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Memory Lane: How Sudbury’s speed-skating miners edged out the competition in the 1930s

We’re digging into the region’s Olympic history this week in honour of Canada’s athletes currently competing at the Beijing Olympics

Every four years, Sudbury fans ignore the politics to enjoy the Olympics spectacle and cheer on athletic excellence.

With all eyes on the XXIV Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, this month, it is fun to remember homegrown heroes who have competed for Canada with the whole world watching.

Sudbury.com invites readers to share memories of watching and applauding Winter and Summer Olympians who made Sudbury proud and inspired others to achieve their dreams for a Memory Lane article to be published Feb. 23. 

Quickly, how many Sudbury Olympians can you name? Meagan Duhamel, the pairs figure skater who won gold, silver and bronze medals. Figure skater Jeff Buttle, who won a bronze in Torino in 2006. Ice hockey gold medalists Tessa Bonhomme and Rebecca Johnston. Double gold medal swimmer Alex Baumann. Cross-country skier Devon Kershaw. Paralympian rower Steven Daniel.

There is an impressive long list of Sudbury athletes who represented Canada at the Olympics dating back to the 1930s.

The list includes speed skater Alexander Hurd who competed in 1932 at Lake Placid, New York, and won a silver medal in the 1500-metre event and a bronze in the 500-metre race.

He won the North American Mass-start Indoor Championships in 1933, 1935 and 1936, and set a North American record in the two-mile event (3000-metre) in the process.

Hurd, who worked as a miner at Inco Ltd., was chosen for the 1936 Canadian team, but was unable to compete. As it was the middle of the Depression, the speed skating team didn't have money to send athletes to the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Recently married, Hurd couldn't afford to pay his own expenses. Inco offered to sponsor him on the condition his co-workers donate money as well. The miners refused to have anything to do with the "Hitler Games."

Many Canadians had called for a boycott of the 1936 Winter and Summer Olympics, which were both held in Nazi Germany. 

Hurd continued to compete throughout the 1930s. During the Second World War, he performed with Stars on Ice at Rockefeller Center in New York City. He was living in Tampa, Florida, when he died in 1982 at the age of 78.

His sister, Florence, also competed in speed skating at the 1932 Olympics. Women's speed skating was a demonstration event that year – it did not become an Olympic sport until 1960. In 1935 she won the Women's North American Indoor Championships. 

C.W. Wallace notes in the book, “Sudbury, Rail Town to Regional Capital”, that Alexander and Florence Hurd trained at Stanley Stadium in Copper Cliff after it was built in 1935. They took advantage of the only indoor arena with artificial ice in the Sudbury area.

Hurd's teammate, Frank Stack, perhaps Canada's most accomplished speed skater, also trained at the Copper Cliff arena.

Stack won a bronze medal in the men's 10,000-metre competition at the 1932 Olympics and place fourth in both the 500-metre and 1500-metre races.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Stack worked at Inco's Frood Mine in the 1930s when he was competing. The February 1937 issue of The Inco Triangle identified Stack as a member of the Frood Athletic Association. 

Although Stack was Canadian speed skating champion seven times, like Hurd, he did not compete at the 1936 Olympics for financial reasons. 

Only one Canadian speed skater competed in 1936. Tommy White of Saint John, New Brunswick, failed to finish in the top 20 in any of the four skating events.

There were no Olympic Games held during the Second World War.

The Triangle reported in March 1947 on Sudbury's successful week-long winter carnival when thousands crammed into Queens Athletic Field for the Canadian Speed Skating Championships to watch "ex- Incoite Frank Stack of Winnipeg once again retain his senior championship."

At the age of 42, Stack skated for Canada at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1948 and four years later at Olso, Norway. He coached the Canadian Olympic Speed Skating Teams in 1952 and 1960.

In 1966, when Stack was 60, he competed one last time at the Canadian Indoor Championships in 1966 and claimed three second- and two third-place finishes. Named to the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 1974, Stack Street in Winnipeg is named in his honour.

Albert "Ab" Hardy of Levack Mine was Stack's teammate at the 1948 Olympics. Originally from Saskatchewan, he finished in 29th place in the men's 1500-metre race.

Let's tell more stories about our Sudbury's Olympic heroes. Send your memories to editor@sudbury.com or vgilhula@gmail.com, or post comments below with full name identification.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.