From: Darren D. MacDonald, thenorthbaybay.ca staff
NORTH BAY — The year was 1944 and World War II was a year away from its conclusion. But while the world had war on its mind, North Bay was determined to remind the world of life, joy, and hockey.
“I remember – we had the Olympics,” reminisces 1944 North Bay Olympics participant Clark Smith. ”There might have been drunks everywhere, we might not have been the top athletes but I – I seem to have lost the point I was getting at.”
Canada put forward a bid for the 1944 Olympics and picked Montreal to be the city to represent Canada. In 1939, when the Olympic committee voted, Canada received zero votes. The winter Olympics were granted to London, England, but due to the Second World War they were postponed with England being given the 1948 Summer Olympics.
In an archived speech from Richard Mayor, then the North Bay Mayor, Mayor had strong words for Canada and the Olympic Committee.
“It is a complete embarrassment that our Federal government has let down this great country by picking Montreal. North Bay was clearly the right choice and we were not even given the chance to prove ourselves. Now is that chance. Since London can’t get its s!#t together, we will. From February 20th to February 27th, North Bay will be the OFFICIAL hosts of the 1944 Olympics!”
Let the Games Begin
The Opening Ceremony from the 1944 North Bay Olympics took place on Main Street. It consisted of a performance from local band The Drunken Bastards, a dance number from the kids polio ward at the St. Joseph’s General Hospital, and a drifter’s rambling story about how he once punched every kid in an orphanage because he felt it built character. Many believe that the drifter wasn’t part of the planned acts, but he still drew a considerable amount of audience and community support.
“The Olympics are supposed to bring nations together from around the WORLD!” explains ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk Wilder, author of the unpublished book 1944 Olympics: The Forgotten Olympics. “North Bay sent out invitations to many countries, but most just laughed.”
“So, North Bay carried on without the other countries. Instead, families from the city sent participants to represent themselves.”
Clark Smith, like many from North Bay at the time, participated in the North Bay Winter Olympics. The Second World War was in full swing, meaning that most of the men in the community were otherwise unable to make it. This resulted in the North Bay Winter Olympic Committee allowing anyone, of any age, to participate. Smith was 12 years old at the time.
“I was more than proud to represent the Smith household,” remembers Smith. “We competed against the McIntyre family who eventually had a street named after them, the Ferguson family who eventually had a street named after them, and the Highway 17 family who eventually had a street named after them.”
The games utilized the Laurentian Ski Hill for the skiing sports, Algonquin hill for the bobsleigh event, and a flooded over downtown for the hockey games.
Due to the inevitable inexperienced nature of the competitors, many of the actual sporting events ended without a clear winner. Oftentimes the gold medal was awarded to whoever didn’t get rushed to the medical tent.
“People were getting drunk all over the place,” explains Smith. “Next thing we knew, there was one day left and we hadn’t done any of the hockey games. So, to get them done, we just put all of the teams on the ice at the same time. 10 teams, 2 nets and a rink as narrow as Main Street. I think it was my team that won.”
That final and fateful hockey game was broken up after a booze induced riot that lasted for 3 days. It required the intervention of the Federal Government, who tested out their new Police Force which consisted entirely of trained bears.
43 people died.
“North Bay holds the record for longest Olympic closing ceremony as well as the most deaths in an Olympic Ceremony,” recalls ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk, “and that’s something they can’t ever take away from us.”
We reached out to the International Olympic Committee and they confirmed that while they are aware that North Bay held events and used the name ‘Olympics’ illegally.
They also confirmed that any record made during those events are not an official Olympic record.
Make Winter Olympics, Not War
“It brought the community closer together in a time where the war was tearing us apart,” smiles Smith. “Most will look back at and see it as a defining moment in North Bay history… or they would, if everyone wasn’t so drunk at the time.”
While some outside the city may look back and see a blank spot in the history books, North Bay will always remember that time they stole the Winter Olympics and no one cared.
But you won’t see that in the history books.