1930 British Empire Games

MM Robinson , Founder of the 1930 Empire Games

August 16, 1930 – 90th Anniversary of the Commonwealth Games

This weekend marks the 90th Anniversary of the Commonwealth Games, the very first edition of which was hosted in Hamilton, August 16-23, 1930.

They were known as the British Empire Games back then. More than 400 athletes from 11 countries came together to compete in sporting events that featured track and field, swimming, rowing, boxing, wrestling and lawn bowls. Women were included in the competition, but their participation was limited to aquatics events only.

That the Games happened at all is due almost entirely to the organizing efforts of Melville Marks (Bobby) Robinson, a sports reporter for the Hamilton Spectator and manager of the Canadian Olympics track and field team. Robinson worked tirelessly to realize his vision of an international sport event that would bring together athletes from across the British Empire in a spirit of friendly competition.

This first edition of the Commonwealth Games included 11 nations, with Newfoundland (not yet a province) participating on its own. Most of the athletes were housed in classrooms in the Prince of Wales school located next door to Hamilton’s civic stadium. The female athletes were billeted separately at the Royal Connaught Hotel. The accommodations were makeshift by today’s standards, but this was the first instance of an international sporting event where all the competitors were housed together in one place – what today we would call an “Athletes Village”. 

Hamiltonians embraced the Games with enthusiasm. A crowd of 17,000 people turned up for the opening ceremonies at Civic Stadium. Ticket prices ranged from 35 cents for the boxing matches to $5 for a pass to all the track events.

Today, the Games draw athletes from 71 Commonwealth nations and territories. More than one million visitors attended the most recent event in Australia. Preparations are now underway for the 2022 Games in Birmingham England.

The 1930 British Empire Games, so proudly hosted in Hamilton, were the first major international multi-sport competition in Canada. The success of those Games paved the way for future multi-sport events, including the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver (1954), Edmonton (1978) and Victoria (1994); the Winter Olympics in Calgary (1988) and Vancouver (2010); and the Pan Am Games in Toronto (2015).