Category Archives: Internationalism

January 25th – First Winter Olympics are held

Official poster for the 1924 Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix, France.

Official poster for the 1924 Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix, France.

With the countdown towards the start of this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia less than two weeks away, I thought this topic was apt. On this day in 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France (in the French Alps). Originally known as the “International Winter Sports Week”, or en françaisLa Semaine Internationale des Sports d’Hiver, these Olympic Games lasted from January 25th to February 4th, with 16 nations participating and 258 athletes competing in total.

The Winter Olympics had many antecedents. In 1901, five years after the birth of the modern Olympics at Athens, Sweden held the first organized international competition in winter sports. Called the Nordic Games, this competition was exclusive to Scandinavian nations. Interestingly, the first time that winter sports were staged at the Olympics were in 1908 (London, UK) for figure skating, and 1920 (Antwerp, Belgium) for men’s ice hockey. As a separate Winter Olympics event did not exist at the time, both the figure skating and ice hockey events were held months after the Summer Olympics were held.

In 1924, the French Olympic Committee decided to host a Winter Olympics in the foothills of the French Alps, in conjunction with the Summer Olympics that were to be held later in the year in Paris. On January 25th, 1924, the first Winter Olympic games were held, with the following six sports being played: bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, military patrol (known today as the biathlon), skating (both figure skating and speed skating), and Nordic skiing (cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, and ski jumping). The sixteen nations participating were: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, and Yugoslavia.

Here are some interesting facts about the First Winter Olympic Games:

  • Norway won the most medals at the games, with 4 gold, 7 silver, and 6 bronze for a total of 17 medals. Finland won the second most medals, with 4 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze (total of 11).
  • These Olympic Games in the winter of 1924 marked the first time that the host country failed to win any gold medals. At Chamonix, France won 3 bronze medals, and no gold. Since Chamonix, this feat has only occurred four other times, at St. Moritz, Switzerland (Summer, 1928), Montreal, Canada (Summer, 1976), Calgary, Canada (Winter, 1988), and Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (Winter, 1984).
  • Oddly enough, in 1974 the last medal of the 1924 Winter Olympics was handed out. Anders Haugen of the United States was awarded the bronze medal in a ski jumping event, after Olympic officials had discovered that a scoring error had occurred, placing Haugen incorrectly in fourth place. By the time Haugen received his bronze medal in 1974, he was 86 years old. I hope by that age he was not ski jumping any longer…
  • From 1924 to 1992, Winter and Summer Olympics were held on the same year, every four years. A decision in 1986 however by the International Olympic Committee placed the Summer and Winter Games on separate four-year cycles in alternating even-numbered years. Consequently, the next Winter Olympics after 1992 (Albertville, France) were held in 1994, at Lillehammer, Norway.
  • Canada won its first Winter Olympics gold medal in men’s ice hockey, uniquely defending their title from the previous Summer Olympics. Women’s ice hockey would not be added to the Olympic until 1998, at Nagano, Japan. Here’s to another ice hockey gold medal (in both men’s and women’s mind you) this year at Sochi, 90 years after Chamonix! 🙂

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December 11th – UNICEF is created

Flag of UNICEF

Flag of UNICEF

On this day (December 11) in 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF for short, was created. UNICEF’s original mandate was to provide food and healthcare to children in countries that had been destroyed in the violence of the Second World War. Today, UNICEF has staff and workers in over 190 countries and territories across the globe, and provides humanitarian assistance to children and their mothers in developing countries.

Many North American children may be familiar with “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF”. The idea of this program started in Philadelphia in 1950, where children would collect loose change in small orange boxes on Halloween night, rather than soliciting for candy amongst neighbours. Upon UNICEF receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965, American president Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “Your UNICEF Trick or Treat Day has helped turn a holiday too often marred by youthful vandalism into a program of basic training in world citizenship.” While the policy of collection of monies in small orange boxes has stopped out of safety and administrative concerns, “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” continues to this day. Children from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Mexico and Hong Kong participate in this program, which has raised over US $188 million worldwide.

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December 10th – The Nobel Prize is awarded for the first time

The medal awarded as part of the Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates also receive a diploma recognizing their achievement along with a monetary prize.

The medal awarded as part of the Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates also receive a diploma recognizing their achievement, along with a monetary prize.

On this day in 1901, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the first time in Stockholm, Sweden. Since its inception over 100 years ago, a total of 835 individuals and 21 organizations have been awarded with the Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize takes its name from Alfred Nobel, a prominent Swedish engineer and inventor. Besides the award that contains his name, Nobel is known as the inventor of dynamite, one of the greatest paradoxes in history. Upon his death in 1896, Nobel’s last will specified that his wealth be used to fund a series of prizes for those who contribute the “greatest benefit on mankind” in the fields of physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature. Almost $190 million (current day monetary value) was used to establish these Nobel Prizes.

On December 10th, 1901, five years to the day after Alfred Nobel passed away, the first Nobel Prizes were handed out. Amongst the inaugural class of Nobel laureates were Wilhelm Röntgen (Physics) for his discovery of X-rays and Henry Dunant (Peace) for founding the International Red Cross. Here are some other fun facts:

  • The Nobel Prize for Economics was not one of the original five prizes, and was only awarded after 1969.
  • Only two individuals have multiple Nobel Prizes in different fields. These individuals are Marie Curie for Physics (1903, for her work in radiation phenomenon) and Chemistry (1911, for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium) and Linus Pauling for Chemistry (1954, for his work on the nature of the chemical bond, more specifically orbital hybridization) and Peace (1962, for his work in campaigning against nuclear weapons testing).

A total of 23* Canadians have won a Nobel Prize. The asterisk indicates that some of these individuals were not born in Canada nor were Canadian citizens, but performed much of the work the Nobel Prize recognized while in Canada. Here are five notable Canadian individuals who have won:

  1. Ernest Rutherford for Chemistry (1908). You may know him as the scientist behind Bohr-Rutherford diagrams from high school chemistry class. Rutherford’s work on the half-life of radioactive substances while at McGill University in Montreal was the basis of his Nobel Prize (Rutherford was, in fact, a Kiwi, having been born in New Zealand).
  2. Frederick Banting for Physiology/Medicine (1923). Banting was rewarded the Nobel Prize for his work in (co)discovering insulin while a the University of Toronto. Prior to his arrival at Toronto, Banting was a faculty member at the University of Western Ontario, teaching orthopedics and anthropology.
  3. Lester B. Pearson for Peace (1957). The future prime minister of Canada won his Nobel Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through his work at the United Nations.
  4. John Polanyi for Chemistry (1986). This Hungarian-born scientist won his Nobel Prize for work on chemical kinetics. Today, Polanyi still teaches chemistry at the University of Toronto.
  5. Alice Munro for Literature (2013). This year’s Nobel laureate in literature received her prize for her work on the short story. Munro is a fellow alumnus of the University of Western Ontario (Go Mustangs!), having studied English and journalism during her time here as an undergraduate student.

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