Photo Credit: Canada Sports Hall of Fame
This year, Black History Month also coincides with Olympic fever, and there has been no shortage of controversy surrounding these games. However, Sochi 2014 pales in comparison with Berlin 1936, and McGill sent one of its best and brightest to lead the Canadian Summer Olympic team to the “Nazi Olympics”. It was a particularly bold move considering that Philip Aaron Edwards was black. We all remember Jesse Owens, but we should never forget our own Phil Edwards.
Phil Edwards was born into an affluent family in British Guyana on September 23, 1907. Throughout his early years in the Caribbean, Edwards was a promising runner, and his father was his first running coach. Upon graduating from secondary school in 1926, he moved to the US to further his running career and his studies at New York University. During his time at NYU, Phil Edwards managed to set a number of intercollegiate records in middle-distance events.
Although Edwards was an extremely talented athlete, he was not eligible to compete on the US track team at the 1928 Olympic games. However, Canada was more than happy to welcome him. He was invited to join the Canadian team, so he packed up and moved to Montreal, where he enrolled in McGill medical school. That year, Phil Edwards brought home a bronze medal from the Olympic games in Amsterdam.
Edwards quickly became the star of the McGill track team and served as Redmen captain for five seasons, from 1931 to 1936. During his time on the team, the McGill track and field team won six consecutive championships. In 1932, he returned to the Olympic games, this time in Los Angeles. He returned to Montreal to a hero’s welcome, having won three more bronze medals.
1936 was a big year for Phil Edwards; not only did he graduate from McGill’s medical school, but he also set out for his third Olympic games, the infamous “Nazi Olympics” in Berlin. This time, he would lead the Canadian Olympic team as its captain. Edwards never came home from an Olympic games empty-handed, and this time was no exception. He returned with yet another bronze medal, earning himself the nickname “Man of Bronze”. This fifth medal made him Canada’s most decorated Olympian at the time. On the return journey from the games, a hotel in London refused to honour his reservation because of his race. The entire team cancelled their reservations. They would not stay in any hotel that would not accept their captain.
Phil Edwards returned to McGill to complete a graduate diploma in medicine, specializing in tropical diseases. He received the diploma in 1945 and remained in Montreal on the staff of the Royal Victoria Hospital. Dr. Edwards also used is expertise in to participate in many international missions.
In addition to his studies, his running, and his medical career, Dr. Edwards also participated in the war effort. He interrupted his career to serve in the Canadian army during WWII and rose to the rank of captain.
Philip Aaron Edwards died in Montreal on September 6, 1971, just days shy of his 64th birthday.
Read more about Phil Edwards here and here.