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Canadian History for Kids: Tommy Burns

February 23, 1906 – Tommy Burns of Hanover, Ontario, at just 5’7 and 175 lb., defeats title holder Marvin Hart to claim the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship.

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive, looks at the first Canadian Heavyweight Champion, Tommy Burns.

He may have only been 5 feet 7 inches tall and 175 pounds but on February 23, 1906, Tommy Burns defeated Marvin Hart for the heavyweight championship of the world, and went on to defend his title eleven times within a period of less than two years. He is the only Canadian born World Heavyweight Champion boxer.

Tommy Burns was born Noah Brusso on June 17, 1881, near Hanover, Ontario. He started prizefighting in 1900, in Detroit, Michigan under the name Noah Brusso. Only a lightweight when he first fought he earned a reputation throughout Detroit as a quick-handed scrapper with a stinging right hand punch. On January 28, 1904, Noah nearly killed opponent Ben O’Grady. O’Grady survived but to avoid being arrested for assault and participating in an illegal prizefight Noah fled Detroit. He then changed his name to Tommy Burns. He put on weight and began campaigning in the light heavyweight class, where he hoped the larger men could handle his punching power better.

When he met Marvin Hart in 1906, he was a 2-1 underdog and the betting was 10-7 that he would not last ten rounds. Instead he won. Burns famously challenged all comers as Heavyweight Champion regardless of colour or nationality.

He travelled the globe, beating the champions of every nation including England, Ireland, France and Australia. He set records for the fastest knockout (one minute and 28 seconds) and the most consecutive wins by knockout (eight) by a heavyweight champion.

At a time when most white fighters refused to fight African Americans, Burns had half a dozen contests with black boxers prior to his fight with the legendary Jack Johnson.

In December 1908, Tommy Burns lost his title to African American box, Jack Johnson, in Sydney, Australia. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police. Johnson said that Burns deserved credit as the only white heavyweight who ever gave a black man a chance to win the title.

He won 46 of his 60 fights, 36 of those fights by knockout. During the First World War he joined the Canadian army, serving as a physical fitness instructor in Canada.

Burns was ordained as a minister in 1948 and died while visiting a friend in Vancouver where is buried at the Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, British Columbia in an unmarked pauper’s grave. In 1961 a Vancouver sports writer raised money and a memorial plaque was finally placed on his grave.

He was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, and into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 9, 1996.

And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!

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