Jimmy Foster: Controversial Star Of The 1936 Olympics

This is Jimmy Foster. He was Canada's first nemesis in international hockey, despite being Canadian.

Foster was born in Glasgow, Scotland in September 1905. At the age of six he and his family moved to Canada. Jimmy grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, falling in love with the great Canadian game.

As the new kid on the block he had to play goal when he first started out. Which was fine by Jimmy, as he loved stopping pucks. He would go on to become one of the best goaltenders outside of the National Hockey League, despite badly breaking his leg in two places early in his career.

Foster played with the University of Manitoba before moving to New Brunswick and becoming a star with the Moncton Hawks senior team. He led the Hawks to the 1932 Allan Cup finals, posting an amazing 417 minute shutout streak including back to back shutouts. Although the Hawks would not win the amateur championship of Canada that year, Foster led Moncton to the Allan Cup in both 1933 and 1934.

In 1935 "Jimmy the Parson," so named because he nearly devoted his life to the priesthood, was lured back across the Atlantic where he would play in net with the Richmond Hawks of the English National League. Percy Nicklin coached Moncton and was lured to England to coach not only Richmond but the British Olympic team. He badly wanted Foster to come with him to play in goal.

Foster jumped at the opportunity to see his native homeland. But he was also motivated financially. Foster had seen many senior league teammates and foes turn professional, only to be buried in the minor leagues not making a lot of money. Foster was said to have made a good wage working in Britain while maintaining his amateur hockey status.

Foster became a big star over in Britain. He backstopped the Hawks to second place in the league and was named as an all star. The following year he moved to Harringay where he would backstop the Greyhounds for three seasons, including a league championship in 1939.

His biggest moment came not in the British leagues, but rather the 1936 Olympics. Britain, masterminded by Bunny Ahearne, recruited a team full of Canadian players who were originally born in Britain, and iced a powerful team. The key recruit was the ace puckstopper Foster, who would allow just three goals in the Olympics, and had four shutouts in seven games en route to an unexpected gold medal.

One of the wins unthinkably came against Canada. At this time Canada's dominance on the international stage was unquestioned. For Great Britain to defeat was a huge upset in hockey history. That being said, Great Britain had essentially iced a second team Canada to defeat hockey's top dog.

Controversy swirled around Great Britain's team. Canada had suspended 16 players, including Foster, who left Canada to play in Britain without first gaining the consent of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. When named to the Britain Olympic team, the IIHF upheld the suspensions on Foster and Alex Archer on the eve of the Olympics. Suddenly Britain was without their star goalie.

Three days into the Olympic games Canada lifted their Olympic protest and granted Britain permission to use Foster and Archer, but only for the Olympic games. As Andrew Podnicks wrote in his book Canada's Olympic Hockey Teams, Canada only did so "in the spirit of Olympic warmth," and with the agreement a new rule would prohibit such country jumping in future international events.

With the gum-chomping Foster in net, Great Britain knocked of Canada's Olympic team, represented by the Port Arthur Bearcats, 2-1 on February 10th, 1936. Soon after more controversy erupted. An obscure and, according to the Canadians, unfair rule interpretation made it impossible for Canada to win the gold medal despite clearly being the best team. It was decided that Great Britain's victory over Canada would carry forward into the semi-final and final rounds of the tournament. Because Britain had defeated Canada once, they would not have to face them again. Inexplicably, the two points between any possible game between the two countries would automatically go to Britain and no game would be played. Under those auspicious circumstances, Canada lost their first international hockey title.

Despite the deceiving behaviour by Britain and the IIHF, Foster's performance should not be discounted. He very well may have been the best goaltender outside of the NHL at this time. He would post 16 shutouts in 31 World Championship and Olympic games for Britain. He also led Britain to the 1937 and 1938 European Championships. Until 2002 he was the only Scot to have won a gold medal in the winter Olympics.

Foster returned to Canada in 1940 and continued his outstanding ice hockey career in Glace Bay and Quebec City.

Jimmy Foster, Great Britain's greatest goaltender, died in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 4th January, 1969, aged 63.


Anonymous said...

I am surprised more attention has NOT been paid to Jimmy Fosters accomplishments during the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in the Press and on the Internet since He may have had the greatest tournament ever for an Olympic Goaltender.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely ecstatic to have found this site! Jimmy Foster was my grandfather and any information that I get about him the better. My oldest brother has the gold medal from the 1936 Olympics and we are so proud to have this as part of our lives and heritage.
I really wish there was some footage of those games so that I could show my children, so that they could really understand where it all comes from! If there is anyone that knows where I can find footage of the Canada vs Great Britain game please email me.

martin shmigelsky said...

my name is martin shmigelsky and as a teen living in vita,man.i got to know mr. foster when he would come to eat at our restaurant. He was a sales rep for ,i believe red rose tea company.He ahd told me that he was a goalie for britain when they won the gold.He also showed me a contract[?] offer he had received from the toronto maple leaves.We had many conversation and was a very pleasant man and told me that his dad had lived into his nineties and eventually was very surprised to learn that he had died so young.My greatest regret is not getting an autograph from him.He even insisted that i fix him lunch when my dad took my mom to a hospital....he loved eating at our well known restaurant at that time.

Anonymous said...

What deceiving behavior by Great Britain?! The rules of the Tournament Format were explained BEFORE all the Games were even played and it was used in previous Olympic Tournaments BEFORE this one in 1936! The British Players were BORN in Great Britain and they won the Gold Medal that Year because they had the best Goaltender that Olympic Year!

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