Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and legacy

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s name is associated with speed, athleticism, determination, courage and perseverance. His Onondaga name, “Cogwagee,” translates as “all” or “everything.” Facts, stories and photographs of his life have been collected, published and examined over the past century, in an attempt to capture, recreate and demystify his life.

Thomas Charles Cogwagee Longboat was born to George Longboat and Elizabeth Skye on July 4, 1886 (some sources have June 4, 1887). He was Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation from Six Nations Territory and lived a traditional life of the Haudenosaunee (Longhouse). At the age of 12 or 13, Longboat was forcibly sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School, an Anglican denominational and English-language school, which operated from 1823 and closed in 1970. This experience did not go well for him and his fellow First Nations students, who were forced to abandon their language and beliefs to speak English and practice Christianity. Longboat reacted by escaping the school and running home. He was caught and punished, but then escaped a second time, with the foresight to run to his uncle’s farm, where he would be harder to find. This proved successful and marked the end of Longboat’s formal education. He worked as a farm labourer in various locations, which involved travelling great distances on foot.

Longboat began racing as an amateur in 1905. He won the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1907, in two hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds, shaving nearly five minutes off the previous record for the world’s most prestigious annual running event. With this incredible race, he brought tremendous pride and inspiration to Indigenous peoples and Canadians. The following article was published the day after he won the marathon:

“The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdily.” (The Boston Globe, April 20, 1907)

A year after winning that race, Longboat competed in the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London, England. He collapsed and dropped out at 32 kilometres, unable to finish the 42.2 km race. He then turned to professional running, and in 1909 received the title of Professional Champion of the World at a Madison Square Garden race in New York City.

A black-and-white page from the 1911 Canadian census with entries for each of 38 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, occupation and citizenship, and language and education.

A page from the 1911 census listing Thomas C. Longboat and his wife Loretta [Lauretta], in York County, Ontario. His profession is listed as “runner.” (e002039395)

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long-distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

In 1916, Longboat went overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in the First World War. He employed his natural talent and served as a dispatch runner. Longboat was mistakenly declared dead in the battlefields of Belgium, after being buried in rubble as a result of heavy shelling. His wife, Lauretta Maracle, a Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk) woman, whom he had married in 1908, believed him to be deceased and remarried. Longboat subsequently married Martha Silversmith, an Onondaga woman, with whom he had four children. He continued his military career, serving as a member of the Veterans Guard in the Second World War while stationed at a military camp near Brantford, Ontario. The Longboat family settled in Toronto. Upon his retirement from employment with the City of Toronto, Longboat moved back to Six Nations. He passed away on January 9, 1949.

In 1951, he received posthumous recognition with the establishment of the prestigious Tom Longboat Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to Indigenous athletes who exemplify the hard work and determination they put forth in their chosen endeavours. The original trophy remains at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary, with a travelling replica held by the Aboriginal Sports Circle in Ottawa. In 1955, he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

A red rectangle plaque with gold writing, with the crest of Canada and “Tom Longboat 1886–1949” at the top.

A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque honouring Tom Longboat, located at 4th Line Road, Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Parks Canada)

Tributes in recognition of Longboat’s achievements continue today in many forms. A Government of Canada plaque was erected in his honour in 1976 at 4th Line Road, Six Nations, Ohsweken, Ontario. In 1999, Maclean’s magazine recognized him as the top Canadian athlete of the 20th century. Canada Post issued a stamp in 2000 commemorating his winning time. In Ontario, the Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008 designated June 4 as “Tom Longboat Day.” Tom Longboat Corner in Six Nations, a Tom Longboat Trail in Brantford, Ontario, a Tom Longboat Lane in Toronto, and a Tom Longboat Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. There is also a Longboat Hall at 1087 Queen Street West in Toronto, the location of the YMCA where he trained. A statue of Longboat entitled “Challenge and Triumph,” created by David General, and an exhibit about him are on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre at Six Nations. Most recently, a children’s book about his life called Meet Tom Longboat was published in 2019.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and accomplishments are both fascinating and inspiring. To learn more about him, listen to our podcast, “Tom Longboat is Cogwagee is Everything,” which includes additional information.  Also check out the Tom Longboat Flickr album.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Hockey and the First World War

By Ellen Bond

In the early 1900s, playing hockey could lead to fighting for your country. The skills that made you a good hockey player—strength, endurance, patience, toughness—were desirable to the army. In its rough-and-tumble way, hockey was seen as a way to prepare yourself for war. The best soldiers were often hockey players and many players volunteered to fight in the First World War.

Allan McLean “Scotty” Davidson was one of those volunteers. Born on March 6, 1891, in Kingston, Ontario, Davidson began playing hockey with the Kingston Junior Frontenacs. As their captain, he helped the team win the Ontario Hockey Association Junior Championship in 1910 and 1911. The next year, Davidson moved to Calgary to play for the Calgary Athletics’ senior team. They won the Alberta Cup in 1911–1912 but lost their challenge to the Winnipeg Victorias for the Allan Cup (Canadian Senior Championship).

In 1912, Davidson started playing professionally for the Toronto Blueshirts (now Toronto Maple Leafs) in the National Hockey Association. Davidson was the team’s captain and leading goal scorer the next year and helped win Toronto’s first Stanley Cup in 1914. In his two seasons with the Blueshirts, Davidson scored 46 goals in 44 games. He could skate backwards faster than most players could skate forwards, according to Edward Allan, a hockey writer for the Toronto Mail and Empire newspaper.

Black-and-white photo of the Toronto Blueshirts in 1914.

Toronto Blueshirts, Stanley Cup Champions of 1914. Scotty Davidson is in the centre of the front row. Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum.

As a star hockey player, Davidson had all the skills the army was looking for. He may have been the first professional hockey player to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF), joining in September 1914. Scotty volunteered to be a “bomb thrower”, lobbing grenades at enemy troops. Some newspapers carried stories about Davidson in the army and described his bravery in the face of danger.

Scotty Davidson died in the field on June 16, 1915. His CEF service file states that Davidson “was killed instantly by a shell falling in the trench. He was practically blown to pieces.” A newspaper account of his death claimed that Davidson would have earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal or the Victoria Cross if he had survived the battle. Fellow soldier and Kingston resident, Captain George Richardson said Davidson was one of the bravest men in his company. He was fearless, willing and ready to save his comrades at every opportunity. Davidson’s name is memorialized on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

A page from the service file of Scotty Davidson describing how he was killed in action.

A page from Davidson’s digitized service file describes how he was killed in action (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 280738)

Scotty Davidson sounds like the type of athlete I would have loved to watch play hockey. He was a smooth skater, a goal scorer and a leader. In 1925, Maclean’s magazine named Scotty the top right-winger in its all-star team of the best hockey players. An opposing coach, Ernie Hamilton, said about Scotty’s shot, “I never saw such hard shooting.” The roots of our freedom are founded on the lives of people such as Scotty. He was a glorious athlete whose life was cut far too short.

Scotty Davidson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950. Scotty’s sacrifice is honoured by the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.


Ellen Bond is a project assistant with the Online Content Team at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Rugby now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of two rugby teams in a scrum for the ball. Two referees watch the play unfold.

Second rugby game at Godalming between Seaford and Witley, England [MIKAN 3385967]

British settlers and military personnel most likely introduced rugby to Canada during the early 1800s. Play and competition seemed to be informal until 1864 when F. Barlow Cumberland and Fred A. Bethune at Trinity College, Toronto, codified rules for Canada. The first Canadian match under these rules was held in Montréal between English regimental officers and civilians from McGill University.

A black-and-white photograph of injured rugby players. One player sits on a chair and has a head injury treated. A second player lies on the ground covered by a blanket. Spectators stand close to the players on the sideline.

Spectators and injured players on the sideline at the rugby football match between Canadians of Seaford and Witley, Godalming, England [MIKAN 3385975]

A black-and-white photograph of the McGill University rugby team, 1884-1885. James Naismith sits with his teammates (far-left of the second row of four).

McGill rugby team, 1884-1885 season (seated 2nd row, far left, James Naismith), Montréal, Quebec [MIKAN 3650079]

Provincial rugby clubs formed across the country where interprovincial play occurred and eventually international competition. Naturally, it was Canada (McGill University) versus the United States (Harvard University) in 1874!

A black-and-white photograph of the Senior University Rugby Team, Ontario. The members stand in a row at an angle with their left hands on their hips, and their right hands on the right shoulder of the person in front of them.

Senior university rugby team, Ontario [MIKAN 3715584]

The 20th century saw a continued growth of the sport as international teams visited Canada to play matches. Canada also sent teams to countries overseas such as Japan, England, Ireland, Argentina, and Australia. An important development of the game is the emergence of women participating in the sport. Starting in the early 1980s, clubs formed to play locally and internationally. There are over 30 women’s clubs across the country.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Images of Racing now on Flickr

Race (noun) – a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.

A black-and-white photograph of five men lined up on a road ready to start a race. Soldiers stand and watch from both sides of the road.

Relay race at track and field sports event, Whitley, England [MIKAN 3387500]

A black-and-white photograph of a man jumping up into the air between two cars, and waving a flag to start a race.

Starter Jack Williams in action on the 1/4-mile drag race at the B.C. Custom Car Association, Abbotsford, British Columbia [MIKAN 4297937]

Yes, Canadians race through all kinds of weather and situations too!

A black-and-white photograph of two girls watching a boy launch a model yacht into the water.

Model racing yacht, Sunnyside Beach, Toronto, Ontario [MIKAN 3194092]

A black-and-white photograph of eight teams pushing their canoes on from the frozen portions of a river toward open water.

Ice canoe race, Quebec City, Québec [MIKAN 4949175]

Visit the Flickr album now!

 

Why would a team refuse the Stanley Cup?

By J. Andrew Ross

Last year, the National Hockey League (NHL) celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup. The celebration year was no doubt chosen because 2017 was also the NHL’s centennial year. However, even though 125 years earlier, on March 18, 1892, it had been announced that Governor General Frederick Arthur Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley, wished to donate a challenge cup for the hockey championship of the Dominion of Canada, that cup only arrived in Canada the following year. Further complicating matters, the team that was to receive the Stanley Cup actually refused it, and was only persuaded to take possession of the trophy in 1894.

Anniversaries aside, the story of how the Stanley Cup eventually became Canada’s holiest sports icon can be told through the collection of Library and Archives Canada.

By the time his cup arrived in Canada, Stanley had returned to England before the end of his term as governor general, having become the 16th Earl of Derby upon his brother’s death. Stanley appointed Ottawa Evening Journal publisher Philip Dansken (“P.D.”) Ross as one of two trustees of the trophy, and left it to him to fashion the rules of competition.

The entry in Ross’s diary for Sunday, April 23, 1893, notes that he sat down that day to draft the new rules, which were printed in his newspaper on May 1, 1893.

A grainy newspaper clipping of an article with the headline “‘The Stanley Cup.’ His Excellency’s gift to the hockey associations.”

Excerpt from “The Stanley Cup,Evening Journal (Ottawa), May 1, 1893, page 5 (AMICUS 7655475)

While the bowl had already been engraved as the “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup,” Ross immediately asserted that it should be known as the Stanley Cup in honour of its donor. He confirmed that it would be presented in the first instance to the reigning champions of the elite hockey league of the era, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC), with the idea that they would then defend it against the champions of the Ontario Hockey Association. Ross arranged for the Stanley Cup to be presented to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) team as the reigning champions of the AHAC, “until the championship of the [AHAC] … be decided next year [i.e., 1894], when the Cup shall go to the winning team.”

On May 15, 1893, Sheriff John Sweetland of Ottawa, the other Stanley Cup trustee, travelled to Montreal to present the trophy at the MAAA’s annual meeting. When he arrived with the Stanley Cup—at that time just a simple bowl on a wooden base—he learned that the executive officers of the hockey team had declined to attend the ceremony. The minutes of the meeting, which are in the MAAA fonds (and available online), note: “Sheriff Sweetland then made the presentation, which was accepted by Mr. Taylor [the MAAA president] owing to the unavoidable absence of Mr Stewart the President of the Mtl Hockey Club on behalf of the Assn and the abovenamed club.”

A handwritten note explaining who presented the Hockey Challenge Cup, and who accepted it and why.

Extract from the May 15, 1893, annual meeting, page 315, MAAA Minute-book, MG28 I 351, Library and Archives Canada.

It is not clear whether Sweetland realized that he and the Cup had been snubbed, but the hockey club’s absence had not been “unavoidable.” They had deliberately boycotted the event upon learning that the Cup was to be presented to the MAAA executive and not the team—and that the Cup had been engraved with “Montreal AAA/1893” on a ring around the wooden base of the bowl. The conflict was apparently rooted in the resentment of the hockey club members about being known by the name “MAAA,” rather than the Montreal Hockey Club (Montreal HC). It was a petty point of honour since the hockey club wore the MAAA emblem of the winged wheel on their uniforms, but one that clearly mattered to the proud hockey players.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing, sitting on chairs or reclining. Most are wearing the team uniform and hockey skates.

MAAA 1890 (Montreal Hockey Club) (Hockey Hall of Fame/Library and Archives Canada/PA-050689). Credit: Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was only after almost a year of contentious negotiations—at one point, the MAAA threatened to send the Cup back to the trustees!—that, in March 1894, the Montreal HC finally agreed to take possession of the Stanley Cup. A few weeks later, the club won the AHAC championship yet again, making them the first winners (as opposed to simply the holders) of the Cup. This time, the team took responsibility for the engraving, and pointedly used “Montreal 1894.” With no reference being made to the MAAA, honour was seemingly served.

The next season, the Montreal HC became the first team to successfully defend the trophy in the first Stanley Cup series. Its insistence on getting its own name on the Cup may have been worth the effort, even if its prolonged refusal to accept the trophy risked making the Cup irrelevant. But the Stanley Cup was finally awarded, and the rest is history.


Andrew Ross is an archivist in the Government Archives Division, and the author of Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945.

Big league baseball makes its way north

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Canadians have been playing in various major baseball leagues since the 1870s. The first to do so was New Brunswick native Bill Phillips, who played first base for the Cleveland franchise. In 1883, Ontario native Tip O’Neill, the greatest pre-1900 Canadian player, would make his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut. Since then many have followed suit. The only Canadian to earn his place with a plaque on the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, is Chatham, Ontario, native Ferguson Jenkins. Jenkins had a remarkable pitching career with 284 major league wins.

A black-and-white photograph of a pitcher throwing the ball from the mound. Behind him is a large score board displaying the score and outfielders preparing for the ball to come into play.

Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins pitching for the Chicago Cubs in a game against the Montreal Expos on September 19, 1970. Jenkins is now active in philanthropic work, including the Fergie Jenkins Foundation based out of St. Catharines, Ontario. Credit: Montreal Star (MIKAN 3195251)

While Jenkins is the only Canadian in Cooperstown, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in Saint Marys, Ontario, honours Canadians’ contributions to the game both on and off the field. Canada has also been home to two MLB franchises, starting with the National League expansion in 1968.

The Montreal Expos – Nos Amours

The Expos had an exhilarating first week. At Shea stadium on April 8, 1969, “O Canada” played at an MLB game for the first time, bringing team owner Charles Bronfman to tears and giving rise to “Les Expos, Nos Amours”, the nickname affectionately given to the team by fans. The exciting game ended with an 11 to 10 Expos win over the New York Mets. On April 14, in the first MLB game played outside the US, the Expos won over a packed house of fans at Jarry Park in Montreal. Three days later pitcher Bill Stoneman threw a no-hitter against the Phillies. Montreal was captivated and the wild ride began.

A coloured poster designed for the 1976 Olympic Games. It depicts three different views of the Olympic stadium built for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

The Olympic Stadium in Montreal was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, and the Expos started playing there in 1977. The stadium was problematic as a baseball venue for many reasons, including structural issues with the roof and a thin astroturf that was notouriously hard on players’ knees. Since 2014, the Blue Jays have hosted exhibition games there. © Canadian Olympic Committee (MIKAN 3929420)

Despite an excellent farm system and outstanding talent, the Expos made it to the postseason only once, in 1981. Under the guidance of Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Fame manager Jim Fanning, the ’81 season saw Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter all hitting over .300, and Hall of Famer Tim Raines stealing a league-high 71 bases. The season, interrupted by a strike, saw them win the National League East title. They went on to play the Dodgers and came within one win of advancing to the World Series when Rick Monday hit a 9th inning home run securing Dodgers victory. That hit ended the Expos’ run and the fateful day became known as “Blue Monday” to fans.

A black-and-white cartoon showing a line of luxury cars driving in a circle around a baseball stadium. In the cars are characters leaning from the windows and holding signs with slogans, including "Unfair," "We Want Rights" and "Major League On Strike."

An editorial cartoon depicting Expos players on strike outside Olympic stadium in Montreal during the 1981 players’ strike. The strike caused the cancellation of 713 games in the middle of the season. Credit: Rusins Kaufmanis (MIKAN 2841681)

Ironically, a second work stoppage dashed fans’ hopes in 1994. In that magical season, manager Felipe Alou had the Expos sitting on top of the baseball world with a 74 wins and 40 losses record. The 232-day strike resulted in commissioner Bud Selig cancelling the World Series and so ending the chances of an Expos playoff run.

The franchise never recovered from the strike, either on the field or in the stands. In 2004, after 36 years, the Expos played their last game at Olympic stadium. The Expos’ first French-Canadian player, Claude Raymond, who had played in their inaugural 1969 season, gave a tearful final speech to fans, providing a bookend for the franchise.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays were founded in 1977 as part of the American League expansion. The team has won six Eastern Division titles, two American League pennants and two World Series titles.

The Blue Jays first game in franchise history took place at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977. Fans braved the unseasonably frigid temperatures to witness the historic event that resulted in a 9 to 5 win over the Chicago White Sox. An unknown first-baseman named Doug Ault slammed two homeruns to become the first Jays hero.

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball game. There’s a man who has just swung at the ball. Behind him is a man wearing catcher equipment and crouching, while behind him is an umpire, also crouching. In the background are players in baseball uniforms and a man wearing police uniform, all watching the action. Behind them spectators are seated in the stands.

The Toronto Blue Jays play the Kansas City Royals in their inaugural season on August 12, 1977, at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. They played at Exhibition Stadium until 1989, when the Skydome (now Rogers Center) opened its doors. Credit: Toronto Star/Frank Lennon (MIKAN 3796691)

After many turbulent years, the Blue Jays finally made 1992 a historic one for Canadian baseball. They won their first American League championship and became the first team based outside the United States to win a World Series Championship. As a sign of respect for the team that had paved the way, the Jays asked the Expos’ original owner, Charles Bronfman, to perform the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 3 of the series. The impressive six-game World Series concluded with Dave Winfield driving in the winning runs in the 11th inning. Jays catcher Pat Borders was awarded the series MVP.

The Blue Jays’ success continued into the 1993 season as they defended their title of American League champions. John Olerud became the first Blue Jay to win a batting title. The Jays went on to defend their World Series championship, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. In a moment forever etched in the memory of fans, Joe Carter hit a theatrical home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the deciding game. It was only the second time in World Series history that a series had ended on a home run.

The luck ended two years later when the Jays finished dead last in the American League East. Jump ahead to 2015, however, and the 22-season streak of failing to reach the post-season was broken under Manager John Gibbons, with the Jays winning their sixth American League East Division title. They then came back from a two-game deficit to beat the Texas Rangers in the Division Series. That series included the iconic home run and bat flip by right fielder Jose Bautista. In the American League Championship Series, the Jays lost to the Kansas City Royals, who would go on to win the World Series.

For the Jays, the 2016 regular season proved inconsistent and found them in second place in the American League East. However, they battled to make it to the sudden-death American League Wild Card game, where, in a nail-biter, they defeated the Baltimore Orioles 5 to 2, thanks to Edwin Encarnacion’s dramatic walk-off homerun in extra innings before a packed Rogers Centre crowd of roaring Canadians. A new generation of Canadian baseball fans had arrived.

Canada and baseball have not always had an easy relationship, but it has been one full of exciting and individual moments. Baseball in Canada has served as an introduction for children to the importance of team work, it has been there for soldiers in wartime, and it has united the country in times of both triumph and defeat.

A black-and-white photograph of five men standing around a counter. Two of the men are wearing baseball uniforms with a large letter ‘C’ on the chest. The other men are wearing suits and hats. One of the uniformed men is holding up a drink and looking towards the camera.

Players in Cobden, Ontario, grab a refreshing drink after a game in 1909 (MIKAN 3379777)

“Cheers” to many more memories and many more moments for the history books as Canada plays ball!

Other resources


Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival technician in the Science, Environment and Economy section of the Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

From humble beginnings to making history in Montreal

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Long before unforgettable Canadian baseball moments, such as Joe Carter’s World-Series-winning home run, the emotion and pride Canadians felt as our national anthem was performed for the first time at a Major League Baseball (MLB) game, and Jose Bautista’s iconic bat flip, baseball already had a strong presence in Canada. While many of us consider baseball a North American sport, it actually has its origins in the European bat-and-ball game played by British schoolkids known as rounders. Variations of baseball were being played in Canada at least three decades before Confederation. The first documented account of the game, however, comes from Beachville, Ontario, on June 4, 1838. Southwestern Ontario was where the game was most prominent in these early days.

A black-and-white photograph of an outdoor baseball field with a game underway. The crowd watches from the packed stands. The background shows the buildings of the cityscape.

A baseball game at Tecumseh Park between the International League’s London Tecumsehs and the Stars of Syracuse in 1878. Now called Labatt Park, it is the world’s oldest continually operating baseball grounds, opening on May 3, 1877. It was designated a heritage site in 1994 (MIKAN 3261769)

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball game from behind home plate. A player is at the plate as a pitch comes in. The umpire stands behind him to make the call.

Hanlan’s Point Stadium on Toronto Island in 1917, the first home of the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club. It was also where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run while playing for the Providence Grays (MIKAN 3384487)

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball stadium, taken from the vantage point of the right field bleachers. The bleachers and the field, including the diamond and outfield, are visible.

View from the outfield stands at Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto. Built in 1927 for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, it was built to replace Hanlan’s Point Stadium (MIKAN 3327476)

The first official Canadian baseball team was formed as a result of efforts by William Shuttleworth, who was known as the father of Canadian baseball. The first pioneering team, comprised of various working class men from around Hamilton, was called the Young Canadians. For the next two decades, teams adhering to different rules sprouted up all over Canada. As the popularity of the sport soared, businessmen sponsored their favourite teams as a way to promote their products, and the Canadian Association of Baseball Players was founded. At this time, rather than competing nationally, many local baseball clubs competed cross-border with their closest American neighbours. By 1913, there were 24 minor league teams in Canada.

A black-and-white photograph of 10 children wearing baseball uniforms. The jerseys read "Pages" across the front. The boys are sitting and standing with bats, gloves and other baseball equipment. Behind the boys stands an adult man, wearing a suit and hat. The background is a studio backdrop showing trees.

House of Commons “Pages” baseball team, circa 1900. Baseball was enjoyed by people of all ages in Canada. It was seen as a great way to develop team skills and it was common for companies and their staff to form teams, such as these young men who worked on Parliament Hill (MIKAN 3549043)

First World War

Sports were an important part of everyday life in Europe for Canadian troops during the First World War. They served as a way to break the monotony of the troops’ duties and relieve stress. The leadership saw sports as a way of keeping the men out of trouble and boosting their morale while they stayed physically fit. Baseball became so beloved by soldiers that it was even sponsored by the government. In April 1916, the government held a fundraiser with the proceeds going towards baseball equipment.

A black-and-white photograph of a player sliding into home plate. The catcher is standing over the base while the umpire makes the call. A crowd of soldiers cheers them on.

member of the Canadian team slides into home as troops cheer him on in 1917. Baseball was immensely popular with troops and games were held regularly during down time (MIKAN 3384451)

Second World War

During the Second World War, baseball continued to be a favourite pastime of troops. With the Americans’ arrival in 1942, there were suddenly plenty of other teams against which to compete. As was the case in the early days of the game back at home, Canada-versus-the-US games were commonplace. One of the most memorable games occurred at Wembley Stadium on August 3, 1942, with 6,000 cheering fans in the stands. The Canadian troops defeated US Army Headquarters, 5 to 3.

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball game. A player stands with a bat and behind him are a catcher and an umpire. In the background are players watching the play and spectators in the stands.

A game between Canadian and US servicemen in August 1942 at Wembley Stadium in London, England, a venue that held many baseball games during the Second World War (MIKAN 3211157)

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in work clothes and a headscarf swinging a baseball bat at a ball. She stands in a vacant lot with industrial buildings and other structures in the background.

It wasn’t just those contributing to the war efforts overseas who enjoyed baseball during the war years. Here, a woman from an ammunition factory in Toronto joins a game on her break (MIKAN 3195852)

Upon returning to Canada, many soldiers spoke fondly of the baseball games and continued playing and watching back home. While Canadians played many sports during war times, none was played as often or to such an enthusiastic audience as baseball.

Jackie Robinson

In 1945, the young Negro Leagues player Jackie Robinson was approached by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. Shortly after that initial, secret meeting it was announced that Robinson had signed a contract with the organization. The plan was to find the path of least resistance to his race to ease him into the Majors. The first step was to assign Robinson to spring training in Florida then ease him into professional baseball in Montreal with the team’s triple-A affiliate. Montreal was a deliberate selection, a city in which Rickey believed Robinson could get acclimated to baseball with less of a negative experience than he likely could in many American cities. However, during that first spring, in 1946, Robinson experienced unrelenting racism. In Sanford, Florida, the sheriff stepped onto the field and cancelled an exhibition game because African Americans were not allowed to compete with white players.

Montreal was a more welcoming city for Jackie and his wife Rachel. While still not without incident, the city and its fans embraced him. In his first and only season in Montreal, Jackie helped lead the team to an exceptional record of 100 wins and only 54 losses.

Learn more about Jackie Robinson’s groundbreaking career.

A black-and-white photograph of a baseball player rounding the bases as a player on the opposing team tries to catch up to him.

Jackie Robinson in Florida for spring training in 1946. Fans loved the way he sped around the diamond mesmerizing crowds, stealing a remarkable 40 bases during his first and only season in the minors, including many at home plate (MIKAN 3574533)

From humble beginnings in southwestern Ontario to a favourite wartime activity to the city of Montreal embracing Jackie Robinson, by the middle of the 20th century baseball had captured the heart of the nation. Still, Canada’s love of baseball was about to take on new heights. With Major League Baseball on its way, more Canadians than ever would soon fall in love with the game.

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Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival technician in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team now on Flickr

This collective passport includes the photographs of, and information about, 19 men from the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers who were on Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team. They departed on January 8, 1948, for the United States of America, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and returned to Canada as gold medalists on April 8, 1948.

An image of Page 2 of the collective passport for Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team, issued by the Department of External Affairs. This page displays the photographs of, and information about (names, place of birth, date of birth, citizenship), Frank George Boucher, Hubert Brooks, Bernard Francis Dunster and Roy Austin Lowe Forbes.

Collective Passport Certificate of the 19 members of the Olympic Hockey Team: Boucher to Watson. Page 2, 1948 (MIKAN 4842034)

An image of Page 6 of the collective passport for Canada’s 1948 Olympic Hockey Team, issued by the Department of External Affairs. This page displays visas, and entry and exit stamps, from France, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

Collective Passport Certificate of the 19 members of the Olympic Hockey Team: Boucher to Watson. Page 6, 1948 (MIKAN 4842034)

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John Armstrong Howard, Canada’s first Black Olympian

By Judith Enright-Smith

The 1912 summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden, from May 5 to July 27 was a venue for many firsts. This fifth Olympiad, comprised of 2,408 athletes from 28 nations, was the first to showcase women’s swimming and diving events as well as the men’s pentathlon. It was the first Olympics to use electronic timing and the first occasion a team from Asia (Japan) competed at the games. For Canada, the 1912 summer Olympics meant another first—the first Canadian Black athlete to compete in the Olympic Games.

John Armstrong Howard was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on October 6, 1888. Howard was a qualified mechanic and played baseball for Winnipeg’s Crescent Creamery Baseball Club; at 6 foot 3 inches tall, he was also an exceptional sprinter. He handily qualified for the 1912 Olympics and was looked upon not only in sporting circles but also in the Canadian media as the nation’s best hope for bringing home a gold medal.

Walter Knox was coach of the 1912 Canadian Olympic Track and Field Team. During training, Knox and Howard had several disputes and confrontations. Knox described Howard as outspoken and disobedient and, at a time when discrimination against Black athletes was common, recommended he be fired from the team for “insubordination.” It was only through the intervention of the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada that Howard remained on the team.

While en route to Sweden, Howard faced discriminatory and prejudicial treatment, an affront endured by people of colour in that time. Before setting sail from Montreal, he was barred from the hotel where the other athletes were staying, and while on board, he had to eat his meals in a different dining area away from his teammates.

Once in Stockholm, the cumulative stress of his interactions with Knox manifested itself in the form of severe stomach complaints. At the games, Howard’s health issues seriously hindered his efforts and he was defeated in the semi-finals of the 100- and 200-metre sprint. However, once back home, Howard redeemed himself at the 1913 Canadian Outdoor Championships by winning every race he entered.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Howard went overseas in 1917 as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He worked in various English army hospitals carrying stretchers. His military records show that he suffered from chronic lung ailments. While overseas, Howard met Edith Lipscomb. Edith returned to Winnipeg with Howard in 1920 where they were married. They attempted to set up house in Ste. Rose du Lac, but experienced much hostility and prejudice as an interracial couple. Howard’s granddaughter, Valerie Jerome, tells of townspeople pelting the couple’s car with stones to drive them away. Eventually they settled near the Crane River Indian Reserve on the northwest shore of Lake Manitoba. The couple had three daughters, but the marriage did not last. Howard later died from pneumonia at the age of 48.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of runners at the starting line. One is wearing a white shirt with a maple leaf on the front.

John Armstrong Howard at the Inter-Allied Games in Pershing Stadium, Paris, July 1919 (MIKAN 3387544)

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed in athletic wear, surrounded by other men in similar attire or in uniforms, receiving a medal from an older man in military dress.

John Armstrong Howard receiving his bronze medal for the 100-metre event from the King of Montenegro, at the Inter-Allied Games in Pershing Stadium, Paris, July 1919 (MIKAN 3385453)

John Armstrong Howard’s athletic legacy lives on. Two of Howard’s grandchildren are Canadian athletes. Valerie Jerome is a sprinter who competed in the 1960 summer Olympics. Her brother Harry Jerome competed in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 summer Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 1964 in the 100-metre dash.


Judith Enright-Smith is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Nancy Greene now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of Nancy Greene, winner of a gold medal in giant slalom.

Nancy Greene, winner of gold medal in giant slalom, Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029732)

Ms. Greene Raine is an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and a member of both Sports Halls of Fame. She was named Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century by the Canadian Press and Broadcast News. She won gold and silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and overall World Cup titles in 1967 and 1968. Her total of 14 World Cup victories (including the Olympics) is still a Canadian record. During her nine-year career she won a total of 17 Canadian Championship titles.

A black-and-white photograph of a group shot of the Canadian ski team at the Winter Olympics.

Group shot of the Canadian ski team at the Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029774)

A black-and-white photograph of Nancy Greene during her gold medal run in giant slalom.

Nancy Greene during her gold medal run in giant slalom at the 1968 Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029785)

A black-and-white photograph of Nancy Greene during her silver medal run in slalom.

Nancy Greene during her silver medal run in slalom at the Winter Olympics (MIKAN 5029788)

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