RCAF Flyers wrote Olympic history
February 7, 2014 ~ by Vic Johnson
The Air Force won gold in February 1948 when the RCAF Flyers hockey team
triumphed at the Olympic Winter Games held in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
They had not been expected to win anything and in fact were a bit of an
embarrassment to some.
After all, they were current and ex-Air Force members, along with some
Army colleagues, who just happened to play hockey in their spare time!
But the Flyers surprised everyone and proved that the old Air Force adage
of “max flex” means you can do just about anything in the line of duty.
The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, begin today. But let’s take
a moment to turn the clock back to 1948.
By 2008, 60 years after their spectacular Gold Medal win at the
1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the surviving members
of the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers hockey team had faded into obscurity
for most people.
Following their stunning victory in post-war Europe on February 8, 1948,
the underdog team was disbanded– the players returning to their previous
duties – and oblivion.
Although they were inducted into the Canadian Armed Forces Sports Hall
of Fame in 1971, as the years passed, they were forgotten by nearly all
Except for the military hall of fame, ”the Flyers were never made part
of any Canadian Halls of Fame for sports, hockey or the Olympics, nor were
any of the players, said Ottawa author Pat MacAdam, author of a 2007 book
on the 1948 games entitled Gold Medal ‘Misfits’.
That’s in contrast to Canada’s sweetheart figure skater, Barbara Ann
Scott, who also took Gold at the same games, then went on to great fame
as a skating superstar. The Barbara Ann Scott doll became a must-have for
any young girl in the early 1950s.
The genesis of the RCAF Olympic team was a bold initiative by Squadron
Leader A. Gardner “Sandy” Watson, a senior medical officer at RCAF Headquarters
in Ottawa and a hockey fanatic. Upon learning that Canada could not field
an “amateur enough” team to meet the new stringent guidelines for the 1948
games, persuaded his superiors that the RCAF could do it – but on a shoestring
budget. He caught the attention of chief of the air staff, Air Marshal
Wilf Curtis and the rest, as they say, is history.
From a lacklustre start, and a string of losses in exhibition home games,
this ragtag assortment of “misfits” gathered from bases across Canada was
panned by all the major media. The Ottawa Citizen editorialized: “The decision
to retain as Canada’s Olympic entry a weak RCAF team which is tied for
last place in the Ottawa Senior League will be greeted with dismay from
The final team was still being drafted hours before their departure
from New York aboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth. But once in Switzerland
they would soon jell into a dynamic force to be reckoned with.
Here’s how the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame describes their feat on
their website: “At only the fifth Olympic Winter Games ever, the Flyers
reeled off six straight victories before registering a scoreless tie with
heavily-favoured Czechoslovakia. In their final game against the host Swiss
team, a win by two or more goals ensured the team a gold medal. In a hostile
environment, the Flyers rode 22-year-old goaltender Murray Dowey to a 3-0
shutout win. Dowey . . . finished the tournament with five shutouts in
During their overseas tour, which included a series of exhibition games
seen by some 250,000 people, the team racked up a record of 31 wins, five
losses and six ties.
A famous photograph of a joyous Barbara Ann Scott being hoisted on the
shoulders of team mates Ab Renaud and Reg Schroeter became the iconic image
of the 1948 Games.
The Flyers returned to a heroes’ welcome on April 6, 1948, and were
met at Ottawa’s Union Station by a delegation of VIPs that included Governor-General
Viscount Alexander. They were then escorted in a motor cavalcade of Buick
convertibles through the streets of the city to a welcoming luncheon at
the old RCAF Beaver Barracks, and they attended a series of receptions
over the next week.
Now fast forward exactly 60 years to the day of their winning Olympics
game. On Friday, February 8, 2008 an assemblage of some 200 “friends of
the Flyers” gathered at the hall of Ottawa’s St. Anthony’s Soccer Club
to honour two of the eight surviving Flyers at a noon luncheon.
Ab Renaud of Ottawa and André LaPerrière of Montreal were
there to accept replica gold medals from the president of Hockey Canada.
Following the presentation, Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian
Olympic Committee announced that the team would finally be inducted into
the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in Calgary on April 12, 2008.
The two Flyers team mates were then presented with replica team jerseys
by Dean Black, executive director of the Air Force Association of Canada,
on behalf of the association, to wear while dropping the puck for the next
evening’s NHL hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal
It was a fitting outcome to 60 years of public indifference, and a great
tribute to an amazing group of amateurs who took on the world – and won.
With files from the official Canadian Olympic Team website. Master Warrant
Officer (retired) Vic Johnson was a Canadian Armed Forces photographer
and is former editor of Airforce magazine.