A French-Canadian Bodybuilding Federation

1946, Montreal, the International Federation of Bodybuilding is founded by the Weider brothers before a contest held at the Monument National. This federation will be the Weiders’ first step towards gaining supremacy in the bodybuilding world – this however, did not go unopposed.

Conflict 

Releasing the first issue of Santé et Développement Physique in 1946, fitness entrepreneur turned nutrition guru in the late 1950s, Adrien Gagnon considered the Weider brothers charlatans, cheats, liars, and invaders nn the Montreal bodybuilding scene. With the mission of spreading his passion for exercise (and with this, French Canadian nationalism) among French Canadians, Gagnon established a federation to counter what he termed the ‘International Federation of Arm Breakers’; literal translation of la Fédération Internationaled des Briseurs de Bras (FIBB; French acronym for the IFBB); alluding to the Weider practice of taking advantage of competitors and awarding bodybuilders under their payroll.

The Federation

Within his magazine, Gagnon showcased his federation as “his answer to all [bodybuilders’] problems. Naming his federation ‘la Fédération Canadienne-Française des Culturistes’ (FCFC); French-Canadian Federation of Bodybuilders, Gagnon claimed to be helping local bodybuilders “without strangling them.”

According to the author, the IFBB was a dishonest federation that awarded self-interest rather than merit. Gagnon claimed that the IFBB judges were unprofessional, inexperienced, biased, and paid by the Weiders to pick the winner that the founders wanted, not the person who deserved to win. Within the FCFC, he claimed, judges would be fair, experienced physical culture experts who would refuse to be bribed and would fulfill their crucial duties as contest judges.

Through the data, we know of three contests held under the banner of the FCFC; the reason only three contests appear will be speculated further.

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The first contest was held on Dec. 8 1950 at the Monument National (same venue as the first IFBB contest). Gagnon, within his magazine, explains that he ran into some issues. While scheduling his contest in the MN was difficult, Gagnon claimed to have received a notice in the mail only weeks before his contest. According to Gagnon, the notice was an injunction threatening to sue Gagnon if he used the ‘Mr.’ titles. While there is no mention of who sent the letter, there is no doubt that it came from the Weider brothers who had been using titles such as ‘Mr.Montreal’ since 1946. Forced to change his titles, Gagnon opted for more straightforward titles such as ‘the most developed athlete in North America‘, ‘the most perfected athlete in North America’, ‘the best shoulders in North America’, etc.

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For at least the first two contests (1950, 1951) Gagnon was able to secure the presence of John Grimek as a guest poser (Grimek being a ‘friend’ of Weider rival Bob Hoffman who is known to have helped Gagnon in his endeavors). The gala also featured comedy acts, acrobatics, musical numbers, strongman feats, and Gagnon himself posed for the crowds pleasure; something he held against the Weider brothers who “only presented themselves as paintings.”

Finally, contrasting the IFBB who simply judged physique, Gagnon claimed that his contest also sought to find the “perfect personality” and would welcome short bodybuilders, beginners, and disabled athletes.

With his federation, Gagnon’s goal was “to chase profiteers from the bodybuilding temple” by ensuring that “French Canadians are organizers of such events; […] the participating bodybuilders are French Canadians, so why wouldn’t these be organized by their people?”

Gagnon exclaimed that “all Canadians of the French language in Canada should, not only by patriotism, but also by pride, belong to a French-Canadian bodybuilding movement.”

Downfall

The last issue of Santé et Développement Physique appeared in 1956. One of the last mentions of a contest was in 1953. While I cannot pinpoint the exact reason behind Gagnon’s demise as a bodybuilding author, causing the halt of his magazine and the fall of the FCFC, one event in particular can shine some light on this occurrence.

When Ben Weider was denied partnership from Gagnon, he quickly began publishing Santé et Force, a francophone reprint of Your Physique. Considering the Weiders intruders in his realm, Gagnon began criticizing the Weider brothers, either by attacking their exercise programs and philosophies, or by including racial connotations in his articles (attacking the Weiders’ Jewish background.)

Ben Weider’s answer was predictable – lawsuit. In 1951, Weider stated, in a Santé et Force article entitled ‘Attention M.Gagnon’, that he was suing Adrien Gagnon due to false representation of the former and personal attacks. In 1953, the case is settled out of court for an undetermined amount. According to Bob Hoffman who was following this case, the amount was $15,000.

Now, analysis time.

In January 1951, Gagnon announces that his magazine will be released monthly (as opposed to once every three months) and that he was finally adding a colour cover with at least 10 pages in colour per magazine. For the 1950s, this indicates that the Gagnon business was booming (add to this his three contests held yearly at the Monument Nationale.)

However, as of 1953, we find the issues being released once every three months. We also lose sight of any FCFC competitions held in Montreal (or elsewhere). In 1956 SDP changes names to Culture Physique et Santé, but Gagnon as a bodybuilding author does not see the shelves beyond this year.

His son, Yvan, simply states that his father had to choose between his supplement business (which is still producing and selling products all over Quebec today) or his bodybuilding endeavors. Moving to the South Shore of Montreal in the late 1950s, we find Adrien Gagnon selling his products door-to-door, slowly building his nutrition competition which will sell for $54 Million in 2005.

Did Adrien Gagnon simply decide to slowly walk away? Did he see more opportunity in his nutrition business that he started in 1954, thus deciding to reduce the release of SDP to then completely end its publications? Or did the Weiders win?

Considering the timing of the lawsuit and the reduction in releases, it can surely be argued that Weider took just enough money to push Gagnon out of the bodybuilding business (ensuring Santé et Force continues until the 1990s), while Gagnon took the remainder of his funds and pursued another career, one that will pay off in the end. One must not forget that by the time we see Gagnon fade away from bodybuilding, the IFBB has been in motion for a decade, Ben Weider had already been travelling the world, spreading the vines of his federation, and Joe Weider had been living in the United States for 9 years, surrounding himself with the biggest names in bodybuilding and engraving his name as one of the most ruthless businessman in bodybuilding. In short, Adrien Gagnon was butting heads with a growing empire; I suppose his loss became a huge win, however not without hard work and bumpy roads.

But that’s a story for another time.

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