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)

 

we were on the same side, cheering for the same team

“National Pastimes” (1991) by Jim Logan, Acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 183.2 cm

National Aboriginal Day today, in Canada, for one last time. This morning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that from here on in, the name will change to National Indigenous Peoples Day. Either way (on any day), Jim Logan’s work deserves your attention. If you’re in Ottawa or Gatineau any time this summer, his powerful 1991 suite of seven “National Pastimes” paintings are on display as part of the Canadian Museum of History’s “Hockey” exhibition. The largest of the canvasses (above) depicts an ostensibly serene and all-Canadian winter scene in an interior British Columbia reserve town while the six smaller works that accompany it frame a series of close-ups. Attention to detail is worth paying: off the ice in the main canvas, away from the heedless joy of the afternoon’s shinny, it’s a panorama of pain and danger. A couple brawls in the snow. A suicide hangs from a swing-set. In “Father Image 1,” a stern-faced white priest makes his claim on a trio of grim, stoical boys. It’s also personal: in the window at the bottom of the (main) frame, a father and son watch TV together.

Logan, whose background is Cree, Sioux, and Scottish, was born in 1955 in New Westminster, B.C. In an essay for Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives (1992), he talked about the paintings and the role hockey has played in his own life as well as its significance as a symbol and metaphor in Indigenous culture. “I realized,” he wrote,

I had grown up watching a lot of hockey, and I realized the one I watched a lot of hockey with was my dad. However, my relationship with my dad was never as close as I wanted it to be. His rough upbringing, war nightmares, and alcoholism all contributed to the distance between us. However silent as our relationship may have been, we loved each other.

My dad’s interest in hockey naturally drew my interest and hockey became the dominant link between us. But our reasons for watching were so different. He dreamed of being somebody important, somebody respected. He wanted to be a winner, but fate wouldn’t allow it.

I watched hockey because it brought me closer to my dad. Hockey to me was togetherness. On Saturday night, for three whole periods, we were on the same side, cheering for the same team (Montreal) and the same players (Jean Béliveau and John Ferguson), and his past, and our reality didn’t threaten us. We were as close as we could ever get.

Today watching hockey or painting about it brings back those warm memories, but it also brings back the distant relationship my dad and I had. The paintings in this series are an extension of my personal experience. The social statement I am expressing here is that for many kids, Aboriginal or not, hockey is often more than just a sport, it’s an escape. In these paintings you will find evidence of the tragic realities of life that are temporarily forgotten by those involved with the game that has been titled Our National Pastime.

For more of Jim Logan’s work, visit his website. The Canadian Museum of History’s “Hockey” exhibition continues until October 9. After that — from November 24 through to April 29, 2018 — it will be at Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière Museum.

“Defensive Pair” (1991) by Jim Logan, Acylic on canvas, 50.80 cm x 60.96 cm

“Father Image I” (1991) by Jim Logan “Defensive Pair” by Jim Logan, Acylic on canvas, 50.80 cm x 60.96 cm

(Images courtesy of Jim Logan. Used with permission.)