#22 November 15, 2022
Author: Stefan Jonasson
“The Winnipeg Falcons’ Olympic win is a much-loved hockey story,” declared Cathie Eliasson in launching her new book, Falcons Forever: The Saga of the 1920 Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Team, at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg on November 4. “The Falcons’ story is brought to life chronologically and actual quotes are used from the players and journalists, with the language of the day, to help set the tone,” she said in describing the book. “Hopefully, readers will feel the excitement of the Winnipeg Falcons saga as they conquered their hometown opponents and made their way from Winnipeg, east to Toronto and then to Europe, garnering enthusiastic fans and amazing experiences all along the way as they achieved what most people thought was an impossible dream!”
A robust number of descendants of the Falcons players were in the audience, including one of the four surviving children of the original team members – Kathy Nicholson, the daughter of Huck Woodman, the only member of the Falcons who wasn’t Icelandic. There were even a few people in the crowd wearing Falcons jerseys.
Cathie herself is the granddaughter of Falcons defenseman Konrad (Konnie) Johannesson. She grew up watching the game and both of her daughters were university-level hockey players. The family’s passion for hockey now spans six generations. Cathie is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR).
On the surface, the Falcons “appear to be the standard, universal-type hockey team – they’re a group of young men who love the game and grew up playing hockey together on the river and backyard rinks; they were friendly, respectable, fun-loving guys off the ice and hard-hitting, tough players on the ice,” according to Cathie. “Eventually, they formed teams and played against other teams, chasing the dream of winning a championship. Sounds like most teams over the last hundred years, right? So why do we still remember the Winnipeg Falcons today?” Winning the first gold medal in Olympic hockey doesn’t fully explain the romance of the Falcons. It’s their underlying story that makes them memorable today.
“They really epitomized what a hockey team could be,” adhering to a strict health regimen during the hockey season. For instance, none of the players smoked or drank during the season, which brought chuckles to the audience. But it was perhaps their patriotism and bravery as soldiers during the Great War, losing two of their teammates, that endeared them to their fans. Other teams didn’t take them too seriously, so they were viewed as underdogs. “They were the little engine that could. They never quit. They were determined, and always persevered to get the win. Each man worked for the team, not themselves for personal glory.” They exhibited great harmony as a team.
Cathie read an excerpt from the second chapter, describing the opening of the 1919-1920 season, ending the passage with the praise they received in the Free Press. “So that’s how their season began. To find out how it ended, you might want to pick up a book,” she winked – and the crowd roared with laughter. The host for the evening was Cathie’s daughter, Dr. Cara Hedley, who played three seasons with the University of Manitoba Bison women’s hockey team. Cara is the author of the novel Twenty Miles, the story of a young woman whose father was a hockey legend as she seeks to find her own place in hockey.
“I’ve watched my mom, Cathie, work tirelessly on this book over the course of the past two years,” Cara observed while going on to talk about the scrapbook of the Falcons’ exploits kept by Cathie’s amma, Freda, when she was the teenaged girlfriend of Konrad Johannesson. This scrapbook proved to be “an incredible archive” with more than 200 articles and mementoes, “but this was more than just a collection of paper. … Imagine the pride and excitement that young Freda must have felt as she clipped out those articles and carefully assembled them in that scrapbook.” The scrapbook is now displayed at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s not just a history of the Winnipeg Falcons hockey team,” Cara said of her mother’s book, “it’s a legacy project, a continuation of the labour of love initiated in Freda’s scrapbook, then taken up by Freda and Konrad’s son, Brian Johannesson, an original and diligent chronicler of Falcons history, who digitized the scrapbook’s contents, and the flame of pride, celebration, and remembrance that’s now carried by my mom, who’s witnessed firsthand how the Winnipeg Falcons’ story has established its place both in Canadian history and our family history, resonating now through generations.”
Falcons Forever is available from McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, Tergesen’s in Gimli, direct from Friesen Press, or from Amazon. Lögberg-Heimskringla encourages its readers to patronize local bookstores whenever possible because bookstores build community. A video of the book launch, including the question and answer period that followed, can be viewed at the McNally Robinson YouTube channel.