By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist
Have you heard about our exciting new project? We have teamed up with local author Sean Grassie to publish a book celebrating iconic stories from 150 years of sport in Manitoba.
All proceeds from the book will go to KidSport Manitoba, an organization that provides support to children in order to remove financial barriers that prevent them from participating in organized sport. Once a month, we will be releasing a sneak peak of the stories from our book!
In this month’s feature chapter from Iconic Stories from 150 Years of Sport in Manitoba, we are celebrating the 1967 Pan American Games that left a legacy of multi-million dollar upgrades to sport facilities in the community. Winnipeggers marvelled at the chance to see world-class athletes and future stars perform before their eyes.
Read the full story below.
1967 Pan Am Games showcased city and rising stars
2,400 ATHLETES FROM 29 NATIONS COMPETED
Sports fans got to watch some future world stars at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
American swimmer Mark Spitz and tennis player Arthur Ashe displayed their talents and climbed the podium more than once.
Spitz swam to two world records and five gold medals in Winnipeg. He went on to win four medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and a record-breaking seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
Ashe, a 24-year-old United States Army lieutenant, served notice on the court at the Winnipeg Canoe Club that he was a rising star by winning a gold medal in mixed doubles and a bronze in singles. He followed that up with three Grand Slam singles titles – the 1968 U.S. Open, 1970 Australian Open and 1975 Wimbledon championship.
Spectators may not have witnessed the pair’s early success in Winnipeg without a star behind the scenes – a man dubbed “Mr. Track and Field.”
Jim Daly led the organization of the 1967 Pan Am Games, the largest sporting event ever held in Canada at the time. About 2,400 athletes from 29 nations participated in the fifth Pan Am Games from July 23-August 6, along with more than 9,000 volunteers.
“The city responded in a tremendous way,” Daly told The Metro (St. James community newspaper) in 1993. “It gave Winnipeg a lot of pride. It made us feel we could accomplish anything.”
The goal to host the Games had been set almost a decade earlier.
Winnipeg Mayor Stephen Juba had a vision to bring the Pan Am Games to the city. In 1958, Juba went to Chicago to see its facilities and establish preliminary costs for staging the event. Chicago was hosting the 1959 Pan Am Games.
After returning home, Juba put the wheels in motion to pursue the Games by setting up an exploratory committee with Daly as its chairman.
On August 25, 1959, Winnipeg lost its bid to host the 1963 Pan Am Games to Sao Paulo, Brazil in a vote by Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) delegates in Chicago.
On April 22, 1963, Winnipeg was awarded the 1967 Pan Am Games. The city beat out bids from Caracas, Venezuela and Santiago, Chile in PASO voting in Sao Paulo.
Daly was a member of Winnipeg’s bid committee. Early in 1964, he took a leave of absence from his job at his dad’s insurance business to dedicate himself full time as executive director of the Pan American Games (1967) Society.
“He was a main motivating force in persuading the city to seek the Games and his record in the staging of amateur sports in this area is one of unblemished success,” the Winnipeg Free Press reported in 1964.
Daly helped start the track and field program at the University of Manitoba and also coached. He brought the 1959 Canadian Track and Field Championships/Pan Am Games Trials to Winnipeg. In 1964, he managed the Canadian track and field team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001.
In the five years before the 1967 Pan Am Games, Daly gave about 750 speeches to help support Winnipeg’s bid and then promote the Games.
“I saw the Games as a chance to get sporting facilities that we were lacking at that point built,” Daly said in the book Pan Am Proud: A Tribute to Champions: The Official Commemorative Book of the 1999 Pan American Games. “We were going to be left with a legacy of facilities the community desperately needed.”
The nearly $3-million Pan Am Pool, $1-million University of Manitoba Stadium (5,000 seats) and the 3,000-seat Winnipeg Velodrome that cost $427,000 were all built for the 1967 Games. The infield of the velodrome had a regulation-size football field. A grandstand was built at Winnipeg Stadium for the Games, adding 3,900 seats and bringing capacity to 25,000.
About 20,000 people attended the Pan Am Games opening ceremonies at Winnipeg Stadium, many holding umbrellas in the pouring rain. Prince Philip of the British Royal Family officially opened the Games.
“Wearing a brown raincoat and a battered fedora, he arrived at the stadium in an open convertible just as the downpour reached its heaviest,” the Winnipeg Tribune reported.
The Fort Osborne Barracks served as the Pan Am Village. Its 26 buildings were loaned by the Department of National Defence and used by athletes and officials for accommodation, training and recreation.
Winnipegger Janet Neale (née Maddin) won a silver medal in the 4×100-metre relay on the Tartan running track (all-weather synthetic surface) at University of Manitoba Stadium.
“It was state of the art at the time,” said the Daniel McIntyre Collegiate graduate, who competed in the 1966 British Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica as a 17-year-old.
Maureen Dowds, 19, won bronze in shot put in her hometown.
“When they announced me getting my medal from sunny St. James, the place erupted,” the St. James Collegiate grad recalled.
Dowds came close to winning another Pan Am Games medal in 1975, placing fourth in shot put with a throw of 16.46 metres in Mexico City.
“I had the Canadian record for about eight minutes,” said Dowds, who was edged by Quebec’s Lucette Moreau for the bronze.
Swimmer Elaine Tanner of Vancouver made a name for herself at Pan Am Pool. The 16-year-old won two gold medals and three silvers.
“The pool itself was actually the first indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool in Canada,” Tanner said in a 2015 Library and Archives Canada interview. “And the facility itself was what we call a really fast pool. Technically it was one of the fastest pools in the world.”
Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” for her small stature, Tanner set two world records at the Games. The next year, she won three medals at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
In total, 13 world records were broken by swimmers at the 1967 Pan Am Games.
The U.S. topped the standings with 227 medals. Canada placed second with 92 and Brazil was third with 26.
Two days after the closing ceremonies, the opening ceremonies for the Pan Am Paraplegic Games were held at University of Manitoba Stadium. It was the first time a competition was organized for athletes with a disability within the Pan Am Games’ umbrella. Athletes from six countries took part in the five-day event in sports such as wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, swimming, archery and weightlifting.
Winnipeg hosted the Pan Am Games for a second time in 1999. For a group of runners, the event provided a chance to complete a journey they started 32 years earlier.
In 1967, 10 Indigenous teenagers from Manitoba were selected to run with the Pan Am Games torch about 800 kilometres from St. Paul, Minnesota to Winnipeg, following an ancient route used to carry messages. They took shifts carrying the torch, averaging about 130 kilometres per day for the six-day run.
It was pouring rain as they entered Winnipeg for their final stretch.
“The significant part of the run, I feel, was the fire, that they could never put out even when it was raining – that flame stayed on,” Dave Courchene Jr., one of the runners, said in a CBC documentary.
When they arrived outside Winnipeg Stadium, the runners were denied a chance to bring the torch inside for the opening ceremonies. The runner holding the torch had to pass it off to a non-Indigenous athlete, who ran up the stadium steps and lit the cauldron. The Indigenous runners were taken to The Original Pancake House restaurant and watched the opening ceremonies on TV.
In 1999, the group was invited to take part in the opening ceremonies for the Pan Am Games. Seven of the 10 runners entered Winnipeg Stadium with the torch and handed it off to a young Indigenous athlete.
“That’s where the circle finished – the Pan American circle for us,” William Chippeway, a member of the 1967 Pan Am Games’ torch relay team, said in the documentary.