Transcript of podcast episode 59
This podcast contains historical language and content that some listeners may consider offensive. This includes language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Items in the collection, their content and their descriptions reflect the time period when they were created and the views of their creators.
Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to "Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage." I'm your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.
In the early 20th century, no spectator sport captivated the world like long distance running. And no runner captured the hearts of Canadians like a Six Nations Indigenous man by the name of Cogwagee (Gagwe:geh—GAW-G'WAY-GAY) in the Onondaga language or Tom Longboat in English. Cogwagee translates as "everything" in Onondaga. In the early 1900s Tom Longboat emerged as the fastest long distance runner in the world and is often considered to be one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. In this episode, we explore the exceptional life of Tom Longboat. From his victory at the 1907 Boston Marathon, where he shattered the previous world record by five minutes, to his death-defying service in the First World War, he lived an extraordinary life.
Michael Linklater (ML): When I read up on Tom Longboat and saw his accomplishments, it was really inspiring to me to see the work that he had done and the recognition he had received.
Wilton Littlechild (WL): There's a 15-mile [24 km] record that he ran in 1912 which today still stands.
William Winnie (WW): It is always a bit surreal to understand just the magnitude of what he means, not just from the point of view of Six Nations, but to Canada as a whole.
JA: You just heard a few of the many individuals featured in this podcast. Michael Linklater is an exceptional athlete from Thunderchild First Nation, part of Treaty 6 Territory. He recently retired at the top of his game – finishing his career as the number one ranked 3-on-3 basketball player in Canada and one of the top players in the world. Wilton Littlechild is a Cree Chief, recipient of the Alberta Order of Excellence and two-time winner of the Tom Longboat Award. William Winnie is the great-grandson of Tom Longboat and carries on the tradition of long distance running. In 2016, he ran the Boston Marathon in honour of his great-grandfather.
[Clip from the National Film Board's
Excellence is a gift: among mankind
To one is assigned a ready wit,
To another swiftness of eye or foot.
Art which raises Nature to perfection
Itself demands the passion of the elect
Who expect to win.
As Pindar long ago in Greece was proud to hail
Thessalian Hippokleas, even so
It is meet we praise in our days fleet-footed
Bruce Kidd from Toronto.
JA: Bruce Kidd is a celebrated academic, author and former Olympic athlete. Over the course of his career, he won 18 national senior championships in Canada, USA and Britain. On top of his athletic achievements, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for having "devoted his life to eradicating sexism and racism in sporting communities around the world." In 1980, he was commissioned to write a book about Tom Longboat as part of a series about prominent Canadians. We started the conversation by asking him about the commonly held misconceptions of Tom Longboat at that time.
Bruce Kidd (BK): I started reading all the clippings on Longboat and he was someone whose story I'd grown up with because I was an avid reader about Canadian sport. I read all the biographies and I knew his story: rags to riches to rags. A man with extraordinary talent who dissipated it through drunkenness, through refusal to train, through irresponsible conduct in other ways and really was not an exemplary athlete in any way. And so that's what I started with and all of the press clippings, all the secondary literature, they all told the same story. They reinforced the popular image.
But then I began to think about what I was seeing. Here was a guy who was supposed to be hungover, lining up at the race and running away from everybody. Setting records, pushing the boundaries in all kinds of ways and that just did not ring true with my experience of running. And, of course, I was training for marathons at that time. It just didn't ring true and I pushed further. I went out to the reserve at Six Nations where he grew up and he spent the last years of his life and I heard their stories. I read more widely and I discovered a trove of articles in the Hamilton newspapers and gradually I began to put together a story of a very different Longboat.
JA: Tom Longboat was born on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario, in 1887. He belonged to the Wolf Clan and was from the Onondaga Nation. His family was very poor and lived a traditional life on a small farm. They were so poor that they often could not afford to keep a horse, which meant that the heavy work of harvesting and ploughing had to be done by hand. To make matters worse, Tom's father, George, died when Tom was just five, putting an additional strain on the Longboat family. As a result, Tom had limited access to education, as he was often called upon to work on the family farm. Despite this heavy burden, Tom managed to escape his chores now and then and delighted in playing lacrosse, fishing and running like the wind.
At the age of 12, he was forcibly enrolled in the Mohawk Institute Residential School, which operated between the years of 1828 and 1970. He took an immediate dislike to this school, as he and his fellow First Nations students were forced to abandon their language and beliefs, and adopt English and Christianity. This did not sit well with Tom and at the first opportunity, he made a run for it. He was quickly caught and punished, but this did not discourage him. He attempted another escape and had the foresight to hide on his uncle's farm this time, where he would be harder to find. This proved successful and was to mark the end of Tom's formal education. For the next few years, he worked as a farm labourer in various locations and would travel great distances on foot. We asked Bruce where Tom's initial interest in running came from.
BK: There were runners in the community. Bill Davis was an older Six Nations runner who medalled in the Boston marathon a few years earlier. There were races and there was a local race on Six Nations, which he won. That encouraged him to try to go to the big white city, Hamilton, and run Around the Bay.
JA: Throughout this episode we will feature audio excerpts from the TV series
My Country hosted by Pierre Berton. It is one of the titles found in Library and Archives Canada's enormous Film, Video and Sound collection, which totals over 500,000 hours.
[Clip from My Country]
Pierre Berton (PB): 1906—That was the year in which vitamins were discovered. Tommy Burns, a Canadian, was heavyweight champion of the world. The mining boom had started at Cobalt, Ontario, and everybody was singing a song called "Wait 'Till the Sun Shines, Nellie." And on Thanksgiving Day in Hamilton, Ontario,
The Hamilton Herald sponsored its famous Around the Bay race. About 16 runners, many of them, record holders, going a distance of 19 miles [30 km] around the Burlington Bay. The favourite: John D. Marsh. The fast Englishman had moved to Canada. Very few people noticed a young, 19-year-old, long-limbed Indian named Thomas Charles Longboat who had entered the race, though he had never raced publicly before.
JA: Just a quick note here about the term "Indian" you just heard. The term "Indian" as it is used to describe the Indigenous people of Canada is now considered to be inaccurate, outdated and offensive. And while the term is sometimes still in use as it pertains to legal definitions established long ago, it no longer has a place in common speech. Under a new initiative at Library and Archives Canada called We are Here: Sharing Stories, staff are taking another look at how some archival records are described and adding further contextual information in an attempt to address this inaccurate and offensive language. Okay, back to our story…
BK: Nobody had heard of him. They looked at him wearing inadequate shoes, inadequate shorts.
PB: Clad in a 35-cent cotton bathing suit and a 75-cent pair of rubber sneakers. The odds on him before the race were 100 to 1. Thousands lined the course and, as was expected, the favourite, Marsh, took the lead. What was not expected was that Tom Longboat, the unknown, ran right behind him. Sometimes, in fact, passing him, sometimes letting Marsh pass, but keeping up with him. Racing in a curious style, a long, loping style, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. And then, at a certain point, suddenly, the unknown pulled away from Marsh and won the race easily. Everybody began to ask, Who is Tom Longboat?
A few days after the Around the Bay race, there was a second long race in Toronto (sponsored by J.J. Ward, a local politician who put up a cup and a medal), 15 miles [24 km]. Sixty-two runners entered this one and the track was the Lakeshore Boulevard, not paved as it is now but a mass of ruts and holes and bumps and hills and everything else. Again, because people were crazy about racing in those days—the track was the whole length of the course for seven-and-a-half miles [12 km] there and back—it was jammed with people. Pouring rain, mud and slop everywhere.
The leader and favourite was a man named Cummings from the Central YMCA in Toronto. He started off ahead of the pack, and he could not shake Tom Longboat. Longboat dogged him all the way, matched him stride for stride never passed him, just kept up behind him pushing him all the time. Uphill and downhill, it didn't matter. Around they went to the seven-and-a-half mile point [12 km] and turned back towards High Park. At the ten-mile point [16 km], Longboat passed the favourite. Cummings was exhausted, he slackened his pace to a walk. He couldn't run any further. Tom Longboat won, he won this cup, which we have here given by J.J. Ward [referring to photograph shown in clip].
His next race was to be a far more important race. That was the Boston Marathon, the most important marathon in North America since the 1890s. Longboat was a local winner but he'd never raced in a race of this kind, so this would be his greatest test. It was 25 miles over a very rugged overland course. He had acquired a trainer. C.H. Ashley of the Central Y (YMCA) in Toronto had taken him under his wing and the two of them left for Boston on April 9, 1907, just about six or eight months after the Around the Bay race where he'd begun.
But, in Boston, people were skeptical. After all, he's just 19 years old, he has a lot to learn. This is only his third race and it was up against 104 contestants, many of them record holders, some of them Olympic winners. He was in top condition except for a slight cough. The race itself drew 200,000 people. The course followed an old road up- and downhill through various Massachusetts' villages, beginning at the little town called Ashland and going on for 25 miles [40 km] to the heart of Boston. Very dusty when they started out, they were choked with dust, but at the five-mile point it began to rain, this was refreshing, and then began to snow. The runners faced a strong wind, which should have slowed them down. Longboat didn't take the lead. He ran well back but always within striking distance of the lead. And [it's] a good thing that he was in striking distance, because at one point a train came along and crossed the course and a whole bunch of runners, including the champion Hayes from England, had to stand with their arms folded in frustration, until the train got out of their way. Longboat didn't. The first six miles [10 km], it is said he ran flat-footed; as one newspaperman put it, "like an amateur." Then he got up on his toes and began really to run at a long, loping stride. He was faced with a series of hills. All he did was lengthen his stride and then he began to pass the pack. Until only one man kept up with him. That was another Canadian, a man named Charlie Petch, from Jarvis Collegiate, Toronto. In fact, at the 20-mile point [32 km], Petch passed Longboat. But Petch was overexerting himself and knew it. He was really pacing Longboat. He couldn't go any farther. He actually finished in the top 10, but Longboat was way ahead of him after 20 miles [32 km].
The crowd, at this point, is a problem for Longboat, because it kept surging in and he didn't have breathing space. There's 100,000 people at the finish of that race. When Longboat came in to win, there was no other runner in sight. He was one-third of a mile in the lead. He fell into the open arms of his trainer, Ashley, and he had scored a record that was to stand for many years. It was five minutes faster than the previous record, set several years before by another Canadian. Well, at this point, Tom Longboat was the fastest man on the continent.
The Boston Herald paid him a tribute. It said, "Never before in the annals of running has Longboat's performance been approached." A wave of adulation swept across what was then Canada. Longboat was public hero number one, as these newspaper clippings show. A civic reception was planned for him. He and the others—his trainers and Petch and the others— took a train to Niagara Falls, to the border. There, they were met by a delegation of Canadian dignitaries, then on to Toronto and a reception the like of which the city had never before seen in its life and was rarely to see in the future. From 8:30 until midnight, crowds and crowds of people attended upon a smiling, waving, modest Tom Longboat.
The crowds began to gather at 7:30 outside Union Station when a group of young men from the YMCA came down Bay Street banging tins, firing off torpedoes, cheering and waving flags. Then a huge, seething mob of people formed, that crowded the whole of the Front Street in front of the old Union Station. Policemen were called in to keep the people out of the Union Station. It was hard to do. Two hundred of them (YMCA boys) sneaked onto the train platform so they could get there and greet Longboat when he stepped off the train.
Getting him to the station was a problem. It was a shoving match all the way. They were afraid Longboat would be injured. Ashley carried this trophy high above him, waving it so people wouldn't smash it. An enormous shout from the crowd of "Longboat!" went up. When he got onto the street, he was greeted by rockets, by torpedoes exploding, by cheers and by a band playing. Then he climbed into an automobile, with the red ensign, the Canadian flag in those days, draped over the car, waving and smiling and on this fantastic parade of first the Queen's own band, then soldiers and automobiles and carriages and coaches, even a stagecoach without riders, up King and Jarvis and Queen to the city hall, where the mayor was waiting, and where his uncle was waiting, and where the chief of the tribe was waiting. The mayor presented him with what is described as a valuable medal. Tom was supposed to make a speech and the speech consisted of the words, "Thank you, Mr. Mayor," in a voice so inaudible that nobody could hear him.
JA: Tom's win at the Boston Marathon is part of a tradition. Indigenous peoples of North America have a long history of great success at the legendary race, with many Canadians on that list. In 2016, the 120th anniversary of the Boston Marathon, the Boston Athletic Association (or BAA) decided to honour these athletes and put out a call to descendants of these great runners to see if they would be interested in running the legendary race. We reached Tom Longboat's great-grandson William Winnie in Buffalo, New York.
WW: It kind of was a whirlwind because the December before, my uncle called and said that the BAA had just called and asked if anybody would run for Tom in April. My immediate thought was, "Yeah, I'll run." But I hadn't… At that point, I'd run a half marathon and a marathon in 2011, but I was essentially on the couch. The actual event was incredible. I've never seen anything like that before or since.
JA: We asked William to describe the day of the race.
WW: I was in the athletes' village just sort of biding the time because you get there at something like six in the morning and you don't start running until sometime past eleven. I noticed that people were writing things on their arms or on their bib as a way of having people say stuff to them or whatever throughout the race. I got the idea of just writing Longboat down my arm. So I'm running the race and everything is going well. Coming into Fenway, there can't be more than two miles left, the end of the street just opens up and there's thousands of people on either side of the street. They're screaming and everybody's yelling and having a great time, and out of the crowd I can pick up like, "Go Longboat go!" And I'm sitting there and I'm running and I'm exhausted, undertrained. I just get this sense that—I feel like I'm reaching back in time, kind of feeling like a real connection between me and Tom, which was overwhelming. I was already emotional because it's—I can feel the end is near. I just really lost it and I was sitting there running and crying and it was an amazing thing.
JA: William's grandmother, Phyllis, Tom Longboat's eldest daughter, met up with William after the race.
WW: We've never sat down and really talked about the whole experience in any great detail but she had invited me out after I had done the run and we had dinner and never really talked about it at dinner. At one point, she kind of pulled me aside and just simply said, "Nia wen," which is Onkweonwe for thank you. Onkweonwe is a term for traditional longhouse ways, including the language. That really just said it all. That encoded a lot of the feelings that she had about what it meant to her not only personally, but culturally.
JA: Ok, let's jump back to 1907.
BK: In 1907, he won the Boston Marathon and after that, he became a symbol of Canada. He was celebrated as possessing all the qualities of this new nation and Longboat was regarded as the most pre-eminent Canadian athlete at this time.
PB: The next great test that Tom Longboat faced was the Olympic Games. The Summer Olympics were held in London in 1908, at the height of the Edwardian age. Tom had fallen out with his manager, C.H. Ashley, who, being a YMCA man in those days, didn't believe in drinking beer, smoking cigars, running around with women or breaking training.
BK: He was always falling out with his coaches. They were always refusing to work with him, badmouthing him, which would make the headlines. One of his coaches said at one point, "He refuses to train. He does nothing. I wanted him to do this workout and all he did was go out for a 20-mile jog." What he was refusing to do is a series of wind sprints, what we would call an interval workout today, which was probably a good form of training for him at some point of his running career, but for a marathon runner, he was doing a form of what we would call today, long-slow distance. He knew his own body and I don't care who you are, to jog 20 miles [32 km], that takes some effort. That's not fooling around. I realized that he had his own system and I further learned that that kind of training was part of the Iroquois Onondaga tradition that he grew up with. That led to something else, and something else, and something else. When I read in the same article that he'd refused to train and just went out and ran 20 miles, I knew that there was a huge contradiction in his story.
JA: Here again is William Winnie.
WW: He had an understanding of what he was capable of and what it would take for him to get even better. He stood by those beliefs throughout his entire career. To see the way that modern training has validated his ideas, that might be one of the things that makes me proudest about his legacy.
PB: He said he didn't need any rigorous training. In fact, he had in a large sense proved that by winning the first several races. His new trainer-managers were two Irish promoters, Tim O'Rourke and Tom Flanagan. They owned the Grand Central Hotel. They were gambling men, publicity seekers. They'd started the Irish Canadian Club. Meanwhile, Tom had married his childhood sweetheart from the reserve, Lauretta Maracle. All that winter, before the games, was embroiled in controversy because the American Athletic Association—the Amateur Athletic Association—threatened to boycott him. In fact, he had already been banned from running in the States because the amateurs pointed out that he was getting a free room and board from Flanagan and O'Rourke in their hotel.
JA: Wilton Littlechild is a Cree Chief and recipient of the Alberta Order of Excellence. He was an extraordinary athlete but this career took a different path when he discovered how few lawyers of Indigenous descent there were in Canada. He put his sports career aside and became the first Treaty First Nations person to receive a law degree from the University of Alberta. In this CBC clip from 1977 he speaks about the dispute.
[Clip from CBC Archives]
Wilton Littlechild (WL): There was a controversy at the 1908 Olympics as to whether Longboat was a professional or an amateur and he wasn't allowed to run. As a matter of fact, the United States threatened to pull all their US Olympic teams if Longboat was allowed to run.
BK: The Americans protested against Longboat's inclusion on that team, arguing that he was a professional and therefore ineligible. That precipitated a huge nationalist outpouring of support for Longboat. Lots of people sent telegrams to the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. Editorialists thundered that Longboat should be included on the Canadian team. We are proud of him as a Canadian. The minute the Americans said he shouldn't be included, that was a rallying cry for all Canadians to support him as a member of the Canadian team.
PB: The Canadian Amateur Athletic Association ignored the controversy. It would have been highly unpopular if they had tried to bar Tom from the Olympics. He was public hero number one, as I said. The Canadian Olympic Committee upheld his amateur status and so off he went with Tom Flanagan to Europe, specifically to Flanagan's hometown of Limerick, Ireland.
BK: The 1908 marathon was held on a very hot day…
[Clip from My Country]
PB: The hottest day London had ever seen. A scorcher, muggy, people in terrible shape. Still, 70,000 of them turned out to watch the race, including the Royal Family. The race began at Windsor Castle at the special request of King Edward, right underneath his window. It was to end at the stadium at Queen's Bush, where Queen Alexandra herself, one of the loveliest regal persons in Europe, would present the medal. Longboat took an early lead, ran off strongly in the head.
BK: A number of athletes dropped out because of the stress. There was informal doping.
JA: Wait, what do you mean by "informal doping"?
BK: So then, as now, people were looking for performance aids and for endurance runners, there were a variety of concoctions that people tried. One was a combination of mild doses of strychnine with brandy or some other stimulant.
JA: Hold on a second… Isn't strychnine what is more commonly known as rat poison? Rat poison and brandy… Doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for success…
BK: There were times when that boosted very well and kept the runner going. They knew very little about endurance nutrition, they knew very little about endurance hydration. But they knew that this was an exhausting race and even the best athletes could benefit from something. So if you didn't take enough, maybe you weren't as strong. If you took too much, it would knock you out of the race. It's a very, very delicate balance. In addition to that, because there was so much betting involved, there was also the possibility of sabotage.
PB: At the halfway point, he fell badly behind. Then he seemed to get his second wind. At the 20-mile point, to the horror of the crowd and his backers, he stumbled, spun around, and dropped senseless to the ground. He was carried off in a stretcher. A lot of the people in the crowd thought he was dead. That was the first rumour out.
JA: We asked William Winnie if he had any theories about what happened to his great- grandfather.
WW: I've heard all sorts of things. Just from running a marathon myself, I could tell you that there's a billion things that can go wrong on any given day. So I don't know. There's the idea that he was sabotaged. I know gambling was a big part of racing in those days, maybe there was something else there. Who knows?
BK: When Longboat dropped out of that race in London in 1908, the Canadian manager, J.H. Crocker, said that he'd been over-doped. Somebody had given him too much of a stimulant and that knocked him out of the race. The question then as now was, did he take that stimulant from a friend who miscalculated? Or did he take that stimulant from an enemy who wanted to knock him out of the race because he and his group was betting against him?
For me, the biggest question surrounds the role of Lou Marsh, a name that is well known in Canada because it is associated with the annual Best Athlete in Canada Award. Lou Marsh went on some years after this to become the sports editor for
The Toronto Star and one of the defining early sports journalists. But at that time, he was a friend of Tom Longboat's sometime friend, sometime manager, and sometime enemy Tom Flanagan, who, in my view, was never to be trusted. He [Lou Marsh] rode a bicycle alongside Longboat during that race and had the best opportunity to give him something to drink. Did Marsh give him Flanagan's bottles? I've always wondered that. Were those bottles mistakenly overcharged or were they deliberately overcharged? Big, big mystery to me.
JA: Again, here's Wilton Littlechild
[Clip from CBC Archives]
WL: Very recently a lady in Sacramento, California, wrote that she had followed Longboat on a bicycle and at no time did he appear to be distressed. Shortly after the race, after the medical people checked Longboat, the Canadian manager wrote that there was no way he would be convinced that Longboat wasn't drugged.
PB: The end of the race was one of the most sensational the Olympics had ever seen. Little Pietri Dorando of Italy, a dark horse, was the first man into the stadium. He was clearly delirious with heat and exhaustion and, disoriented, took a wrong turn. The officials tried to put him on the right turn. He was paranoid enough at this point to think they were purposely deceiving him and he fought them off. He then fell to the ground. A doctor had to give him an injection. He stumbled on, fell again, and finally had to be pushed by the officials over the finish line. Of course, he was disqualified because that was interference. Right behind them came John Hayes, a New York department store clerk, and he got the medal.
JA: When Tom was winning races he was universally praised by the public and the media. But when he lost, his treatment was harsh.
BK: Well, he had a dual character. He was a Canadian but he was also an Indigenous person. This was at a time of just heightened racism against First Nations people, Indigenous people so when he lost, people would call out all the stereotypes against him.
WW: My grandmother, she preferred not to talk to the media throughout her life. I think just based mostly on some of the treatment that Tom received throughout his time in the limelight. We can look back and see lots of horrible coverage that can only be described as racist.
BK: Lou Marsh had a very complicated relationship. At times, he would simply pass along the condemnation. Sometimes he wrote it quite ardently and sometimes he would be Longboat's friend and defend him. From one day to the next, it was hard to know which Marsh was reigning. One of the things that I found [is] that in one of these relays, where Longboat, in an exhibition, was running against an entire team. He took the baton against the fourth runner on the Toronto Irish American Athletic team and just ran away from him, and that fourth runner was Lou Marsh. Marsh was so embarrassed by that, that he retired from track and to the best of my knowledge never ran again. Was that a motivation for some of those subsequent attacks? I do not know but certainly, that's a fact that has to be noted.
JA: Shortly after the Olympics, Tom Longboat decided to turn professional. As an amateur he was forced to work an office job, which he did not like. Becoming a professional would allow him to earn a good living and take charge of his career. And, as such, he would not be dependent on his questionable coaching team.
BK: After those games, there was a very smart sports entrepreneur, Pat Powers, who decided to restage that marathon in what he called the "World's Professional Marathon Championship" in a series of arenas in the United States in the winter of 1909. He invited all of the runners from the 1908 marathon and there were heats and then there were quarterfinals and semi-finals. All of these races were one-on-one match races, around tiny tracks. Three hundred or three hundred-and-fifty laps for the race. With bands, with theme songs for each of the runners. With trains of fans coming in. And that was a commercial success. To get a sense of the fascination of this, imagine that in whatever city, the major arena was sold-out, standing room only to watch one race, a one-on-one match race around a tiny track and that would keep the crowd on its feet for several hours.
PB: On December 15, 1908, he [Longboat] was matched in his first professional race in Madison Square Garden, New York, a 25-mile [40 km] marathon against little Dorando. Fantastic scene. Deafening noise, oppressive heat, cigar smoke—an endurance contest really, not a race. Longboat towered above the Italian, who set off with short jaunty steps as opposed to Longboat's long lope. Longboat kept behind him, sometimes took the lead. They had to be refreshed with water-soaked sponges handed to them as they ran and with just half a mile to go, Dorando staggered and dropped. Longboat himself could barely finish. He staggered and fell into his trainer's arms at the end, but he'd won and recovered his good name. And the marathon craze was on in every town, city and hamlet in Canada—young boys were running 25 miles. That led to Longboat's greatest race, what some people say is the greatest race of all time.
February 5, 1909, against Alfie Shrubb of Sussex, England. A man of— Very fast runner, held all the records from two to 12 miles; had once beaten a mixed relay team of men and horses. Surely, at the age of 30, he was certain he could beat Longboat. Toronto, Friday evening, day of the race, the downtown went crazy. 60,000 people stood in the rain to read bulletins in the newspaper boards. King Street, in front of
The Star, a crowd of 5- to 10-thousand blocked all traffic. A canvas screen gave the results from Lou Marsh.
The Star's reporter was sending results at every mile, which meant a result every seven minutes. Bets being made all the time. Every streetcar jammed by seven o'clock in the evening, Massey Hall full of another crowd watching the results which came in by telegraph.
In Madison Square Garden itself, a sell-out crowd [was] watching what was called by Lou Marsh, "one the most sensational races ever seen." There was Shrubb on the left and Longboat on the right. When the starting gun was fired, as you see here, Shrubb shot away as if he had been propelled from a canon and seemed to be the sure victor. At 10 miles [16 km], Shrubb was five laps ahead and a lap was a tenth of a mile. Then he was seven laps ahead. At mile 19 [30 km], both men were clearly tired. Tom was showing signs of quitting. Flanagan, his manager, brought his wife out on the track for Tom to see and she waved Tom on, gave him courage, because Flannagan had seen something. He had seen that though Shrubb was running gamely, something was happening to him. He saw the haggard eyes, face and the sunken eyes and he knew he couldn't last. At mile 20 [32 km], Tom was almost a mile behind and he was preparing to quit. To keep him going, Flannagan and some of his friends had to get out and run along beside him to pace him while the crowd who were on Shrubb's side hissed and booed.
But now Shrubb began to stagger and to stumble. Tom Longboat kept up a steady pace and began gaining on him. Shrubb slowed down to a walk, looked over his shoulder, saw Longboat gaining, ran a while then had to walk again. It was the case of the hare and the tortoise. Longboat was running his own race, not Shrubb's, and he was the tortoise. At mile 23 [37 km], Shrubb collapsed, fell against the barrier, as these photos show, right into his trainer's arms. At 11:53, Lou Marsh sent the news to the waiting people in Toronto "Longboat wins, Shrubb quits." There was an enormous celebration, they even had to keep the streetcars running in Toronto after midnight and that was something. Longboat was now the undisputed champion of the world. There was no doubt who was the fastest man on earth..
BK: A couple of years after his battles with Longboat, Shrubb wrote a book on how to train for the distance events and he basically described Longboat's training style and gave Longboat credit for that. Shrubb, who knew what it took, realized that he'd been regularly beaten by somebody who, for the long, long distances, had a better form of training.
JA: We asked Bruce about some of Tom Longboat's strategies on the racetrack.
BK: He did a variety of things under different conditions. When he raced on the track in meets that were like straight championships, he ran simply to win and he ran very hard at the finish.
In more commercial races, he played with the crowd as a way of maintaining the audience. He would hang back, he would make faces, and then he'd come on. In his races with Shrubb, he was very dramatic. When he started to catch Shrubb, he would pretend he was hauling him in as a fisherman hauls in a fish on a line. He was both a shrewd runner and he was a shrewd showman.
RRemember, somewhere in that professional career, he was so angered by his white manager that he used some of his savings to buy up his contract and managed his own races after that. While all of the white promoters and sports writers predicted his very quick failure, he flourished both athletically and at the box office and did very, very well. He was a very shrewd promoter, self-promoter, as well as a trainer and a runner. He didn't win all of his races but he won most of them and he won them by whatever tactics would enable him to win.
JA: How long did the global obsession with long distance running last?
BK: It began to dwindle out after the 1912 Olympics, but he continued on. Longboat by then was managing his own career. To be a professional runner meant you had to make appearances, you had to frequent the taverns and the clubs where sports people talked up the races, do all kinds of crazy things to sell tickets and then go and run the races and Longboat did a lot of that.
JA: With the onset of the First World War, sports in Canada crumbled. So many of the top athletes had enlisted that it was hard to keep the sports associations alive. Indigenous athletes were no different. Around 35 per cent of the eligible population of Indigenous men enlisted voluntarily, slightly higher than the national average. Tom Longboat was one of them.
BK: His role was a dispatch runner. In the chaos of trench warfare, where telephone lines could be blown up, where commanders wanted to know who was where and what was happening, where there was no communication, you sent a physical runner. And Longboat, as a trench runner, it was not only Indigenous servicemen but others— But people who could run fast played that role and he was commended for that.
JA: At one point during the war, Tom Longboat was leading a general through dangerous territory at a great speed in order to get the general to safety. The general, out of breath and unable to keep up, reportedly yelled out: "Slow down! Who do you think I am, Tom Longboat?!" To which Tom replied, "No Sir, that's me!"
BK: I think he was wounded once. He was once completely buried for a couple days by a shell until they dug him out. He was an active soldier. From time to time, there would be sports exhibitions behind the lines as a way of instilling pride in different armies. Some of them were boxing matches, some of them were cross-country races. He and several other runners, including Indigenous runners—another famous one was Joe Keeper from Winnipeg—ran for the Canadian military and won a number of races.
JA: If you'd like to consult Longboat's 49-page personnel record from the First World War online, use his full name, Thomas Charles Longboat, in your search criteria. We've put a link on the episode page for this podcast for you as well.
While Tom was valiantly serving in the First World War, an unsavoury character by the name of Edgar Laplante stepped into the picture. Edgar Laplante had a gift too, but not for running or athleticism. He had a gift for the grift. At the tender age of 14, he came up with his first con, swindling shop owners of small change in his hometown of Central Falls, Rhode Island. But clearly he wasn't in it for the money—he happily passed this money on to his father. Laplante soon discovered that he had a knack for impersonation, taking his show on the road. And so, while Tom was toiling as a dispatch runner in the trenches of France, Edgar Laplante had assumed Longboat's identity and was being toasted in the taverns of Arizona and California and holding well-paid racing clinics for his unsuspecting customers. Eventually, Longboat found out about this con man who was soliciting the public for free drinks and damaging his good name.
BK: Tom Longboat was not a beggar and Tom Longboat was not a drunk and that affected him. Somewhere along the line, and I can't remember, Edgar Laplante walked into
The Star sports department and held out his hand for some money to Lou Marsh. And Lou Marsh threw him out and told all his readers that he now understood why Longboat was so angry, because this guy looked a little bit like him but was nowhere near him and anybody who ran into a guy holding out his hands who called himself Tom Longboat should refuse to aid him because the real Tom Longboat was a gentleman and would never do such a thing. This guy went around, he went around to Hamilton, he went around Brantford, so he was around for several years. I think it was only when Lou Marsh called him out that it really came to an end.
JA: When Tom returned from the war, he was met with some shocking news. He had been mistakenly declared dead in the battlefields of Belgium, after being buried in rubble as a result of heavy shelling. The specifics of this incident have been the source of some debate, and I encourage you to do your own research by looking closely at our digitized war diaries surrounding the incident. We'll attach a link in the show notes for this episode. Let us know what you think really happened. In any event, Tom returned home to find that his wife Lauretta, thinking Tom was a casualty of war, had remarried. We asked Bruce how Tom took this news.
BK: He wasn't happy about it, but it wasn't— I think there was tension between Longboat and his first wife before he left for France. She was a Christian. He was very strongly rooted to the traditional ways. She wanted him to make his career as a white businessman. She was much more in favour of his assimilation than he was. There were big areas of tension in addition to the interpersonal dynamic. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't so unhappy that he didn't find another relationship very quickly, and he lived for the rest of his life very happily married to his second wife.
JA: Tom Longboat married a Cayuga woman from Six Nations whose English name was Martha Silversmith. He and Martha had four children in rapid succession and settled into family life. Tom's running days for the most part behind him, he found steady work in Alberta, but Martha wanted to raise the family closer to her home of Ohsweken so they moved back to Ontario. Tom took on a number of jobs in Hamilton and Buffalo and eventually settled in Toronto where he found a permanent job with the Toronto Works Department. He and his family lived a comfortable middle-class life, even through the Great Depression when jobs were extremely scarce. But even after retiring from running, he would still receive a great deal of attention from the public.
BK: He was so well known. He was a household word. Everywhere he went, even decades after his retirement, he would attract a crowd. The white Establishment wondered about him, but ordinary people would tell you with excitement that they saw him run or they saw him working in the park. He had a magnetic personality. People were proud that they knew him and were thrilled that they had come in contact with him. I think the example he provided of someone who knew his own body, who knew how to get the best out of his own body, who was proud of his own culture, who was very confident in who he was… People would put him down for working for the Works Department, being outside two or four days a week picking up garbage. He loved being outside and it took nothing away from his sense of self that he could do that.
JA: When he eventually retired from his job with the City of Toronto, he moved back to Six Nations where he lived out his final days. Although he suffered from diabetes and intense back pain as he aged, he continued to exercise regularly.
BK: One of my informants would say, "I would drive across the reserve and even on the windiest, bitterest day, if I ran across Tom, I'd slow down and say, 'Do you want a lift?' Tom would say, 'No, I'm enjoying my walk.' He'd never thank you for a ride."
JA: Tom Longboat died on January 9, 1947, at the age of 61, but his legacy lives on. Several commemorative races are held in his name each year and the Tom Longboat Junior Public School was established in Toronto to honour his life. He was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and Ontario celebrates Tom Longboat Day every year on June 4. In 1951, the Tom Longboat Awards were established to honour his legacy and to recognize Indigenous athletes for their outstanding contributions to sport in Canada. In 2018, Michael Linklater was the male recipient of this award. Michael recently retired at the top of his game - the number one ranked 3-on-3 basketball player in Canada and one of the top players in the world. We caught up with Michael by phone in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We started off the conversation by asking him what winning the Tom Longboat Award meant to him.
ML: My name is Michael Linklater. I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I'm from Thunderchild First Nation, which is part of Treaty 6 Territory. When I read up on Tom Longboat and saw his accomplishments, it was really inspiring to me to see the work that he had done and the recognition he had received. For me… To receive this award was very exciting for me and it was very humbling at the same time to be recognized for the work and the contributions that I've done. That has been a blessing. I've just been very grateful for that.
JA: We asked Michael if he noticed any similarities in the struggles that he and Tom faced.
ML: I think a lot of the similarities between, I guess, Indigenous athletes in regards to their upbringing and some of the struggles that they've gone through, have a very similar tone across the nation. For me, just to hear his story was inspiring.
JA: In addition to his abilities on the basketball court, Michael has won numerous awards for his advocacy work with Indigenous youth.
ML: Some of the work that I've been doing is giving youth who reside on reserves or in remote locations an opportunity to, one, hear my story and some of the struggles that I have had to overcome in order to achieve some of my successes, but also to share some of the skills and the coaching and the techniques that I've learned from very high-level camps, clinics, and coaches, and share that with them because I know that there's a lot of barriers that Indigenous youth face, especially on the reserve.
To be able to attend their communities and learn a bit about their culture and share some of the experiences I've had is something that I've taken very seriously and I enjoy. When I see these athletes down the road, after I visited with them, I see their development in how far they've come. It's not that I'm really doing anything special, it's just giving them access to something that they don't have the means to, in regards to simply having a coach with some high-level experience.
It just takes one person to help them realize that they have all the potential in the world, and to find solutions rather than excuses. Because if we grow up in an environment that we're constantly surrounded by people who are thinking negative or don't really have a lot of ambition, it just takes one person to help that spark within them, because they all have it and some of them just don't realize that. To be able to share with them some of the stories that I've heard, even from other athletes that have come from far less than myself and then [become] far greater… It just takes one story or one word that just clicks with them.
In my language, we say
Akameyimo, which means keep on, keep on going. Even for myself, there's a lot of days that we have, even as elite athletes, where we do question ourselves. To know that they're not alone in some self-doubting, but to continue pushing on. Really a great way to better themselves is to surround themselves with better people and to find people who are like-minded or who are wanting to pursue greater things and that don't want to settle.
JA: Tom Longboat certainly could have benefited from being surrounded by better people in the early days of his career, but for him there was little choice. When he was able to pull away from his questionable trainers and manage his own career, he became an enormous success. We asked William Winnie what aspect of his great-grandfather's legacy he is most proud of.
WW: He was humble and he had this amazing talent that he knew he had. It wasn't like… I never get the sense that he was boastful about it. He had a pretty good sense of what he could do and I think, throughout his life, he worked to be the best that he could be no matter what it was. Even in the later periods when the fame had died down, and you know, "Ok well, I'm going to go pick up trash, and I'm going to do that as well as I can as well." I get an overriding sense of humility and thankfulness for a lot of the great stuff that happened to him and acceptance for a lot of the bad stuff that happened. He's a great role model and the life he lived is a great example for anybody really.
JA: If you'd like to learn more about Tom Longboat resources at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts. On the episode page for this podcast you will find a number of links related to Tom Longboat's life and legacy, including our Flickr album which showcases a selection of Tom Longboat material from our collection.
Thank you for being with us. I'm Josée Arnold, your host. You've been listening to "Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you." A special thank you to our guests today Bruce Kidd, Michael Linklater and William Winnie. Special thanks as well to Isabel Larocque and Ellen Bond for their contributions to this episode. We would also like to thank the CBC Archives for the use of the Wilton Littlechild clips you heard. The Pierre Berton clips are courtesy of My Country Productions, Inc.
Voice-over for the French equivalent of this episode was provided by LAC staff members Théo Martin, Sylvain Salvas, Richard Provencher, Michel Guenette and Éric Mineault. If you're interested in listening to the French equivalent of our podcast, you can find
French versions of all our episodes on our website, Apple podcasts and Google Play. Simply search for "Découvrez Bibliothèque et Archives Canada."
This episode was produced and engineered by Tom Thompson.
The main theme song you heard in this episode is entitled "Sidestep", and was provided by
Boogey the Beat. You can find out more about this artist at www.boogeythebeat.com. All other music in the episode by
Blue Dot Sessions.
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For more information on our podcasts, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts.
Episode 114, The Rise and Fall of Tom Longboat, 1973
Produced by My Country Productions Inc.
Pierre Berton fonds / ISN 334789
Wilton Littlechild interview
The Sage Is On Fire ft. Snotty Nose Res Kids / Boogey The Beat, 2019
Runner = Le Coureur, 1962
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada
National Film Board of Canada fonds / ISN 325295