Friday, 13 November 2009

The Winnipegger Who Pulled the CFL Together

For a more detailed version of this post, read my October 2014 Winnipeg Free Press story here !

Hall of Fame Card (courtesy, Reese Halter)

G. Sydney "Syd" Halter had a huge impact on the local and national sports scenes, though most sports fans wouldn't recognize the name. Here's the story of the Winnipegger who pulled the CFL together !

Halter was born in Winnipeg on April 18, 1905 and graduated from the faculty of law at the U of M in 1927. While a student, he managed the Bisons hockey team which introduced him to the world of sports administration.

Soon after graduating, Halter was involved in the reorganization of the Winnipeg Football Club and from 1935 to 1942 held many positions on its board, including treasurer and president.

November 28 1938, Winnipeg Free Press

Between 1931 and 1946 Halter also had stints as president of the Winnipeg Amateur Athletic Association and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada (AAUC), both at the provincial and national level.

As national president of the AAUC at just 33 years of age he was portrayed as the young upstart who was coming in to modernize an antiquated organization for a new era.

Winnipeg Tribune Feb 17, 1942

Halter was both president of the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club (the Blue Bombers) and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada when World War II began. He left to serve in an administrative capacity with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

After the war, he resumed both his corporate law career and his interest in sports. In 1953, Halter was elected commissioner of the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) in which the Winnipeg Blue Bombers played. It was one of four major regional leagues in the country. Halter felt that it was time “to organize Canadian pro football" and that "... all matters pertinent to it at this time can be handled on a national basis under the jurisdiction of a single central office” and he set out to create a single Canadian Football League.

January 18, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

In January 1958, Halter brought officials from the "big four" leagues together for a conference at  Winnipeg's Royal Alexandra Hotel on Main Street to hash out a merger deal. When it was done, there was an agreement to create a Canadian Football League, at first called the Canadian Football Commission, and G. Sydney Halter was chosen as its first commissioner.

Halter guided the league
through its formative years of 1958 to 1966. (That made him the man with the tough decision to halt play at the 1962 'fog bowl' Grey Cup game and resume play the next day!)

After his retirement as commissioner, Halter dedicated himself to the sport of horse racing and served two stints as chair of the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission. Under his tenure, Assiniboia Downs expanded its thoroughbred racing season from 42 to 120 days and a rural harness racing circuit was created.

Winnipeg Stadium

After Halter's death on October 24, 1990
there was a push to have Winnipeg Stadium renamed the G. Sydney Halter Memorial Stadium. Winnipeg Enterprises, however, stood firm in its practice of not naming sports facilities under their administration.

Halter was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1977 and has been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame including: Canadian Sports; Canadian Amateur Sports; Manitoba Sports; Canadian Football; International Jewish Sports; Canadian Horse Racing and Canadian Olympic.

When you sit down to watch the CFL playoffs this weekend take a moment to remember the Winnipegger who pulled it all together !

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