Lionel Pretoria Conacher, multi-sport athlete, politician (born 24 May 1900 in Toronto, Ontario; died 26 May 1954 in Ottawa, Ontario). Deserving of his nickname, “the big train”, Lionel Conacher was Canada’s greatest all-round athlete. He was named Canada’s Athlete of the Half Century in 1950. He also served as an MPP and as Ontario athletic commissioner, as well as a federal Member of Parliament. One of only three players to win both a Stanley Cup and a Grey Cup, Conacher was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1955), the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1963), the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1966) the Hockey Hall of Fame (1994) and Canada’s Walk of Fame (2022). The award for Canada’s male athlete of the year is named in his honour.
(courtesy Canada's Sports Hall of Fame).
Sporting Career Highlights
One of 10 children, Conacher grew up in a tough working-class district of Toronto. He got his first taste of sports at Jesse Ketchum School, where he excelled at football, lacrosse, baseball, boxing, wrestling, hockey and track and field, and won the amateur lightweight (125 lb) wrestling championship of Ontario. In 1920, in his first boxing competition, he won the Canadian light-heavyweight championship. The following year, he boxed a four-round exhibition bout with Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion.
Conacher's power, stamina and speed (he ran 100 yards in under 10 seconds) were particularly suited to lacrosse and football. He helped the Toronto Maitlands win the Ontario Lacrosse Association senior title in 1922. In football, he was a ferocious runner and perhaps the best punter in the game. In the 1921 Grey Cup game, he led the Toronto Argonauts to a 23–0 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos, scoring 15 points himself.
Although Conacher did not learn to skate until age 16, his aggressive, determined play made him one of the best defencemen in hockey. He turned professional with Pittsburgh in 1925 and played for the New York Americans, Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Maroons (1930–33 and 1934–37). He was an NHL first all-star in 1934, and won the Stanley Cup with the Black Hawks (1934) and the Maroons (1935). He is one of only three players (along with Joe Miller and Carl Voss) to win both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup.
Career in Politics
Conacher entered politics in 1937 and was Liberal MPP for Toronto Bracondale. He was Ontario athletic commissioner and worked to provide recreational facilities in city parks. In 1949, he was elected federal MP for Toronto Trinity. He died of a heart attack after hitting a triple in a charity softball game.