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The Winnipeg Falcons and Remembrance Day

Nov 2, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk (4) skates against the Vegas Golden Knights during the third period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

There is little that a Heritage Minute fails to teach Canadians about our own history. There are the big ones including the one about Residential Schools or about Treaties. But there are also ones about smaller, but still significant, stories like the Winnipeg Falcons. A country is not made up of just big stories, but small ones as well, and the Falcons are both of those. The Winnipeg Falcons tell a story that touches on many key parts of Manitoba’s history.

People who know Manitoba know of Gimli, the traditionally Icelandic settlement on Lake Winnipeg. The town with the big viking statue is known for it’s Icelandic Festival every Terry Fox Day weekend. It is an excellent reminder that Manitoba is home to more immigrants that Ukrainians who helped change the prairies into the farmland we know today.

The Winnipeg Falcons were not composed of players from Gimli, but of men with Icelandic heritage who lived on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg. They eventually formed a team after merging with another Icelandic team and the Winnipeg Falcons were born. However their life was interrupted by WWI. Like most young Canadian men, they enlisted because it was what they were pushed to do. And they did not all return: two of their team died somewhere in Europe like many, many other young (and old) men.

The actual story of the Winnipeg Falcons has to do with the 1920 Olympics. Just two years after The Great War ended, ice hockey made it’s Olympic in Antwerp, Belgium. Antwerp is less than 150 kilometres north-east of Ypres and Passchendale where Canada suffered extremely heavy losses in multiple battles. It was also at Ypres that mustard gas was used in a battle for the first time. Antwerp is also only about 120 kilometres north of Mons, the last place Canadians fought during Canada’s 100 Days. The Falcons returning so close to an area where Canada fought many key battles should not be lost on anyone.

The Winnipeg Falcons are recognized as both the first Canadian and the first team to ever win Men’s Ice Hockey Gold at the Winter Olympics. They were able to do so in a country that was filled with dead Canadian soldiers who joined the army for a short adventure to Europe and ended up living a long, deadly hell. They won just two years after reuniting following the end of WWI and after losing two players in the war.