Sol Tolchinsky was a goliath among Davids on his Young Men’s Hebrew Association basketball team.
Standing 6-foot-4, Tall Sol, as he was called, played centre and forward for the YMHA Blues when the Montreal team won the Dominion basketball championship in 1950. The triumph was celebrated by Jewish communities across Canada.
Two years earlier, he had represented Canada at the Olympics in a basketball tournament remembered for the duplicity of European officials and the disunity of the Canadian team.
Mr. Tolchinsky, who has died at 91, was known for his sharp passes and an accurate hook shot.
“We depended on him to help out with rebounding,” said Murray Waxman, who, at 95, is the last living member of the championship Blues team.
Solly Tolchinsky, as his full name was officially registered by Rabbi J.L. Colton, was born in Montreal on Jan. 2, 1929. He was one of three children born to the former Nessie Cartman and Mendel (Max) Tolchinsky, a labourer and door-to-door salesman. The family, Ukrainian Jews from Odessa, immigrated to Canada in 1926.
Mr. Tolchinsky attended Commercial High, where he played on the school basketball team. He was still a teenager when named to the Canadian Olympic team in 1948.
Playing as a centre, he specialized in layups, driving to the net before pushing the ball up and in. Another of his skills was wisecracking for his teammates and trash talking his opponents. He fouled out often and engaged in fisticuffs in more than one game, perhaps inspired by his city’s fondness for such shenanigans on the ice.
After the trauma of the Second World War and the euphoria surrounding the founding of Israel, the Blues emerged as a team representing Jewish pride.
“We were an all-Jewish team,” Mr. Waxman said. “We were all born in Montreal. Everybody knew us. We were well supported by the community.”
In 1948, the Blues narrowly lost the Canadian title to the Vancouver Clover Leafs in a gruelling, physical, best-of-five series played at a packed Sir Arthur Currie Memorial Gymnasium in Montreal.
The two teams met again two days later in the Olympic trials, a two-day knockout tournament at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The Blues got their revenge by defeating the Clover Leafs, only to lose to the upstart University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, a student team with fresh legs.
The Canadian Olympic basketball team ended up consisting of six Blues, seven Thunderbirds and Ole Bakken, the Norwegian-born star of the Clover Leafs.
The original plan was to play each group as a unit. In the end, the coaches mixed the players, but the teams had different styles and never performed smoothly together. The passing decades have not eased antipathy among the players.
“We had quite a good team,” Dr. Patrick McGeer, formerly of the Thunderbirds, said in 2012, “and a not-so-good team.”
“We were the lead team,” Mr. Tolchinsky insisted at that time.
The 1948 Olympics are remembered as the “Austerity Games,” as postwar London could barely supply the basics, let alone luxuries. After a weeklong sail across the Atlantic aboard the Aquitania, a Cunard liner stripped down for war service as a troopship, players settled into spare quarters at an air-force base in Uxbridge. Those players who neglected to bring a towel had to rent one from organizers. The spartan lifestyle was familiar to Mr. Tolchinsky, a 19-year-old student who held a low-paying job in the schmatta (clothing) business as a shipper. He was so tall his feet dangled off the end of his bunk bed.
The shared misery of the journey did not ease tensions in the squad. The Vancouver players were honoured at a luncheon at British Columbia House. The Montreal players did not attend. The Montreal players were feted at a luncheon at Maccabi House. The Vancouver players did not attend.
In the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament, Canada won three games and lost two, one of those by a single point. Although they finished in a three-way for second place, Canada was relegated to a consolation round because of points differential. The Canadians had deliberately not run the score up against an outclassed host British team, while others in the group had. Uruguay, also 3-2, advanced to the medal round even though Canada had beaten the South Americans by 52-50.
The Canadians then defeated Iran, Belgium and Peru to win the consolation bracket and finish ninth in the tournament, a bittersweet achievement.
One of Mr. Tolchinsky’s strongest memories was of scrimping to save $75 in spending money for the six-week trip. “There was nothing to buy,” he said of a London still struggling with rationing and shortages. “Nothing to spend it on. Nothing.” He returned home with $16 still in his pocket.
Two years later, the Blues again challenged for the national title. Mr. Tolchinsky scored 28 points in a 65-45 victory over the Ottawa Valley champion Glengarry Cameron Highlanders. The second game ended 53-34 for a total points victory of 118-79.
The Blues then eliminated the Toronto Tri-Bells to claim the Eastern Canada title before defeating the University of Manitoba Bisons in four games in a best-of-five series. For the first time since it had been donated by a sporting club in 1926, the national Montreal Cup was awarded to a team from the city in which it originated.
That summer, Mr. Tolchinsky joined four Montreal teammates and three Toronto players on the Canadian team attending the third Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv. The United States defeated Canada 56-34 in the championship game that culminated the 18-nation “Jewish Olympics.”
In the fall of 1950, Mr. Tolchinsky registered at McGill University, where he played for the basketball team. He was also a writer for the McGill Daily student newspaper, though his most creative work was writing musical comedy for McGill’s Red and White Revue theatre group.
He befriended an aspiring actor by the name of William Shatner and was smitten by a chorus girl named Margot Blatt. They were married for 67 years.
Away from the sporting arena, Mr. Tolchinsky, who was also known as Sol Tolkin, operated Exposervice Standard Inc., a trade-show contractor. In 1980, he became the first Canadian to serve as president of the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association, which is based in Dallas.
Mr. Tolchinsky, who died in Montreal on Dec. 1 of complications related to COVID-19, leaves his wife, a son, two daughters and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by a sister, Rae Frank, who died in 1966, and by his brother, known as Mel Tolkin, a well-known comedy writer in the United States who died in 2007.