Harry Manson transcended
racial prejudice on the soccer pitch at turn of 20th century
Manson (Xul-si-malt) is the first aboriginal player to be
inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame. (photo courtesy
Harry Manson broke racial barriers as a First Nations athlete
in British Columbia at the turn of the 20th century.
Grandson Gary Manson's dining room is crowded with soccer trophies:
stacked on shelves, on top of the fridge, wedged in between hand
drums and beaded prayer banners. They are all products of his decades
coaching men's soccer teams from the Snuneymuxw First Nation on
"Soccer is in our blood," said Manson. "It's
what we do." But, he's thrilled to be accepting an extraordinary
award in Ontario this weekend, honouring his late grandfathers
athletic achievements over a hundred years ago.
The national Soccer Hall of Fame is saluting Harry Manson as
a "pioneer" of the game in Canada, a speedy goal scorer
who transcended racial prejudice to lead his people to a string
of victories on the soccer pitch at the turn of the 19th century.
grandson Gary Manson (left) carries on the family legacy,
coaching soccer teams from Snuneymuxw First Nation in all-native
tournaments throughout B.C. (photo courtesy Manson family)
Amongst the Snuneymuxw, he was known by his traditional name:
Xul-si-malt. In the 1890s, the lifestyle of the Snuneymuxw was undergoing
profound transformation. Scores of labourers drawn by coal mines
turned Nanaimo into a sprawling settlement and bustling port city,
but the Snuneymuxw were mostly segregated to their small village
on the beach, marked with longhouses and totem poles.
Racism was socially acceptable at the time, as many settlers
considered aboriginal people less than human. But, known by his
Christian name, Harry Manson, and spurred by his love of the game,
Xul-si-malt became a trailblazer in a sport still in its infancy
in the new colony.
The story of Harry Manson, the first aboriginal person to be
inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame - Nov 7, 201424:58
They were the first aboriginal players to compete in a provincial
championship, playing side-by-side with their white peers. Manson
scored, in a losing effort. In 1903, Manson was named to the provincial
all-star team. The next year, he captained an all-Snuneymuxw squad
called the Indian Wanderers to a Nanaimo city championship, despite
jeers from white fans, some shouting "Kill the savages!"
"I try to imagine what its like being on a field
in Ladysmith with a couple thousand people on the sidelines. They're
all white, its a very intimidating atmosphere, and they're
all hurling abuse at these indigenous players," said Robert
Janning, an amateur soccer historian.
Manson helped to create an all-aboriginal team to compete in
the city soccer league, where his talent stood out.
In 1898, in a bid to win a provincial championship, the all-white
Nanaimo team turned to two players from the Snuneymuxw First Nation:
Manson and James Wilkes.
|'Despite all these obstacles of segregation
that were being constructed around him, he was breaking a colour
barrier in sports long before Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson
did so in the U.S.'
- Robert Janning, amateur soccer historian
"Despite all these obstacles of segregation that were being
constructed around him, he was breaking a colour barrier in sports
long before Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson did so in the U.S.,"
By 1907, Manson and three other Snuneymuxw were starters for
the Nanaimo team, again playing for the West Coast's biggest soccer
prize: the Challenge Cup. Final score: Nanaimo 4-1. All the goals
were from Snuneymuxw players. But when it came to the celebratory
banquet, Manson and the other Snuneymuxw players weren't invited.
Manson (bottom row, second from right) helped led Nanaimo
to B.C.s biggest soccer prize in the early 1900s, the
Challenge Cup. (photo courtesy BC Archives)
Harry Manson died tragically in 1912. He was just 30 years old.
After heading into town to seek medicine for his sick infant, he
was run over by a train. A coroner later found the railroad company
not at fault, because one witness testified Manson seemed intoxicated
as he attempted to leap onto a rail car.
Manson's story was long lost, until Robert Janning began researching
a history of soccer's roots in British Columbia. Janning was struck
by the recurring mention of Manson in archival records and newspaper
reports. When he tracked down the Manson family, they knew little
about their ancestor's soccer success; the only historical record
they had was the coroner's report detailing Manson's demise.
"For the longest time, I wondered who our heroes were,
and why we didn't have them," said Dean Manson, one of Xul-si-malt's
many grandchildren. "Now, I have a grandfather who's a hero.
He's always been there, but it was never spoken of how great he
was in soccer."
Janning and the Manson family are now fundraising to commemorate
Harry Mansons legacy with an annual soccer competition for
at-risk youth. They plan to hold the inaugural tournament in June
2015 in Nanaimo.
Duncan McCue has been a reporter for CBC News for over 15 years.
His news and current affairs pieces are featured on CBC's The National.
McCue was awarded a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in
2011, where he created an online guide for journalists called Reporting
in Indigenous Communities. Duncan is Anishinaabe, a member of the
Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario.