Lionel Conacher Award

The Lionel Conacher Award is presented annually to Canada's best male athlete, as decided by a poll of Canadian sports journalists. The title was first awarded in 1932 and became known as the Lionel Conacher Award in 1978. It is named after Lionel Conacher, one of Canada’s greatest all-round athletes. The poll was suspended between 1942 and 1945, during the Second World War. Wayne Gretzky won a record six titles between 1980 and 1989 and was named athlete of the century in 1999. The most recent recipient is freestyle skier Mikaël Kingsbury (2018).

Lionel Conacher as a football player for the Toronto Crosse and Blackwell Chefs in 1933.

History of the Lionel Conacher Award

In 1932, the Canadian Press polled the country’s sportswriters for the first time, asking who they considered the country’s best male and female athletes of that year. Golfer C. Ross “Sandy” Somerville was the “overwhelming choice” for top male athlete among Canadian sportswriters and editors, who “called the feat of the silent linksman in winning the United States golf title from an international field in September the outstanding athletic performance by a Canadian.” (Sprinter Hilda Strike was named female athlete of the year.)

Since then, Canadian sportswriters have voted annually for Canada’s top male athlete, with a few exceptions. In 1942, sportswriters decided to discontinue the poll, as “athletes at home could not rate as heroes while young Canadian pilots, paratroopers and corvette gunners fought for freedom in the shadow of death.” (See Second World War.) The poll recommenced in 1946, when football player Joe Krol received the title. In 1950, sportswriters voted for top Canadian male athlete of the half-century, rather than top athlete of the year. Lionel Conacher won that honour by “an overwhelming vote,” ahead of Percy Williams and Harvey Pulford, who tied for second place. There was no poll for male athlete of the year in 1951.

Hockey star Wayne Gretzky received the Lionel Conacher Award a record six times in the 1980s (1980–83, 1985, 1989) and was voted male athlete of the century in 1999. Other multiple winners include baseball player Ferguson Jenkins, with four titles, and three-time winners Steve Nash, Maurice Richard, Mike Weir and Sidney Crosby.

When Did It Become the Lionel Conacher Award?

Between 1932 and 1977, the Canadian Press simply announced the poll winner as Canada’s top male athlete. However, in 1978, they presented the Lionel Conacher Award to swimmer Graham Smith. It was the first time that the winner of the poll received the award.

Mikaël Kingsbury
Mikaël Kingsbury, 2014 Olympic Winter Games (10 Feb 2014).

Lionel Conacher Award Winners

Year Athlete Sport
1932 Ross “Sandy” Somerville Golf
1933 Dave Komonen Track and field
1934 Harold Webster Track and field
1935 Scotty Rankine Track and field
1936 Phil Edwards Track and field
1937 Syl Apps Hockey
1938 Bummer Stirling Football
1939 Fritz Hanson Football
1940 Gérard Côté Track and field
1941 Tony Golab Football
1942 Not awarded (Second World War)
1943 Not awarded (Second World War)
1944 Not awarded (Second World War)
1945 Not awarded (Second World War)
1946 Joe Krol Football
1947 Joe Krol Football
1948 Buddy O’Connor Hockey
1949 Frank Filchock Football
1950 Lionel Conacher
*named athlete of the half-century
Multisport
1951 No award
1952 Maurice Richard Hockey
1953 Doug Hepburn Weightlifting
1954 Rich Ferguson Track and field
1955 Normie Kwong Football
1956 Jean Béliveau Hockey
1957 Maurice Richard Hockey
1958 Maurice Richard Hockey
1959 Russ Jackson Football
1960 Ron Stewart Football
1961 Bruce Kidd Track and field
1962 Bruce Kidd Track and field
1963 Gordie Howe Hockey
1964 Bill Crothers Track and field
1965 Bobby Hull Hockey
1966 Bobby Hull Hockey
1967 Ferguson Jenkins Baseball
1968 Ferguson Jenkins Baseball
1969 Russ Jackson Football
1970 Bobby Orr Hockey
1971 Ferguson Jenkins Baseball
1972 Phil Esposito Hockey
1973 Phil Esposito Hockey
1974 Ferguson Jenkins Baseball
1975 Bobby Clarke Hockey
1976 Greg Joy Track and field
1977 Guy Lafleur Hockey
1978 Graham Smith Swimming
1979 Gilles Villeneuve Auto racing
1980 Wayne Gretzky Hockey
1981 Wayne Gretzky Hockey
1982 Wayne Gretzky Hockey
1983 Wayne Gretzky Hockey
1984 Alex Baumann Swimming
1985 Wayne Gretzky Hockey
1986 Ben Johnson Track and field
1987 Ben Johnson Track and field
1988 Mario Lemieux Hockey
1989 Wayne Gretzky Hockey
1990 Kurt Browning Figure skating
1991 Kurt Browning Figure skating
1992 Mark Tewksbury Swimming
1993 Mario Lemieux Hockey
1994 Elvis Stojko Figure skating
1995 Jacques Villeneuve Auto Racing
1996 Donovan Bailey Track and field
1997 Jacques Villeneuve Auto racing
1998 Larry Walker Baseball
1999 Wayne Gretzky
*Athlete of the Century
Hockey
2000 Mike Weir Golf
2001 Mike Weir Golf
2002 Steve Nash Basketball
2003 Mike Weir Golf
2004 Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics
2005 Steve Nash Basketball
2006 Steve Nash Basketball
2007 Sidney Crosby Hockey
2008 Justin Morneau Baseball
2009 Sidney Crosby Hockey
2010 Sidney Crosby Hockey
2011 Patrick Chan Figure skating
2012 Ryder Hesjedal Cycling (Road)
2013 Milos Raonic Tennis
2014 Milos Raonic Tennis
2015 Carey Price Hockey
2016 Andre De Grasse Track and field
2017 Denis Shapovalov Tennis
2018 Mikaël Kingsbury Freestyle skiing