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Tom Longboat
Tom Longboat with the Ward Marathon Trophy in 1907
Born (1887-06-04)June 4, 1887
Six Nations Reserve
Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Died January 9, 1949(1949-01-09) (aged 61)
Six Nations Reserve
Nationality Canadian
Height 1.75 metres (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 66 kilograms (146 lb)

Thomas Charles Longboat (June 4, 1887 – January 9, 1949, Iroquois name: Cogwagee) was an Onondaga distance runner from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario and, for much of his career, the dominant long-distance runner. He was known as the "bulldog of Britannia"[citation needed] and was a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.[1]

Athletic history[edit | edit source]

When Longboat was a child, a Mohawk (Kanien'kehá:ka) resident of the reserve, Bill Davis, who in 1901 finished second in the Boston Marathon, interested him in running races. He began racing in 1905, finishing second in the Victoria Day race at Caledonia, Ontario. His first important victory was in the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario in 1906, which he won by three minutes. In 1907 he won the Boston Marathon in a record time of 2:24:24 over the old 24-1/2 mile course, four minutes and 59 seconds faster than any of the previous ten winners of the event. He collapsed, however, in the 1908 Olympic Games marathon, 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 by defeating Dorando Pietri and Alfred Shrubb in front of sell-out crowds.[2]

Tom Longboat, 1907

His coaches did not approve of his alternation of hard workouts with "active rest" such as long walks. When he was a professional, these recovery periods annoyed his promoters and the sports press often labeled him "lazy," although the practice of incorporating "hard", "easy", and "recovery" days into training is normal today.[3] Because of this and other disputes with his managers Longboat bought out his contract, after which his times improved.

Knee and back issues began to plague Longboat post-1909. Although this was public knowledge, reporters and fans often blamed "Indian laziness" for his occasional poor showing. Longboat's former manager, Tom Flanagan, spread false rumors that Longboat trained infrequently, contributing to this public attitude of sportswriters towards Longboat.[4] In 1911, he was given a suspended sentence in Toronto for drunkenness, which led to additional criticism from reporters. While many newspaper columns were devoted to his supposed alcoholism, the facts of Longboat's racing career and post-athletic work appear to be in strong contradiction. It has been suggested that efforts to encourage the temperance movement within First Nations society may have been the cause of such reporting.[4] Regardless of the intentions behind such coverage, not a month later Longboat won two major races at Hanlan's Point Stadium, setting a personal best in the 12-mile race.[5]

Members of his family wouldn't even believe how fast he could run over such a long distance until he gave his brother a half an hour head start driving a horse and buggy while he ran on foot, and yet he still made it to Hamilton first.[citation needed]

Longboat's chief rival was Alfred Shrubb, whom he raced ten times, winning all the races at 20 miles or more and losing all those at shorter distances.

Longboat served as a dispatch runner in France in World War I while maintaining a professional career. He was twice wounded and twice declared dead while serving in Belgium. Stories said that he had entered a communication trench which was buried by an exploding shell, where he and his comrades were trapped for six days (albeit with sufficient oxygen and provisions) before being rescued.[4] However, Longboat himself debunked that particular myth in an interview with Lou Marsh in 1919.[5] He retired following the war.[3]

While officially an amateur, Longboat had lost only three total races, one of which was his first, the Victoria Day race. By the time he had turned professional, he owned two national track records and several unofficial world records. After joining the professional ranks, he set world records for the 24 and 32-kilometer races and had nearly set the world record for 19 kilometers.[4]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Longboat grew up in a poor family that lived on a small farm. His father died when Longboat was 3 years old.[6] He was enrolled at the Mohawk Institute Residential School at age 12, a legal obligation under the Indian Act at that time. He hated life at the school, where he was pressured to give up his Onondaga beliefs in favor of Christianity. He was also expected to give up his language. After one unsuccessful escape attempt, Longboat tried again and reached the home of his uncle. His uncle hid him from authorities. After Longboat's athletic successes, he was invited to speak at the institute. He refused, stating that "I wouldn't even send my dog to that place."[7]

In 1908, he married Lauretta Maracle. In February 1916 , he enlisted in the Canadian Army running messages between military posts.[8] While he was serving with the Canadian Army, he fell victim to what would later be termed identity theft. From late 1916 until the summer of 1917, a white Rhode Island-born vaudeville singer, conman and onetime medicine show performer named Edgar Laplante (1888-1944) travelled around America pretending to be him and giving concerts that profited from Longboat's continued celebrity. In August 1917 Laplante arrived in New York City, where he enrolled under Longboat's name as a civilian crewman with the U.S. Army Transport Service. News of Longboat joining this branch of the military generated numerous American newspaper stories, which were illustrated by photographs of Laplante, who looked nothing like the real Longboat. During Laplante's initial voyage aboard the S.S. Antilles, a debate raged in the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" regarding whether the real Longboat was in France or serving with the U.S. Army Transport Service. The "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" sided with the imposter. Eventually, Longboat heard about the imposter's antics and wrote a letter about them, which ended up being quoted in several American newspapers.[9] In his letter he threatened legal action against the imposter. "I am going to have three charges against this man, one for making false statements, second for impersonation, third [for] intent to defraud the public at large." [10]

When erroneous reports reached America that Longboat had been killed in action while serving with the Canadian Army in France, the consequent American newspaper stories were often illustrated by photos of the imposter, Edgar Laplante.[9] On the basis that Longboat really was dead, his wife Lauretta remarried during 1918. Although pleased to find out he had survived, she had no desire to leave her new husband.[4] Longboat later married Martha Silversmith, with whom he had four children. After the war, Longboat settled in Toronto where he worked until 1944. He retired to the Six Nations reserve and died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

File:Tom Longboat federal marker.jpg

A federal historical marker in Oshwekan, Ontario, reflects Longboat's status as a National Historic Person

After Longboat's death, Alfred Shrubb stated in an interview that "he was one of the greatest, if not the greatest marathoner of all time."[4]

In 1951, the Tom Longboat Awards were instituted by Jan Eisenhardt. This program, administered since 1999 by the Aboriginal Sport Circle, annually honours outstanding First Nations athletes and sportsmen in each province; national male and female winners are selected from the provincial winners. Longboat was inducted into both Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, (in 1955)[11][12] the Ontarian Sports hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.[13]

Longboat is also commemorated annually by the Toronto Island 10 km race.

In 1976, Longboat was designated a National Historic Person.[14]

Tom Longboat was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was the first person of Native American descent (Onondaga) to win the Boston Marathon, and one of only two Native Americans ever to win it (the other being Ellison Brown, a Narragansett).[15]

A 46-cent first-class postage stamp honoring Longboat was issued by Canada Post on February 17, 2000.[16]

In 2008, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association organised the naming of many lanes in their area of the City of Toronto. A lane south of Longboat Avenue was officially named Tom Longboat Lane in 2013. (City by-Law 174-2013)

In 2008, June 4 was officially declared "Tom Longboat Day" in Ontario with the passage of Bill 120, a Private Member's Bill put forward by MPP Michael Colle.[3][17]

Google's June 4, 2018 Doodle celebrates the life and legacy of Tom Longboat, and was distributed across Canada and the United States.[18]

See also[edit | edit source]

General references[edit | edit source]

  • Jack Batten. The Man Who Ran Faster Than Everyone. Tundra Books, 2002.
  • Bruce Kidd. Tom Longboat. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1992.
  • David Blaikie. Boston, the Canadian Story. Seneca House Books, 1984 ISBN 0-920598-04-8
  • Louis Laforce. 'Tom Longboat'. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013 ISBN 978-1494787554
  • Paul Willetts. 'King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age's Greatest Impostor'. Crown Publishing, 2018.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Thomas Longboat's CEF Attestation Paper, archived here: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/image.aspx?Image=238864a&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fdata2.archives.ca%2fcef%2fwell2%2f238864a.gif&Ecopy=238864a
  2. Kidd, Bruce (2004). Tom Longboat. Canada: Fitzhenry & Whiteside. pp. 35–37. ISBN 1-55041-838-6. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Kelly, Malcolm (17 April 2017). "Tom Longboat: A man called Everything: Canada 150". CBC Sports. http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/trackandfield/canada-150-tom-longboat-1.4067560. Retrieved 18 April 2017. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Kidd, Bruce (2004). Tom Longboat. Canada: Fitzhenry & Whiteside. pp. 46–54. ISBN 1-55041-838-6. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Batten, Jack (2002). The Man Who Ran Faster Than Everyone: The Story of Tom Longboat. Canada: Tundra Books. pp. 76–85. ISBN 0-88776-507-6. https://archive.org/details/manwhoranfastert00batt/page/76. 
  6. Kidd, Bruce (2004). Tom Longboat. Canada: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited. pp. 10. ISBN 1-55041-838-6. 
  7. First Nations Athletes, in History and in the Media: Tom Longboat and Steve Collins: Background, Historica Canada
  8. "Tom Longboat | Longboat Roadrunners" (in en-US). http://longboatroadrunners.com/about-longboat/tom-longboat/. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Paul Willetts, 'King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age's Greatest Impostor (Crown Publishing, 2018)
  10. "Cincinnati Enquirer, October 28, 1917, p.4.
  11. "Canada's Sports Hall of Fame | Stories". http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=304&catID=all&lang=EN. 
  12. "Canadian History and Society Through the Lens of Sport". http://canadasports150.ca/en/aboriginal-athletes/tom-longboat/119. 
  13. "Tom Longboat - Canadian Soldier Olympian". Veterans Affairs Canada. Government of Canada. 2014-12-08. Archived from the original on 2015-02-14. https://web.archive.org/web/20150214013650/http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/olympics/Longboat. Retrieved 2015-02-13. 
  14. Tom Longboat National Historic Person, Directory of Federal Heritage Designations, Parks Canada, no date.
  15. "Tom Longboat". http://oshof.ca/index.php/honoured-members/item/89-tom-longboat. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  16. Tom Longboat: Marathon Man, Canadian Postage Stamps
  17. "Bill 120, Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008". Bill 120, Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008. Government of Ontario. http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=2101. Retrieved 2015-01-21. 
  18. "Tom Longboat’s 131st Birthday". June 4, 2018. https://www.google.com/doodles/tom-longboats-131st-birthday. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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