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Calgary History

What happens when you clean an Olympic medal with Ajax?

By SILVIA PIKAL 

Photo by Jason Dziver.

1936 OLYMPIC SILVER MEDAL
At Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Helena Deng, manager of exhibits and collections, points out a display with two Olympic medals.

The medals are both the same size, shape, and are imprinted with the words “XI. Olympiade Berlin 1936.” Both medals belonged to Canadian track and field athlete John Wilfrid Loaring, who won a silver medal in 400-metre hurdles at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

But one of these things is not like the other. One is silver and shiny, while the other is discoloured and clearly damaged.

“Unfortunately, my mother cleaned the winner’s silver medal with Ajax Cleanser which badly tarnished it,” Loaring’s son, G. R. John Loaring, said in an email to Where Calgary.

“Ajax is a very, very harsh chemical,” Deng says. “It’s great for sinks, less so for silver medals. By cleaning it with Ajax, she stripped a large portion — if not all — of the silver plating off the medal.”

Many years later, G. R. John Loaring received permission from the International Olympic Committee Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland to obtain a duplicate of the medal.

Luckily, the same German company that made the 1936 Berlin Olympic medals was still in business and able to reproduce the original. The medals are identical aside from a tiny “COPY” stamped along part of the thin round edge. (And the copy is unravaged by Ajax, of course).

In 2015, when Loaring was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, his son shipped his collection of medals to the museum, which included the original and its shiny copy.

“We as Canadians have a very long history of success in athletics,” Deng says. “This medal — to have it displayed — is that impact story.”

A CANADIAN TRACK AND FIELD STAR
Loaring was born in Winnipeg and moved to Windsor in 1926. A rising track and field star, he won several medals in high school and on the Kennedy Collegiate Track Team.

At only 21 years old, Loaring competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in 400-metre hurdles. The very first time he competed in this event was at the Canadian Olympic trials. He was also the youngest finalist in the category, and thus surprised the world by taking home the silver medal. Following his success in the Olympics, he won three gold medals at the 1938 British Empire Games.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he left Canada for Britain to serve in the Royal Navy. In 1940, as a radar officer on HMS Fiji, Loaring overcame gruelling and challenging circumstances. When the ship was dispatched to pick up civilian survivors of a torpedoed ship, Loaring was able to help resuscitate three children due to his training in Royal Life Saving skills.

During the Battle for Crete, their ship ran out of ammunition and was sunk by a German bomber. Thanks to the strength and stamina Loaring developed as one of the top hurdlers in the world, he survived by clinging to the wreckage for hours until he was rescued. He developed severe oil poisoning due to being in the water for so long, and was put ashore in Africa to recover. Still, less than a year later, he was back to competing in track meets in England.

Back home in Windsor he was an active athlete, worked as a coach and lent his time to a variety of sports organizations.

The adventures of Scruffy the Car

By SILVIA PIKAL

Photo courtesy Heritage Park Historical Village.

There’s a Nash 450 sedan sitting in Gasoline Alley in Heritage Park Historical Village, and her name is Scruffy.

She first rolled off the assembly line in 1930 with a shiny coat of paint. Only a few years later she was covered in dents, repairs and rust due to the travels of a Saskatchewan family searching for a better life on the open road.

Like many prairie families in Canada during the Great Depression, they were forced to pack up their belongings, load up the car and leave their devastated farm behind to find work.

Scruffy has room for five people. With no trunk, any extra luggage would be strapped on the roof. The family headed north to Peace River Country, but somewhere in Alberta the worn-out car kicked the bucket.

Sylvia Harnden, the curator at Heritage Park, says the family would have had no choice but to set out on foot while Scruffy was left to fend for herself. Scruffy eventually settled in a barn in Balzac.

About 50 years later, in 1985, a man named Brian McKay showed up looking for Scruffy. The Calgary-born car enthusiast was living in Victoria, restoring antique Nash roasters, and looking for parts, when he heard about the old girl.

“He picked it up for parts, but once he had it in his possession, he started to look at it and fell in love with what it represented — all those thousands of thousands of people who struggled during the depression,” Harnden says. “The Dust Bowl, drought, hail, grasshoppers — it was a terrible time for a lot of people — and to him it represented those hardships.”

After having a hell of a time taking Scruffy to car shows, in 2004, when he was 65 years old, McKay mechanically restored the car and drove 2,000 miles down Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, recreating the journey of many Dust Bowl refugees who headed west hoping to find work.

He shipped Scruffy by flatbed truck to Chicago and travelled by train to meet up with her for the epic, 2000-mile, seven-week journey. McKay mimicked the life of the original displaced farmers with an old bed frame tied on top of Scruffy and a kitchen set-up at the back. He camped roadside or in campgrounds along Route 66 and cooked his own food.

The car has wooden spokes so when driving through drylands in Nevada, at one point he drove into a tributary of the Colorado River to soak his wheels, to swell up the spokes so they would be tight again.

After McKay’s death, Scruffy was donated to Heritage Park in 2010 with the stipulation they could not restore her.

“I think the story of this car is one thing — the indomitable human spirit,” Harnden says. “Brian McKay had it, people who survived the Great Depression had it — they just had to keep on, keepin’ on — and somehow they did.”

Liked this story? Read the full feature in the May/June issue of Where Calgary and uncover the secrets behind five museum artifacts.  

Uncovering hidden treasure from the First World War

By SILVIA PIKAL

Photo courtesy Glenbow.

On the seventh floor of Glenbow, one of the floors containing the museum’s collections materials, Travis Lutley slips on a pair of archival gloves and picks up a slender cigarette tin. Its exterior is dotted with rust, but it’s in pretty good shape considering it’s been buried in dirt for almost a century.

(more…)

Discover Calgary’s Historic Homes

A house in Bankview, once owned by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Benjamin A. Huckell. Photo: Maureen Hodgen.

This week marks the second annual Century Homes celebration during Historic Calgary Week.

Featuring over 500 historic houses in numerous communities, Century Homes reveals the lives and stories of the former inhabitants of these community landmarks.

Participating homes around the city are marked with both homemade signage and Century Homes banners.

Guided walking tours are available until August 6 in the communities of Bankview, Ramsay and Mount Royal.

Check out the tour map and the guided walking tours schedule.