The 2018 Winter Olympics will commence on Feb. 9th in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Thousands of Central Albertans will join hundreds of millions from around the world in watching this sports spectacular.
The first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France in 1924.
They were a big success. Canada was one of the countries to reach the podium with a gold medal in men’s ice hockey. With the strong international interest and popularity, winter-time Olympics have been staged ever since.
Wintertime sporting championships have also been an important part of Alberta’s history. Slightly more than 100 years ago, there was a proposal to stage a major winter sporting and entertainment event in Banff.
The reasons for the idea are not hard to understand.
Banff had already earned an international reputation as an attractive tourist destination, but mainly in the summer months. People were looking for a way to attract large numbers of people in wintertime as well.
The first Banff Winter Festival was staged from Feb. 5th-17th, 1917. The sports events included skiing, skating, tobogganing, ice hockey and curling, but also trap and target shooting.
A last minute addition to the program was a women’s hockey game, contested by the Calgary Regents and Crescents.
The Winter Festival was a big success. For the second Festival, sports such as speedskating, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing were added. A very unique addition was outdoor swimming events, made possible with the Cave and Basin Hot Springs pool. Because the women’s hockey game in 1917 had been so popular, a women’s hockey tournament was organized.
A big challenge came in 1919 with the lingering effects of the great Spanish ‘flu epidemic.
In 1921, Calgary created a competing event with its own winter carnival. However, that challenges and competition prompted Banff to work even harder on its Festival and to add even more sports and entertainment attractions.
By the early 1920s, the Banff organizers were styling the annual Festival as the Alberta provincial winter sports championships. Moreover, because women’s hockey teams from British Columbia were persuaded to come to Banff, the women’s hockey tournament was dubbed the Western Canadian championships with the Alpine Cup as the prize.
The Alberta Amateur Hockey Association had major reservations about what Banff was doing.
Hence, it created the Misener Cup as the symbol of the Alberta provincial women’s (senior) championship. The championship games were often still held in Banff as part of the Winter Festival. However, only Alberta teams sanctioned by the A.A.H.A. were eligible to win the Misener Cup.
As the 1920s progressed, Banff made a bid to host the 1932 Winter Olympics. However, Lake Placid in New York won that honour.
Meanwhile, 1922 was the first year when a women’s hockey team from Red Deer was scheduled to participate in the Banff Winter Festival.
By the late 1920s, the Red Deer team, named the Amazons, had become particularly strong.
In the 1929-30 season, the Red Deer Amazons became the Central and Northern Alberta (Twin City Cup) intermediate champions. In 1933, they won the Coffey Memorial Trophy as the provincial intermediate champions.
In 1934, the Amazons finally won the Alpine Cup at the Banff Winter Festival, in addition to being the Alberta intermediate (Coffey Trophy) champions.
In the 1934-1935 season, the Amazons became a third-time provincial championship team.
The squad was so strong that in three seasons, they only lost one game. Not surprisingly, they won the Alpine Cup again at 1935 Banff Winter Carnival.
Immediately after that championship game, one of the Amazon team players, Adelyne Stephenson, entered the 880 speed-skating race. She won the silver medal, despite having just played three periods of hockey.
Her teammate, Evelyn Bond, also won the silver medal in the 440 speed skating event, despite having a sprained ankle.
The Amazons did not fair quite as well in subsequent seasons.
The team finally disbanded at the end of the decade. The Banff Winter Festival went into hiatus during the Second World War, but continued for many years after the War ended.