February 21st, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 8
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Women’s Hockey and the Swastika
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
ManWoman's Gentle Swastika- an attempt to reclaim an ancient symbol
So this Thursday the Canadian Women’s Olympic hockey team is set to take on their arch rivals the Americans in what hopefully will be their fifth straight Olympic gold medal. It should be a dandy game.

Women playing hockey goes back a lot further than you might imagine.

In 1891 the first Canadian newspaper account of a game between two unnamed women’s teams appears in the Ottawa Citizen. The game, which was played in Ottawa, is now regarded as the start of women’s ice hockey. How it developed across Canada and particularly out west is the subject of a remarkable book by author Wayne Norton (Ronsdale Press-2009) entitled: Women on Ice – The Early Years of Women’s Hockey in Western Canada.”

So with this column I want to revisit an unusual story I did on the swastika back in 2009 and connect it to this women’s hockey legacy. The swastika is now, for the most part, a hated symbol and probably one of the most maligned and misunderstood in human history. The pre-Hitler background history of this charismatic symbol is one in which its use in the past always involved the very opposite of Nazism. The word Swastika in fact originates from saustika in the ancient Sanskrit language of India in which su means "good" and asti means "let there be".

It seems rather unfortunate and unfair, to me, that this international and powerful symbol of prosperity and good fortune should be shunned because of its misuse for one horrific decade in its 10,000 year history. I wonder if the swastika will ever regain any of its original karma and be restored to its proper place in history? Probably not. There is just too much pain connected to it.
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The huge job of attempting to restore and redeem it began back in 1965 with the spiritual rebirth of a profoundly fascinating human being by the name of "Manwoman". The powerful revelation that smote this well known Cranbrook artist back then remained with him and guided him for the next 47 years until his passing in 2013. For Manwoman it was a lifelong search "for the historic truth about the swastika" and set him on his journey to “detoxify" it from its recent Nazi abuse. An important part of his efforts was the self published book entitled "Gentle Swastika"- "Reclaiming the Innocence." Its front cover is a large swastika formed by interconnecting doves. The book is, to an amateur historian like me, a most important work. I literally inhaled its contents, savoured its revelations and marveled every time his research revealed the swastika symbol in yet another unlikely spot.

This fascinating compilation of memorabilia and occurrences will take you to the four corners of the earth and to some of the most surprising places. Pictures and sketches abound throughout, revealing its presence in such New World cultures as the Mayan, Incan and Aztec. He has documented is use in Grecian pottery and coins. The early Greek priests and priestesses often branded or tattooed swastikas on their arms. It is also found in Roman altars and temples and the symbol was discovered in an Egyptian temple excavated in 1954.

In his comments about its early use Manwoman states that:"For thousands of years almost every race, every tribe, every religion on earth has revered the Swastika, using it in a variety of shapes and styles, associating it with the hammer of Thor, the footprints of Buddha, the emblem of Shiva, Apollo, Jupiter and even Jesus Christ. Scholars agree that for the first 300 years of the infant Christian religion the Swastika was the only form of the cross used in the catacombs and early churches; the crucifix-style cross was not used until later when Christianity became the official Roman church."
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Manwoman has gone to extraordinary lengths to uncover the worldwide occurrences of the "hakencruz", its German name. He has documented it in the cultures of China, Thailand, India, Japan, Africa and Nepal. Whether it was found on the belly of Buddha, on ancient Hindu coins or on an Ethiopian postal cancellation stamp it always meant roughly the same thing. A sign of good luck, spirituality, power or sacredness.

It is his chapters on Western culture that caught me by surprise. Leafing through the book I found myself drawn back time and time again to the North American section as I believe it has the most power to enlighten us all. In it you will find a section on Swastika, a gold mining town in Northern Ontario that has managed to resist pressure to change its name and abandon its use of the cross. The name and symbol occur everywhere and the town has endured many malicious attacks on its character by misinformed bureaucrats. I found the headline from a 1940 issue of the Northern News interesting. It was:"Swastika Had Name Before Hitler Ever Began To Hittle." Berlin, Ontario changed its name to Kitchener but Swastika stood its ground.

One of the photos that jarred me the most was a shot taken in the 1930's of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. In it she is a teen bedecked in a Native American dress with a large swastika appliquéd on it. Manwoman's American collection includes a Boy Scout badge of thanks- a swastika with the scout symbol in the middle of it. Or how about a vintage 1935 Coca Cola lucky watch fob in the hooked cross shape that says: "Drink Coca Cola in Bottles - 5 cents". A shot near and dear to my heart is a picture of a coal car on the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Railway with a swastika on it and the name Swastika Coal and Coke in large white letters.
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Having said all this let’s return back to the subject of hockey and how this unusual symbol showed up back then. The first record of women’s hockey out this way that I found was in Fernie in January 1918. How ironic that exactly one hundred years later one can find kids playing hockey once again on an expansive regulation size outdoor rink in Fernie courtesy of the Calgary Flames Foundation.

In 1919 two local Fernie ladies teams played and the local union paper, the District Ledger, wrote a condescending report that read in part: “Considerable interest was ‘man’ifested in the game, there being a large turnout of the masculine gender on hand to witness the game. The players looked real cute….” Really?

The Fernie Ladies Hockey Team began competing elsewhere in 1920, playing against the Calgary Regents in what the Fernie Free Press described as “an Amazon battle.” They lost in a close game.

By January 1922 the team had a new name and uniforms. White knickers and red sweaters with a large white swastika on the front. That January they once again met the Regents at the Calgary winter carnival and won 4-0. Newspaper reports described Swastika player Dahlia Schagel as a “fast moving brunette.”

The Blairmore Enterprise carried a report in its March 2nd of 1922 that talks about the Swastikas coming to Blairmore where they played and defeated their arch rivals the Calgary Regents 1-0. The article points out that 365 Fernie passengers came down by special train for the game and the gate receipt for the Blairmore arena was estimated at over 2,000 people, setting a record. The Swastikas were the inspiration for the creation of girls’ teams in Coal Creek and Blairmore in the 1920’s, a subject I will have to dig into deeper. (See Pass Herald archives June 12, 2012 for a story on Pep’s (Owen’s) Coleman Eagles ladies hockey team 40th reunion).
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It is the 1923 Banff Winter Festival that the Swastikas are most renowned for where they took the Alpine Cup by first beating the Vancouver Amazons (there’s that amazon word again!) and then by playing the Calgary Regents three successive times that resulted in scoreless draws. Since the Swastikas were not defeated and the Regents had not scored a goal, the cup went to the Fernie team. Today this undoubtedly would have resulted in a shoot-out and perhaps that “fast moving brunette” team captain Dahlia would have finished the job.

The Swastika team hung up their skates for the final time in 1928. The Swastikas, in spite of their subsequently tainted emblem, are well remembered in the local history of the Elk Valley. Go Canada Go!
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February 21st, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 8
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