A couple of years ago I wrote a post about keeping artifacts in a digital age. (Read here.)
I thought about this because an old running friend of mine, Ross Patterson, recently mailed me three old documents from Toronto. His wife’s father, Russell (Russ), competed in cycling in the 1932 Olympics. Ross sent me an Official Program from the Xth Olympiad, a Xth Olympiad Complete Program of Events/Ticket Information, and a related document he knew I’d like to see, the program for the First National Indoor Track Championships (1929), held at Toronto’s Coliseum at Exhibition Park.
The photo below shows a “Results to Date” page from the program. Notice that only the winner’s time is given for each event or heat.
Russ Hunt’s story
The newspaper article below gives Russ’s story. It seems incredible now that someone could be selected to an Olympic Team and not even consider going because they couldn’t afford to pay their own way. Then, with no notice at all, Russ’s co-workers and boss at The Royal York hotel collected enough money to fund his trip, and presto!—off he was to Los Angeles!
Being an editor, I noticed that Russell’s name was misspelled repeatedly in the top section of the article.
In the months before the 1932 Olympics, spectators could make their plans for the Olympics and purchase their tickets by referring to a “Complete Program of Events/Ticket Information” booklet. The one shown below says it was revised April 15, 1932. Note the simplicity of the map graphic on the back of the booklet!
The inside cover art for the booklet is very basic by today’s standards, too.
A piece of memorabilia related to these 1932 Olympic documents is shown below; I’ve scanned Ross’s copy of the First National Indoor Track Championships program booklet. The meet was held in Toronto in 1929—87 years ago!
The races were run on a new indoor track that had been built inside the CNE Coliseum. You can read about it below. As page 1 of the program booklet says, the track was twelve laps to the mile and only twelve feet wide. Yet Event No. 1, the Two Miles race (a distance offered only for men, of course), featured thirty competitors! That would have been something to see, as the men fought to break the Canadian Indoor Record—9 min. 14 3/5 secs.
When I started running indoor track in high school, I also trained and raced at the CNE. But by that time (1976) there was a much better track there. It was a board track that was put up and disassembled each winter. It was considered “fast”; it was a nice springy 200m track. However, it was housed in a building we called “The Pig Palace” for good reason—the pigs stayed there every November at the Royal Winter Fair, before the track was installed. Their pungent smell never left the building during the winter. The dry indoor air was terrible for hard efforts—I remember the severe lung burn and coughing that followed 1,500m races in that building.
I’m sure every serious Toronto runner of the 1970s remembers the Pig Palace. Luckily for us, by the fall of 1979, the new track complex at York University was ready, and it was a joy to move to that excellent facility. It smelled much better but the air was still tough on the lungs.
I loved looking through that 40-odd page Indoor Championships booklet, not only to see the names of many of Canada’s best athletes of the era, but because the ads gave such a feel for what Toronto was like in early 1929. Our language, as well as our printing technology, has evolved so much since then. The ads sound corny and unsophisticated to a modern ear. But in all the writing there is also a certain formality of language that isn’t common today.
Below, I’ve added a page spread that shows two ads: one for Eaton’s “Renown” hats and one for C.C.M. Bicycles.
“Torchy” Bill Peden was on the 1932 Canadian Olympic team with Russ Hunt, and they appear together in this photo that Ross sent me.
My friend Ross Patterson found a personal connection in the Indoor Championships booklet: it contained an ad for The Patterson Candy Co. Ltd., founded by Ross’s great-grandfather.
Ross’s copy of the program is autographed in pencil by no less an athlete than “The World’s Fastest Human,” Percy Williams!
On the same page as Percy’s photo and autograph, you can view the “Definition of an Amateur,” which seems seriously outdated, and “The Ten Commandments of Sport,” which are just as true and relevant today as they have always been. #10 is worth quoting here:
Honour the game thou playeth for he who playeth the game straight and hard wins even though he loses.
Women took part in this 1929 National Championships, but the only events offered to them were the High Jump, the 60 Yards Dash, and the Ladies’ 440 Yards Relay. (A Girls’ Club relay was also included.) I pity them for the uniforms they had to wear—I’m assuming Innes Bramley, pictured in the photo below, is wearing her competition garb since she has a medal around her neck. But couldn’t the photographer have picked a more flattering pose?
Musings about memorabilia
I’m grateful to Ross Patterson for sending me these three old souvenir booklets. Such artifacts are relatively rare now. They give us an enlightening (and often amusing) glimpse into a version of our sport and culture that is close to a century old. Much has changed, but not everything (as The Ten Commandments of Sport remind me).
What motivates people to save written materials? It’s a desire to hold on to memories of our most valuable or extraordinary experiences, perhaps a desire to hold on to certain versions of ourselves. It’s also knowing that later, we can share these experiences with others. It’s part of the desire for immortality. Human beings have always tried to leave records, even from the time of cave art depicting animals and hunting.
I chastise myself now for not keeping more records from all the Games and international road races I took part in. What I did keep provided me with a wealth of information and pictures that I could use in this running blog, so for that I’m thankful. My training logs and newspaper articles also proved to me how faulty memories can be!
What will happen now when so many of our records and photos of events exist online? How many people still produce or hold on to the physical forms of these records? It’s all in “the cloud,” a cloud that can be as transitory as those cumulus and cirrus formations in the sky—if we’re not careful to transfer our digital records from one form of technology to another.