’t make this up, though someone else did, possibly Paula Nichols, a senior editor of Olympic and Historical Content for the COC, who’s bylined on the post. It reads, in part:
We all know that Team Canada is a force of nature. So, it’s fitting that the design was inspired by norther storms, which are fast-moving cold fronts that originate from the north and send strong winds south, causing temperatures to plummet rapidly. Graphic lines on the maple leaf crest gives dimension to the design, but are also representative of how snow and Arctic winds are shown on weather maps. Those weather map-type lines also appear on the shoulder yoke of the black jersey, creating a subtle maple leaf pattern.
Norther storms is good. Snow and Arctic winds on weather maps? Bravo.
People with Twitter accounts had issues with the black. Some of them did; they were jarred and maybe even offended. They asked themselves, and us: really? and what the hell? They wanted us to remember: black isn’t an official Canadian colour.
Me? I don’t mind the black. As someone who’s been known to appraise Canadian Olympic fashions in the past, I do have other concerns. A decade ago, as a patriotic public service, I marshalled some Historical Content of my own finding to show how Canadian teams headed for Olympics overseas do best when they (a) sail there on a ship; (b) make sure they’ve packed at least one Bobby, nominal or spiritual; and (c) pay particular attention to the foliage with which they adorn their sweaters.
That Canada won gold in 2010 and again in 2014 while largely ignoring my counsel is, I’ll allow, not a great look for me and my brand. Still, I’m sticking to my botanical guns and declaring, as I did a decade ago, that Canada’s leaf is just wrong.
Here’s what Canada’s hockey players, men and women, wore front and centre in 2010:
This was the shape of things four years later:
For PyeongChang in 2018:
Compare those anatomically incomplete exemplars to Canada’s leaf from the 1936 winter games —
— and maybe, like me, you’ll be vexed by the questions of how and why Canada’s leaf lost its stem.
Not every leaf worn by Canadians at international play has featured a stem, I’ll grant you. Part of the genius of Canada’s 1972 stemless Summit Series sweaters was that it didn’t matter.
But these 2022 sweaters aren’t those. It had my doubts in 2010 when Hockey Canada seems to have decided that snipping back was now a matter of policy, the new normal. That’s when I first went to the trouble of looking up the proper term for the stem of a leaf, if for no other reason than to be able to declare that a leaf without its petiole makes no sense, botanical or aesthetic.
I’ve said my piece, mostly; we’re almost, here, at the end of my screed. I do appreciate that Hockey Canada has been making gestures towards rationalizing the loss. The 2018 maple leaf, they explained at the time, “was inspired by a skate blade,” suggesting an accidental slicing. This time, obviously, there’s a climate-change undertone to the narrative: the stem to Canada’s leaf got blown clear off in the fury of norther storms blasting strong winds south.
I would, if I could, like loop back to and briefly celebrate that 1924 Canadian array. Four years earlier in Antwerp, the Winnipeg Falcons had represented Canada in sweaters of a hue that I might describe as mean mustard, though the Toronto Daily Star of the day preferred old gold. I’m not saying the Falcons got it wrong: there’s a certain garish glory there.
But just look at the clean simplicity of those ’24 Granite outfits. The lettering was new and (may I say) a nice touch, even if the red maple leaf against the snowy background qualifies as a throwback, an homage, to the sweaters worn a decade earlier by the Oxford Canadians, university students far from home who skated the innocent pre-war ice, carrying off English and European championships in sweaters featuring the fullness of Canada’s sacred flora, leaf and stem — even when, as in the second image below, they had to pin their leaves to their chests.
The photographs here belonged to Gustave Lanctôt, who studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar from 1909 to 1911. That’s him sitting on the far left in the first image, and in the centre in the second. A son of Saint-Constant, Québec, he subsequently served as Dominion Archivist between 1937 and 1948.
(Oxford Canadians images: first, Lanctot, G. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-066858; second, Lanctot, G. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-066861)