Canada's hockey team dominated the 1928 Olympic Games. In 1932 it looked like they would dominate again in Lake Placid. Two Orillia men, WC George and EE Webb, decided to head down there and cheer the team on.
Arriving two days before the hockey tournament was to start, the boys settled in to watch the curling tournament that was using the ice rink first, an Olympic demonstration sport. Eight teams were entered, four from Canada and four from the States. Each would play the four teams from the other country once and the team with the best record would be awarded the gold medal.
The first games, however, were late starting.
Suddenly, an announcement came over the PA system asking any experienced Canadian curlers to make their way down to the offices. With a quick glance at each other, our boys sprang out of their seats and scurried down.
It seems the Northern Ontario rink was a no-show. Instead of re-working their format into a convoluted playoff system, the Olympic organizers thought it would just be easier to find another team to take that spot in the field. Of course they'd lose all their games, but the bonspiel would carry on smoothly.
Well, George and Webb and two other men were selected and escorted down to the change rooms. They were given a set of generic sweaters and a corn broom and then lined up at the door to the rink with all the other teams. Holy cow, they were about to join the march in of athletes at the Olympics!
Sure enough, just 15 minutes after leaving their seats the boys were on the ice getting ready to take on the New York State champions. They barely knew their teammates' names. George was even made the skip.
Orillia had one of the strongest curling clubs in Canada then. They were to win the Ontario Tankard the next year (1933). Neither Webb nor George was a member of that 10 man team, they were just run-of-the-mill curlers from Orillia.
Well, as expected, they got creamed 20-8.
That evening they played again and the result was worse, Connecticut 18, Northern Ontario Substitutes 3.
But the curlers did get to know the ice and the rocks. They got the feel of the strange brooms and loosened up throwing the rocks. Most importantly they got to know their teammates and gained a little self-confidence. They were determined to make a better showing in the morning.
The next game was against Massachusetts. Wouldn't you know it, they won, beating the Americans 21-7!
Later that day they won again, beating Michigan 19-11.
With no warning or preparation these strangers placed fifth out of eight teams at the Olympics with a 2-2 record. The other Canadian teams took the three medals.
The next day, back in their seats in the crowd, they witnessed the thrilling double overtime hockey game between Canada and the States (Canada won 2-1). Then their team cruised to the gold medal.
What a week the boys had had.
Now local lore has always said Orillia has only had one Olympian - Walter Henry the boxer at the 1964 and 68 Games. Brian Orser, that same lore says, is really from Penetang, even though he trained here for eight years.
But now we know WC George and EE Webb were really Orillia's first Olympians, way back in 1932. They had the participant's medals and the sweaters to prove it too!