Pan Am Games bring past games to mind

This column is dedicated to the late Glenn Cochrane, who grew up in Hamilton, but was a Beacher by choice with his wife Jean, and a great Canadian. I learned a lot from Glenn about Hamilton sports in a national context.

I recently had a discussion about the Pan Am Games, which someone said was the first great major international sporting event in Ontario. I took umbrage at this remark, and replied that I thought there were other sports events of national and international calibre connected to this area.

The reply was, “Why don’t you name just one if you can?”

“The British Empire Games,” I said.

After this sports discussion I decided to write about the British Empire Games – later known as the Commonwealth Games – one of the first major athletic events in Ontario. The international competition was held in Hamilton in the summer of 1930. Our athletes came from across Canada, but there was a Beach connection, with a local athlete and a training park.

Myrtle Cook at the start of a race around 1926. PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244 Item 8172
Myrtle Cook at the start of a race around 1926.
PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244 Item 8172

Hamilton in 1930 was a city of only 150,000 people, but they were determined to make their mark on the athletic world stage, and did so almost entirely on their own. Those in charge of the current Pan Am Games should take note of these financial facts as this year’s games pass the $2.5 billion mark.

In 1930 Hamilton had a small amount of funding from the federal and provincial governments, but this proud city decided to “get the games” and finance them in their own way.

It is true that there were not as many athletes or countries participating in the BEG as in the upcoming Pan Am Games, but the city of Hamilton emphasized quality over quantity. The city paid for and built athletic facilities: a new Olympic swimming pool, a new stadium, stands, etc. The city guaranteed the BEG against loss.

Competitors and officials were the guests of the city during their stay, and arrangements were made for their comfort and entertainment during the entire games. A total of 1,800 people, including officials, competitors, etc., were in the city and surrounding areas for athletics, wrestling, swimming, boxing, rowing, and lawn bowling. (Yes, there was lawn bowling. You lawn bowlers at Kew Beach and Balmy Beach, are you surprised?)

The BEG were started just after the 1928 Olympic Games. Many of those Olympic athletes competed in the BEG in Hamilton. After months of deliberation the choice was between Vancouver and Hamilton, the final choice.

The Commonwealth nations included England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Bermuda, British Guiana, Australia, and Newfoundland. There was one solid week of competition, from Aug. 16 to 23.

They came by boat, train, and even by airplane. Those were the days of little pay but great glory for the athletes and the countries they represented. You must understand that the games were designed on the Olympic model, both in general organization and in the stern definition of amateur. The aspect of amateur competition is nearly lost today, but in the past it was different.

All eyes around the empire were on Hamilton to see how their athletes had done. Of course there were some minor setbacks, but this was Hamilton’s great moment: the finest racing track in North America for the athletes, the wonderful Olympic Stadium, the best swimming pool in Canada, and of course Hamilton Bay where the paddling sports were held.

You might ask what the Toronto connection is.

Here in Toronto we had a special place in the Beach. This training area is now known as Pantry Park, south of Queen Street between Kippendavie and Kenilworth Avenues. It has been known as Raine’s Pond, the Kenilworth Avenue Skating Rink, the Beaches Athletic Field, and other names.

Myrtle Cook McGowan trained here with other athletes, and represented Canada in the 1928 Olympics and at the 1930 BEG.

Myrtle set national and international records, and won the 60m and 100m races at the BEG.

How did the different countries fare in the 1930 British Empire Games? England finished first, with Canada in second and South Africa in third.


I will be leading a walk on Saturday, June 20 at 1 p.m., starting at the Beaches branch of the Toronto Public Library and proceeding west to Corpus Christi Church. One of the highlights will be Pantry Park, the place where a lot of the athletic trials of Myrtle Cook were held.

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