Constantine Falkland Cary “Conn” Smythe (1895–1980) was born on February 1, 1895 in Toronto, Ontario. Known best as a successful sports entrepreneur and hockey icon, he was also a soldier who served in both world wars. Despite his humble beginnings, Smythe showed great promise as an athlete in his early years. He left home to become a homesteader at age 17, but before long, he chose to follow a different path. In the fall of 1912, Smythe enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Toronto. There, he joined the Varsity Blues men’s ice hockey team and soon became its captain.
When the First World War broke out, Smythe enlisted with his teammates a week after winning the Ontario Hockey Association junior championship in 1915. At first, he served in the Canadian Artillery. He saw action in the Ypres salient, where an unfortunate barrage made him Commander of the Battery temporarily. On March 5, 1917, he earned the Military Cross for acts of valour. Four months later, he was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and acted as an observer for the artillery. During an airborne mission in July 1917, he was shot down and captured by the Germans. Though he attempted to escape on two separate occasions, his efforts were thwarted. Smythe then spent the last 14 months of the war in captivity.
After the war, Smythe returned to Toronto, where he started a sand and gravel business and pursued his career in sports. He also finished his civil engineering degree in 1920. Instrumental in the building of Maple Leaf Gardens,
Smythe went on to become the founder and principal owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At age 45, he sought active duty in the Second World War and formed his own artillery battery. Constantine F.C. “Conn” Smythe died on November 18, 1980 at age 85 in Caledon, Ontario.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: February 1, 1895 (Toronto, Ontario)
Date of Attestation: October 19, 1915
Age at Enlistment: 20 years, 7 months
Prior Military Service/Active Militia: Four months with the 25th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery
Height: 5 feet, 7 inches
Weight: 150 lbs
Description: Fair complexion, blue eyes, blonde hair. Presbyterian (a duplicate copy indicates that he is a Methodist and a Theosophist). Great toe on right foot has been slightly split.
Home Address: 22 Glen Grove Avenue West, Toronto, Ontario
Next of Kin: Father, Albert E.S. Smythe, living at 85 Bleecker Street, Toronto, Ontario
Branch of Service: Army and Air Force
Theatre of War: France, Germany
- July 2, 1916—Smythe is admitted to hospital for treatment of a fractured rib. After a stay of three days, he is discharged and returns to duty.
Interesting Details from the Service Record:
- April 25, 1917—Smythe receives the Military Cross.
- April 1917—He is now attached to the Royal Flying Corps as an Observer on Probation.
- October 14, 1917—He is listed as missing.
- November 12, 1917—He is confirmed to be a prisoner of war (POW).
- November 22, 1917—He is held in the Karlsruhe No. 1 POW camp in the province of Baden.
- December 18, 1917—He is moved to the Burg bei Magdeburg POW camp.
- 1918—He is moved around different POW camps (Halle/Saale, Blankenburg, and Schweidnitz).
- December 28, 1918—He is repatriated and arrives at Ripon, England.
- December 16, 1919—He is mentioned in a “Report for Valuable Services Rendered Whilst in Captivity.”
The London Gazette
April 17, 1917—Supplement 30023—Page 3689
- “Lt. Conn Smythe, Fld. Arty. —For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He organized some men and led them forward with great dash, thereby dispersing an enemy party at a critical time. He himself accounted for three of the enemy with his revolver. He has previously done fine work.”
Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)
1901 Census of Canada
- At age six, Constantine F.E. Smythe is living in Toronto, Ontario. His father, Albert (39), is an Irish bookbinder who arrived in Canada in 1889. Conn has an older sister, Leo M. Smythe (10).The family religion is listed as “Theof Christ” (likely Theosophist).