#4: Winnipeg Pan American Wheelchair Games 1967

Written by Dr. Robert D. Steadward,

Throughout the mid-1960s, a number of CPA members began experimenting with HAM radio, a form of amateur radio, and through word of mouth the various wheelchair sports clubs began communicating with each other on a regular basis. Wheelchair sport enthusiasts now had a forum to discuss the creation of a national wheelchair sport association.

In 1966, the second Commonwealth Paraplegic Games were held in Kingston, Jamaica. It was here that Ben Reimer of Winnipeg represented Canada. It was, in part, Reimer’s success that motivated Al Simpson and several Winnipeg natives to approach the organizing committee of the Winnipeg Pan-American (Pan Am) Games, scheduled for the summer of 1967, to request the inclusion of a wheelchair basketball game. Initially they were turned down, but they were not discouraged enough to quit.

Under Allan Simpson’s leadership, a group of advocates from a Monday Nightclub began to communicate with a number of their counterparts in the United States, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Argentina. This collective group then began to look at the possibility of hosting a separate, but parallel Pan Am Games for athletes with a disability. The point of this gathering was not necessarily for the love of sport, but instead to build social acceptance and undo the myth that persons with a disability were a burden to society.

For Simpson, it was this desire and energy that lead him in September of 1966 to protest against the Pan Am Games organizing committee at their Winnipeg hotel. The protesters knew that they could not break into the “regular” Pan Am Games because of what they discovered were Olympic policies that the Games were required to abide by, but there was hope that at least a parallel set of games could be recognized. Eventually the Pan Am Games organizing committee agreed to recognize the creation of a Wheelchair Pan Am Games section.

While the Manitoba group was preparing for the games, the CPA was linking with people from across the country using the aforementioned HAM radio network. Hookup was at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, Winnipeg time, on the 20-metre band at 14160 KCS. It was through this connection that Al Simpson, Doug Mowat, Harry Beardsell and Vic Cue began to discuss the need for a national wheelchair sport organization.

On August 8th, 1967, the Winnipeg Pan American Wheelchair Games were officially opened with athletes representing Argentina, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and United States. Canada was represented by 60 athletes, who at the opening ceremonies were dressed in maroon blazers, centennial tartan ties, and gray flannels. The Games were perceived as a great success.