Canada’s Olympic History: Summer Edition

Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them.

Penny Oleksiak holds up the four medals that she has won over the course of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Canadian Olympic Committee have not announced it yet, but Oleksiak is widely expected to be Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony on Sunday. [Source]

If you have been following the Rio 2016 Olympics, you will know that sixteen year old Penny Oleksiak now holds a unique spot in Canadian Olympic history as she is the first Canadian to win four medals in a single Summer Games. Also, the gold medal she is holding makes her Canada’s youngest Olympic champion. So far Canadian athletes have won 13 medals* in total during the 2016 Olympics. Yesterday marked the end of our nine-day medal streak, the longest of any Summer or Winter Games. Hearing about the achievements of our athletes in Rio got me thinking about our past performances in the Olympics. Here is a look back at some of the best (and worst) moments from Canada’s history at the Summer Games.

* Update – Canada finished the Rio Olympics with 22 medals in total; 4 golds, 3 silvers, and 15 bronze medals.

Pankration (a mix of wrestling and boxing) was a favorite among Ancient Olympic spectators. This second century AD statue shows two pankratiasts in action. [Source]

The recorded history of the Olympic Games stems all the way back to 776 BC. Held in Olympia in honor of the gods of Ancient Greece, this one-day tournament initially had a single event, a 192-meter footrace. Coroebus, a cook, became the the first Olympic champion. The games expanded overtime and came to include more running races, along with long jump, shot put, boxing, javelin, and other events still present today. After they were banned in 393 AD by Emperor Theodosius because the games were deemed pagan, they did not resurface until roughly 1,500 years later. Largely thanks to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. Canada did not participate in those games; our debut came four years later in Paris at the 1900 Summer Games, (the Winter Games began in 1924 and Canada has participated in all of them). We sent two athletes—a far cry from the 314 representing us this year!

Fun Fact: The Summer and Winter Olympics used to be held in the same year up until 1992 when they began to alternate.

George Orton, a Canadian Ph.D student studying at the University of Pennsylvania, became our first ever Olympic medalist in 1900.  He won both gold in the 2500m steeplechase (shown above) and bronze in the 400m hurdles in the same hour. [Source]

Since 1900, Canadian athletes have taken home 291 medals during the Summer Olympics so far. As of today (August 16th, 2016) we have earned 129 bronze medals, 101 silver medals, and 61 gold medals. Our medal count places us in the 20th spot in the all-time Summer Olympic medal count. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was our best performance during a Summer Games as we took home 44 medals in total, including 10 golds. Those games also saw the highest amount of Canadian participation at 407 athletes and we were 6th in the overall rankings. On the other side of the spectrum, the 1960 Rome Games were one of our worst performances. We came in 32nd overall winning just one silver medal in rowing. Canada hosted only one Summer Olympics, which was in Montreal in 1976. Afterwards, we went on to host two more Olympics, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Here are some pictures from Canada’s Olympic history. Click on the images to learn more!

So who are Canada’s most decorated Olympians? Clara Hughes is tied with fellow speed-skater Cindy Klassen as they both have six medals. Hughes is also first and only Olympian of any country to win multiple medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. She has two bronzes for cycling and one gold, one silver, and two bronzes in speed-skating. Klassen holds the title of the Canadian with the most medals won at a single Olympics as she won five in the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Of our male athletes, runner Phil Edwards has the most Summer Olympic medals. He participated in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Games and took home five bronzes, hence his nickname, “Man of Bronze.”

Have you been watching the Olympics so far? What are your favorite events to watch? Or do you prefer to watch the Winter Games?


“Ancient Olympics: The Sports Events,” International Olympic Committee. Undated. Accessed from:

“Most Memorable Olympic Running Moments,” Canadian Olympic Committee, Official Canadian Olympic Team Website, March 2015. Accessed from:

“Olympic Summer Games,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Revised by Tabitha Marshall. Toronto: Historica Canada, September 2012. Accessed from: (Note: There is a wealth of information here).

Strashin, Jamie, “Penny Oleksiak’s Olympic success no surprise to former swim coaches,” CBC Sports, August 12, 2016. Accessed from:

“The Olympic Games” History Channel (Online). Undated. Accessed from:

Image Sources

Image Search – Library and Archives Canada. Keyword: Summer Olympics.

Official Canadian Olympic Team Website. Canadian Olympic Committee. 2016. (Note: There is no central hub of historic pictures. Searching for individual games and athletes yielded the best results).




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