On today’s date in 1976, the competitions for that year’s Summer Olympics kicked off in Montréal, Qué.
A day earlier, the Games’ opening ceremony was held at about 3 p.m. as trumpet fanfare marked the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II. She was then joined by Michael Morris, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the duo was greeted by an orchestral rendition of O Canada.
“Six years of preparation, more than a billion dollars spent, and a seemingly unending series of political arguments—but after all that, the 21st Olympiad starts today,” said reporter Brian Kelleher in a CBC Radio News broadcast on July 17, 1976.
The two-hour opening ceremony drew 70,000 people and included the parade of the Olympic teams – complete with symphonic music – plus the delivery of the Olympic flag to Montréal from Munich, Germany, the arrival of the Olympic flame, a mass gymnastics display and the release of flocks of doves.
“Altogether an emotional and spectacular ceremony in sharp contrast to the political bickering of the last few weeks,” added Kelleher.
While Calgary and Vancouver both hosted Winter Olympics in 1988 and 2010, respectively, the 1976 Summer Olympics were the first Games hosted by a Canadian city (and remain the only Summer Games held in Canada).
OLYMPIC COIN PROGRAM
Montréal was awarded the rights to the 1976 Games in May 1970 at the 69th IOC Session in Amsterdam.
The largest city in Québec, it won over bids by Moscow, Russia, and Los Angeles, Calif.
“In the initial planning stages, Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau expected the Games would only cost $310 million, and he believed much of that money could be raised through the sale of Olympic coins, stamps and lottery tickets,” reads an article published on CBC Archives.
In February 1973, the Royal Canadian Mint began issuing a set of coins as part of a novel program with the government of then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Struck in commemoration of the 1976 Summer Olympics, the set also helped finance the massive undertaking.
A total of 30 coins were issued—28 silver pieces in denominations of $5 and $10 plus 14- and 22-karat gold coins. It was the first time the Mint issued $5 or $10 coins.
The coins were categorized into seven series, including:
- Olympic Motifs;
- Early Canadian Sports;
- Olympic Track and Field Sports;
- Olympic Water Sports;
- Olympic Team and Body Contact Sports; and
- Olympic Souvenirs.
Each series was configured into four-coin sets of two $5 coins and two $10 coins. All 28 silver coins featured the Olympic logo, the denomination and the wording in the same positions, and each of the coins was struck in Hull, Qué.
Despite the fundraising effort, costs for the Games exceeded $1.5 billion, more than $1 billion of which was for Olympic Stadium, which was built earlier that decade to host the 16-day event.
“A subsequent inquiry into the costs put much of the blame on Mayor Drapeau. The report said Drapeau commissioned excessively complex facility designs, he failed to appoint a project manager to supervise the overall construction of the stadium, and he gave too much freedom to Olympic Stadium architect Roger Taillibert,” adds the CBC article.
Canada’s medal output was also a letdown; the country placed 27th while earning 11 medals—six bronze, five silver and no golds (making Canada the first Olympic host to win no gold medals at its own Games).
The Soviet Union – the Communist predecessor to Russia – went home with 125 medals, the most from that year’s Games.