The Winnipeg Falcons' Olympic Victory

The Winnipeg Falcons in 1920 © Libraries and Archives Canada

For the Week of May 16, 2022.

On May 22, 1920, the City of Winnipeg held a banquet at the Fort Garry Hotel to honour the Winnipeg Falcons, a hockey team composed primarily of Icelandic Canadians that had represented Canada and won the first Olympic ice hockey tournament the month before.

While the origins of ice hockey are still debated, it is believed that the first organized game of hockey took place in Montréal in 1875. Hockey became increasingly popular in the 20th century, when developments in mass media and communication technology allowed fans to follow games all over the country and rally behind local and national teams, creating a Canada-wide hockey community.

For many recent immigrants, hockey became a way to foster connections within their own communities while exploring and contributing to the formation of Canadian sports culture. However, hockey and its surrounding culture were primarily dominated by middle-class British-Canadian men. While Jewish, German, Icelandic, and French Canadians were able to join local teams and leagues, Canadians of African descent were excluded, and therefore had no choice but to organize their own leagues and championship tournaments.

In 1909, the Icelandic community established the Winnipeg Falcons, amalgamating two pre-existing teams—the Vikings and the Icelandic Athletic Club. Named for Iceland’s national bird, the Falcons played in Manitoba leagues, challenging dominant British-Canadian teams like the Winnipegs and Victorias. Their victories against both teams earned them a place in the Allan Cup championship game, Canada’s premier amateur hockey tournament, which they won in 1920.
The Canadian Olympic Committee decided that the Allan Cup winners would represent Canada in a hockey exhibition at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. This was not the first time members of the Falcons had represented Canada overseas: during the First World War, most of the team had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, with six of the players seeing active duty.

The Falcons’ Olympic victory was thrilling and helped establish Canada’s reputation for athletic excellence in the sport of hockey. This achievement was celebrated throughout the country and, when the Falcons returned to Winnipeg on May 22, the City declared a half-day holiday, organized a parade, and held an official civic banquet at the Fort Garry Hotel, where each player received engraved pocket watches.

The Falcons’ performance has been a focus of pride and identity for Manitoba’s Icelandic Canadian community. The team not only led Canada to a hockey victory on the world stage, but did so as representatives of an ethnocultural minority community, demonstrating the strength of Canadian diversity. The Winnipeg Falcons have since been inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (1980), the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame (1985), and the Canadian Olympic Committee Hall of Fame (2006).

The Winnipeg Falcons Hockey Club was designated as a national historic event in 2019. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of national historic events, which evoke significant moments, episodes, movements, or experiences in the history of Canada.

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Learn how to participate in this process.

May is Asian Heritage Month. Learn more about Asian Canadian histories by exploring articles in our online archives about the Early Chinese Cemeteries in Victoria, British Columbia, Vietnamese immigration to Canada after 1978, and The Abbotsford Gur Sikh Temple.