My Flemingdon Park: Gold Medal Mini-Olympics at Grenoble Public School
Ten-year-old grade five student Keith Glennie laced up his skates to compete in the medal round of the speedskating competition on the outdoor rink beside his school while 6,400km away in Grenoble, France, his older brother Brian laced up his skates too, Olympic dreams on the line for both. A road flare may have been a creative substitute for the Olympic flame and snowball throwing competitions not sanctioned by the I.O.C., still, on a February weekend in 1968, the elementary school hosted their version of the Olympic Games, capturing the hearts of participants and the neighbourhood alike.
Grade 7 student Michael Hollett conceived the idea of organizing a mini-Olympics to correspond with the games hosted in Grenoble, France. The youngster told the Toronto Star, "We feel that Canadians should be made aware of their team and should give financial aid to make sure Canada is well-represented." Spectators passed the hat and purchased refreshments to raise funds.
There was no shortage of athletes or spectators. That year enrollment swelled to 1,200, and the school added nineteen portables to handle the overflow of Gateway School students waiting for the opening of their new school in September.
While the international sporting event took place February 6-18, Grenoble School's games occurred the first weekend in the month. Elimination rounds of the hockey tournament had occurred earlier in the week. School staff and members of the community pitched in to help organize.
From the torch relay to the medals' ceremony, the intention was to replicate the Olympic experience as closely as possible. This meant competition in traditional sports like figure and speedskating, tobogganing, downhill skiing and hockey. There were also unconventional matches, such as snowball throwing competitions and a snowman building contest.
Opening ceremonies commenced Friday when student-athlete James Walker jogged onto school grounds carrying a version of an Olympic torch hoisted above his head. Flags of twenty-eight nations fluttered at the front of the school. As Walker lowered the torch to light a road flare placed in a cauldron, crowds cheered. The smoky substitute for the Olympic flame was to remain lit for the duration of events.
Dignitaries in attendance included principal Gordon Miller and area M.P.P. and Economics and Development Minister Hon. Stanley Randall. Organizers ran an Olympic flag up the school's flagpole. The community turned out in droves when the games began.
The student body was divided into twenty-eight nations. Countries like Cuba and Panama, not traditional winter sports competitors, participated. Cross-country, downhill, and slalom ski events took place at the Flemingdon Park Golf Course, as did tobogganing, snowball throwing and snowman-making contests. Skating tourneys – hockey, figure skating, speedskating – happened on the outdoor rink beside the school.
The weekend forecast called for cloudy skies, snow flurries and below-zero temperatures. There was concern crisp weather, ideal for skiing and skating, might be detrimental for snowball making. The organizing committee's contingency plan called for the use of rubber balls if snow packing quality proved below mini-Olympic standards.
In the end, only two events, primary girls' cross-country skiing and two snowman building contests were cancelled because of poor snow quality.
The most heartening storyline to play out during the games related to the Glennie brothers, Keith and Brian.
The Glennie family lived in an eighteenth-floor apartment at 701 Don Mills Road. Older by eleven years, Brian was a naturally gifted athlete. Attending Don Mills Collegiate, he was a standout member of the high school's football, basketball and hockey varsity teams. By the time kid brother Keith began grade two, Brian had made the Toronto Marlboros hockey team, playing defence paired with future Leaf and broadcaster Jim McKenny.
The bruising defenceman, known for his bone-crushing body checks, became known as Brian Blunt Glennie for his brutal, unforgiving play.
Brian Glennie's hockey career hit an early zenith when he captained the 1967 Memorial Cup champion team before life temporarily came crashing down after a massive heart attack prematurely ended his father's life three weeks after the Cup victory. Instead of entering the N.H.L. and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Glennie chose to play for the Canadian National Team, which competed in the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.
At the games in France, Canada won all but one hockey match but managed to bring home only a third-place bronze medal. Coincidently, Canada also placed third at the mini-Olympic rink on Grenoble Drive. As for young Keith Glennie, he doubled his brother's medal hall, skating to victory in the speedskating heat and snowball throwing.
In place of medals, a total of twenty-eight nations competed for ribbons. A leaderboard was displayed in the school gymnasium. On Sunday, the final day of competition, 350 ribbons were handed out, and forty-seven standout performances were recognized. Carina Olson, siblings Tomas and Kerstin Smith and torchbearer James Walker crowded the podium. The gold ribbon hockey match went in Norway's favour on Sunday when they beat Britain.
Students representing Canada in elementary school competitions outperformed the official team in Grenoble, France, coming second in the medal count. Canada placed thirteenth in France.
Bryan Fines recalls being a Grenoble School Olympian. "My grade six class won the gold medal in hockey." He also medalled in distance snowball throwing.
Grade five student Jacqui Hutton lived at 22 St. Dennis Drive. She never earned a medal but has fond memories from that cold winter weekend in 1968. Today going by Jacqui Martin, she says, "The opening ceremonies were the best." She participated in tobogganing, skating and snowman building. "It was one of the best times at that school and got me interested in watching future Olympics. I remember being very proud of what we did."
Today Michael Hollett remembers the idea of organizing the mini-Olympics coming to him spontaneously. How does he explain the source of this ambition? Was it his parents? "Nope, parents weren't really involved in this or any community stuff." He took the idea and ran with it. "For some reason, I was super motivated, which [school administration] encouraged." The mini-Olympic organizer was just getting started. Later in life, he would co-found the alternative newsweekly NOW Magazine, the arts magazine NEXT, and established the North by Northeast music festival.
Brian Glennie played in the 1972 Summit Series and recorded nine seasons in the N.H.L., eight with the Leafs. Number 24 played on lines with Tim Horton and Börje Salming. He died in 2020.
Keith Glennie's whereabouts are unknown.
Additional material from The Toronto Telegram, 27 Jan.1968, pg.63;
North York Mirror,16 Feb.1968
Photograph of Kerstin Smith courtesy Chris Smith. Crest photo courtesy Bryan Fines. NHL hockey card pilfered from my older brother's hockey card
collection without his knowledge (Keep it under your hat; l also stole some of his old stamps and coins, too.)
Ed Brown lived in Flemingdon Park at 58 Grenoble Drive from 1969-1991