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Canadian History for Kids: Tom Longboat

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

There are many significant stories to be told about the ‘war to end all wars’.

A grateful nation never forgets a hero.

In February 1916, Tom Longboat put aside his racing career to serve during the First World War. And what a racing career!

Tom Longboat was born at Ohsweken, on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, on July 4, 1887. His Onondaga Indian name was Cogwagee. When he began to race competitively, he developed the ability to save enough energy to sprint just before the finish line. This became the amazing feature of his racing style.

Longboat’s first important road race took place in 1906 when he won the “Around the Bay” marathon in Hamilton, Ontario. Winning that event made him an instant celebrity and clearly established him as one of the favourites for any long-distance race he would enter.

Tom Longboat won the 1907 Boston Marathon in the record time of 2:25:004, to become the world’s premier marathoner. He also won Toronto’s famous Ward’s Island Marathon from 1906 through 1908.

Before winning the world famous Boston Marathon in 1907, Tom Longboat was unsuccessfully challenged by Lewis Edwin Marsh at Hamilton’s popular Irish-Canadian Games. A former aid and coach of Longboat, Marsh is best remembered each year as Canada’s top male and female athletes are presented with the annual Lou Marsh Trophy.

He entered the Olympic marathon in London, England, in 1908 but unfortunately collapsed after twenty miles, along with several other leading runners, and a rematch was organized the same year at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Longboat won this race, turned professional, and in 1909 at the same venue won the title of Professional Champion of the World in another marathon.

In February 1916, he put aside his racing career to serve during the First World War. Private Longboat was a dispatch carrier with the 107th Pioneer Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In a time before wide-spread radio communications, he used his running skills to deliver messages between units on the front lines in France. It was a dangerous task – he was wounded twice and was even once officially declared dead – but did not let serving in the Canadian Army stop him from competing. He found the chance to race overseas in events like the Canadian Corps Dominion Day competitions in 1918. Longboat returned to Canada in 1919 and would go on to become a member of the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

After the war Longboat returned to Canada and settled in Toronto where he worked until 1944. He retired to the Six Nations Reserve and died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949.

Longboat’s achievements as a marathoner, prior to World War I, brought him recognition as one of Canada’s greatest athletes. On July 17, 1985, Parks Canada unveiled a plaque at the Six Nations Sports Centre commemorating his superb career as one of the world’s premier Marathon runners.

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