Postcards that Depict Our Love Affair with Winter Sports

Mike Smith

Well, it took about three weeks into January this year but there’s no denying that winter has definitely arrived in all of Ontario. On the shores of Lake Huron where I live, the weather was so nice until just a short while ago I was hoping to make it to February before I had to dig out my parka and winter boots. But let’s face it, we Canadians live in  winter country. So it’s no surprise that for much of our history we were busy inventing Quebec stoves, Hudson Bay blankets and the like to keep us warm until the robins returned. And to help keep us healthy and entertained, we also developed a passion for winter sports. In this Wayback Times article then, I’m going to showcase some of my favourite winter sports postcards from the golden age (1900–1914). 

Figure 1. This 1906 postcard by the Woonsocket Rubber Co. of Rhode Island announces that snowshoes and winter boots are Canada’s national footwear.

The postcard shown as Figure 1 is from a series of 10 “Footwear of the Nations” cards published in 1906 by the Woonsocket Rubber Co. of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. And what, you may ask, makes this card one of my favourite winter sports cards? Well, it appears that the Woonsocket Rubber Co. was convinced that Canada’s national footwear consisted of snowshoes and winter boots. And just for good measure, the background scene on the card shows a couple of lumberjacks. Needless to say, every time I look at this postcard I chuckle at the stereotyping. It reminds me of a hilarious line by TV’s Archie Bunker in an episode of All in the Family in the 1970s. When Archie is introduced to son-in-law Mike Stivic’s friend from Canada, his first words were, “Canadian? So are you into lumbering or whale meat?”

Figure 2. This brilliantly coloured 1912 Canadian patriotic and winter sports postcard was published by Montreal’s Illustrated Post Card Co.

When I first started collecting antique postcards in the early 1980s, the Illustrated Post Card Company of Montreal soon became one of my go-to publishers. The wonderful view cards they produced documenting the Quebec Tercentenary celebrations in 1908 were only surpassed by the brightly coloured, artist-drawn postcards they released from 1908 to 1912. This Montreal firm’s artists were expert at incorporating Canadian symbols such as the maple leaf, beaver, sheaves of wheat, etc. into cleverly designed, full colour little works of art. In addition to all the patriotic symbols and classic “Our Lady of the Snows / The Granary of the Empire” caption, the Figure 2 example contains all the typical Canadian winter sports equipment one could imagine – skates, a hockey stick, skis, a curling rock and a toboggan. And it goes without saying that the overprinted circular ad for Quebec’s 1912 Winter Carnival makes this little gem extra special.

Figure 3. A stumblebum in snowshoes is shown in this 1906 Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard drawn by renowned Canadian artist C. W. Jefferys.

Another one of my favourite winter sports postcards is from a 10-card cartoon series issued by iconic Toronto postcard publisher Warwick Bros. & Rutter. The complete series was drawn by renowned Canadian artist C. W. (Charles William) Jefferys (1869–1951). Anyone who attended elementary school in Canada in the 1950s and 60s would certainly remember C.W. Jefferys’ artwork. Although an accomplished landscape painter, Jefferys is best known for his illustrations of Canadian historical events, which were reproduced in countless school textbooks, magazines and newspapers. With respect to the cartoon series, Jefferys’ drawing of a stumblebum in snowshoes watching his wife or girlfriend confidently scurry by always makes me laugh (see Figure 3). And for the record, the other cards in this very collectable cartoon series are just as funny.

Figure 4. Warwick Bros. & Rutter printed the players’ names on this superb postcard of the 1906 Pembroke Lumber Kings.

Aside from the card itself, one of the great things about the hockey team postcard shown as Figure 4 is that the players are identified. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up an early Canadian sports team card and was disappointed that the publisher or printer failed to include the players’ names on the front or back. In this case, Warwick Bros. & Rutter was diligent enough to have the members of the Pembroke Hockey Club inscribed in the right margin below the caption. For you hockey historians out there, the 1906 Pembroke Lumber Kings are the team shown on the card, and the players were: Standing – W. (William) Wallace, J. (James) Coxford, R. (Roy) McVean; Sitting – H. (Hugh) Lehman, T. (Tommie) Jones, T. (Tom) Benson, O. (Oren) Frood, and H. Fraser. Note that Warwick Bros. & Rutter printed a version of this same card with a caption that said hockey team as opposed to hockey club. Of course, crazy collectors like me wouldn’t be satisfied until both versions were happily sitting side by side in one of my Warwick Bros. & Rutter albums.

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