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Sports This Week: Pair of books highlight gold medal Falcons

The Falcons were a remarkable team which made history and having books that detail the team’s story is a good thing.
 Falcons Forever: The Saga of the 1920 Olympic Gold Medal Ice Hockey Team by Cathie Eliasson one of two recent books on Falcons team.

YORKTON - It’s not usual to get one’s hands on two sports books at near the same time and on the same topic.

But, recently it happened with the arrival of Falcons Forever: The Saga of the 1920 Olympic Gold Medal Ice Hockey Team by Cathie Eliasson and A Confluence of Destinies: The Saga of the Winnipeg Falcons’ 1920 Olympic Gold Medal Victory in Ice Hockey by David Grebstad.

The first of the books Falcons Forever “chronicles the Winnipeg Falcons’ journey to the VII Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium,’ notes “The team was composed of young Icelandic men, except for one, all first generation Canadians, who had come of age in Winnipeg’s West End. Many had just returned from fighting in World War I, and had to overcome discrimination and other challenges to play the game they loved.”

Author Cathie Eliasson comes at the story from a very personal perspective as she is the granddaughter of Falcons’ defenseman Konrad “Konnie” Johannesson. As such she had access to her grandmother’s “trove of newspaper articles collected in 1919 to 1920 to write this team tribute. She skillfully uses the material to bring the players’ voices to the page one hundred years after the Falcon’s illustrious victory, bringing home the gold—and Canada’s first ever medal for Olympic hockey.”

Grebstad takes a more panoramic picture with A Confluence of Destinies, detailing not the just Falcons as a hockey club, but the world around the team.

“This is not just a book about hockey. A Confluence of Destinies tells the story of multiple narratives that intertwine, influence and interact with each other. It is the story of a game, hockey, and its evolution into a sport that is embedded in the very DNA of Canadians. It is the story of a nation, Canada, and its evolution from a small British colony in the north-east corner of North America to a transcontinental Dominion at home amongst the nations of the world. It is the story of Winnipeg; a city that grew from a scattering of frame houses around the forks of two muddy rivers to a thriving commercial and cultural prairie metropolis. It is the story of Manitoba, a province that was born of conflict and grew to become keystone in the arch of Confederation. Finally, it is the story of a team. Seven men, mostly sons of Icelandic immigrants, who grew up amid the racial tension of early Winnipeg, learned to play and love hockey, served their country in the killing fields of Europe and became world champions in the sport their city, province and country adored. All these seemingly disparate destinies converged on the ice in Antwerp, in 1920,” details Amazon.

For Grebstad the Falcons story was too important not to tell.

“I find the story of the Winnipeg Falcons to be fascinating. It's a story about more than just hockey, it's about resilience and grit and determination,” he told Yorkton This Week.

“What the Falcons had to endure to become world champions - the war, the influenza epidemic, social unrest, racism and discrimination - tells us about their courage and determination.

“Moreover, it serves as an example of how one event can provide inspiration to an entire nation even during one of the darkest periods. 

“I'll also add that in parallel to writing and publishing this book, I also recommended the designation of the Winnipeg Falcons' victory as an Event of National Historic Significance. The Government agreed and the announcement was made in 2019 - I'm very proud to have initiated the project, and that I was brought in as a member of the organizing committee for the plaque revealing ceremony in Winnipeg.”

The centenary was the trigger for Eliasson too.

“The impetus to write Falcons Forever was the centenary of their Olympic gold medal win in 1920,” she told Yorkton This Week. “A small committee was struck to organize a celebration, including a small book, for April 26, 2020 - one hundred years to the day of their victory.

“However, COVID-19 struck and our event was cancelled as we were all required to quarantine.

“As my grandfather, Konnie Johannesson, was a defenseman on the team I had a deep interest in telling the team's story so I kept writing the book part of the project while the party part was on hold. 

“The Falcons story is well known in the Icelandic community with many family members and friends who have personal stories to share. It is also recognized as an amazing hockey feat and recognized internationally and remembered fondly- especially during the Olympic games. The Winnipeg Falcons have not been forgotten.”

Eliasson said the Falcons at the time faced discrimination but overcame it to become heroes.

“I found it interesting that the Falcons gained a huge following of fans in Canada with thousands attending games in Winnipeg and at the Allan Cup in Toronto,” she said.

“And they were also heralded in Europe and had hundreds of people lining the streets to see them just enter the arena. They had rock star appeal!

“It was also heartwarming to speak to the relatives of the players, when researching their biographies, and find that they are still revered today. There were many treasured family remembrances that were shared about their lives after the Olympics.

“When people hear the saga of the team of Icelandic men (except one), first generation Canadians, many who had served in the first World War, beating four strong Canadian teams and earning the right to represent Canada at the Olympic games, and then winning the gold medal - they are amazed! It has a broad appeal as it is a timeless story of strength, courage and of overcoming obstacles to achieve your dreams. I am really pleased with the response to my book. It has been widely supported in the Icelandic community and by those who appreciate a good hockey story.”

Grebstad said he wanted to show the Falcons against the backdrop of the world at the time.

“I wanted to illustrate the environment they were in, and how hockey can be a unifying force in the most desperate of times,” he said. “The story of the Falcons' victory begins long before the actual Olympics and every element of their shared history is a contributing factor. Inasmuch as I believe this is a book about more than hockey, hockey is still an important part of the narrative, and I thought it important to illustrate how hockey evolved up to the point of the 1920 Olympics.”

While reading two books on a single topic might not usually be advised, these two books really are different enough to both be worth having as a glimpse into what is truly an historic Canadian hockey team.

The Falcons were a remarkable team which made history and having books that detail the team’s story is a good thing.