Fort William mayor won Olympic gold

The interesting thing about working at a sports museum is that you never know what is going to happen on any given day.
Sometimes people will call up with sports trivia questions or to pass along some tidbit of information about a certain person or sporting event.
Other times people will drop by with some of their sports treasures.
Recently we were fortunate to have both of these events take place at the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
This resulted in my being able to learn some great information about a former Mayor of Fort William who played a part in Canada’s early Olympic curling history.
Curling made its first appearance at the Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France. At that time, only three countries sent representatives including Great Britain, Sweden and France.
Organizers for the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid wanted to include curling as a demonstration sport. This time it was Canada and the United States that would make up the teams, with each country sending four teams to represent their respective nations to compete in a two-day round robin tournament to be held on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, 1932.
At that time, the Fort William Curling Club was affiliated with the Manitoba Curling Association.
One of the prominent and longtime members of the FWCC was a curler by the name of Robert B. Pow.
Known amongst the curling community as Bart he was the individual that the FWCC nominated to represent our community on the team that would represent the Manitoba Curling Association at the 1932 Olympics.
His nomination was fitting for a couple of reasons.
He actually grew up in Manitoba and worked for the Northern Elevator Company before moving to Fort William in 1908 to pursue his career working with a number of local elevator companies including Consolidated, Empire, Mutual and Smith-Murphy.
He was also very active in political life.
He served as a member of Fort William city council from 1929-1932 and 1937-1940 and as the mayor of Fort William from 1933-1936, running again for mayor in 1941.
As it turned out, the other members of the team that he curled with in Lake Placid were also quite politically connected.
According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the Manitoba selections had strong ties to Prime Minister R. B. Bennett.
The skip, William (Bill) Burns was the Member of Parliament for Portage la Prairie. The third, J.L. Bowman was the MP for Dauphin and the lead, Errick F. Willis was the MP for Souris.
Coincidentally, Pow, who took on the position of second for the team, was the president of the Conservative Party Association of Fort William at the time of his selection.
The reality of the times was that, unlike today, it was the responsibility of each person to pay all of their travel and accommodation expenses to participate in an Olympic Games.
At that time, MPs were provided with free train travel, so it would not cost them anything to travel to Lake Placid.
The Fort William Daily-Times Journal announced Pow’s appointment to the rink and that he would join them in Toronto where the team played an exhibition game prior to departing for the Olympics.
Substitution was also a little different back then. A report in the Fort William paper indicated that at one point the team representing Northern Ontario did not have a complete rink, so two other people were asked to play for the team including a sports editor from Winnipeg and a curler from Montreal.
The other difference between curling today and back in 1932 was that games were comprised of 16 ends with no ability to concede defeat by a mere handshake.
As a result, the scores of the different matches were quite high, and in some cases quite lopsided.
The Manitoba team played a total of four games, handily winning their first two matchups, by defeating Massachusetts 19-10 and Michigan 22-12.
Their only closely contested game came on the second day of competition when they squeaked out a 15-14 victory over Connecticut.
Their 15-9 victory over New York saw them go undefeated in Olympic competition and claim the gold medal.
Ontario’s silver medal and Quebec’s bronze made it a perfect sweep for Canada.
It seems fitting, and a little ironic, that the next time a curling team from Manitoba competed at the Olympics they also went undefeated and brought home a gold medal, with Jennifer Jones doing so 82 years after the Burns rink achieved a similar result.
In addition to learning about the fact that one of our former mayors played a role in a unique part of our nation’s Olympic sports history, the other great thing about this story is that the relatives of Robert B. Pow have a keepsake from this outstanding moment.
Each of the players on the team were presented with commemorative participation medals and his family representatives kindly loaned this item to us so we could share it with the students that participated in our Olympic education program and with visitors to the Hall of Fame.
While a few of our current city councilors have enjoyed success in their sports careers, with one of them even being a member of the Sports Hall of Fame, I hasten to bet that former Fort William Mayor Robert B. Pow’s spot in the trivia books as the only member of our city council to ever win an Olympic gold medal will stand for many more years to come.
Mind you I did hear that Mayor Keith Hobbs took up curling a couple of years ago, so you never know.
Until next time, keep that sports history pride alive.

(Diane Imrie is the executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Her column runs every second Thursday.)