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This article was published 7/11/2014 (900 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They were the first hockey team to be proclaimed the best in the world, and now, nearly a century later, the Winnipeg Falcons are getting their due.
As the Jets battled it out in an impressive, though failed, effort to subdue the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, spectators were reminded of another hockey team the city can be proud of: the Winnipeg Falcons, the Icelandic-Manitoban team that brought home the first Olympic gold medal for hockey from the Antwerp Olympics in 1920.
During an intermission, fans were treated to the debut of a Heritage Minute telling the story of the Falcons, eight West End Winnipeggers who faced discrimination at home and fought overseas in the First World War. Their compelling history, coupled with support from the Winnipeg business community, has earned them another first: They will be the subject of the first extended edition of a Heritage Minute.
"In many ways, it's the ultimate Canadian story," said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of Historica Canada, which creates the videos. "You've got hockey and heroism mixed together."
'In many ways, it's the ultimate Canadian story' -- Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of Historica Canada
Fans saw the minute-long version on Thursday, with the longer edition to launch next week. Featuring Jared Keeso (from TV's 19-2) and the voice of George Stroumboulopoulos (in the English version) and Montreal Canadiens announcer Pierre Houde (in the French version), the videos capture a little-known story Wilson-Smith said more Canadians should hear.
"It's a story waiting to be told," he said. "And in the end, we try to do these things well, but we stand or fall on the strength of the story."
The Falcons, all but one of whom were of Icelandic heritage, faced hostility from their inception in 1911. When they were set to compete for the 1920 Allan Cup, organizers had to order other teams to play them, said Rick Brownlee, sport heritage manager at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. They went on to win the cup and the Olympics.
"It's no different than today's immigrants," said Brownlee. "They were different, they had a different language, they ate different things. People don't like things that they're ignorant of."
Seven of the eight Falcons had gone overseas to fight in the First World War. When the war ended, they put the team back together.
"Despite all of that that those Icelandic boys faced... they still went to serve their adopted country, their new country, and represented them both in the First World War and in the 1920 Olympics," said Brownlee.
Until recently, the Falcons' struggles and victories were "virtually unknown" outside Winnipeg, said Arni Thorsteinson, one of the local business leaders who lent support to the Heritage Minute. The Canadian Hockey Association incited outcry from some Icelandic-Canadians when, during the 2002 Olympics, it mistakenly identified the Toronto Granites as the first gold-medal winners in hockey (the Granites won the gold medal in 1924, the first Winter Olympics).
Thorsteinson, like Wilson-Smith, said the story was well-suited to a Heritage Minute.
"You got double recognition, World War I and hockey," he said. "You can't have a better combination." The decision to make the extended edition came as producers realized how much material they had to leave out, said Wilson-Smith. And with better-than-usual funding and improved technology, an extended edition was possible.
"It's always hard to boil it down, but we just kept looking at it and saying we're leaving so much stuff on the cutting-room floor," he said. "When is a minute not a minute? When it's a Heritage Minute we've decided to extend."
Wilson-Smith said fans will have to wait until the launch of the new version to see the extras, but hinted more combat scenes are included, as well as more emotional moments. "We're showing scenes that detect the sense of loss and poignancy a bit more than we were able to in the original minute," he said.
For Brian Johanneson, a Winnipeg-born Kitchener, Ont., resident whose father was a Falcon, the video is confirmation of a life spent documenting the Falcons. Johanneson, whose father was defenceman Konrad "Konnie" Johanneson, has operated a website devoted to Falcons history since 1999. His dad is portrayed in the video and identified by name.
"I'm rather elated, actually," he said. "I can't remember how many hours I spent on that website, but they were obviously worth their weight in gold."
It was, he said, about time to set the record straight on the Falcons. "I've been feeling that for a long time," he said. "There's been a lot of irritation in the Icelandic community about the fact that nobody ever recognized the Falcons."
Johanneson described the shorter version as "excellent," and said it transported him into the past.
"I got so engrossed immediately watching it that I kept trying to find my father," he said. "I kept looking for him, that's how engrossed I was."