Thomas Charles Longboat, distance runner (born 4 July 1886 in Ohsweken, Six Nations Grand River reserve; died 9 January 1949). Tom Longboat (Haudenosaunee name Cogwagee) was an Onondaga distance runner from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reserve near Brantford, Ontario. Largely because of his ability to dominate any race and his spectacular finishing sprints, he was one of the most celebrated athletes before the First World War.
Long Distance Runner
Longboat won the Hamilton "Around-the-Bay" road race (1906), the Boston Marathon (1907), the Toronto Ward's Marathon (1906-08), the "World's Professional Marathon Championship" (1909), and broke numerous records. He was one of the most sought-after performers in the brief (1908–12) revival of professional racing that followed the controversial 1908 London Olympics marathon, in which Longboat and Dorando Pietri collapsed.
Longboat's desire to train himself led to several well-publicized conflicts with managers. Despite constant and sometimes racist criticism, he stuck to his own methods. He bought up his contract in 1911 and ran better than ever. In 1912, he set a professional record of 1:18:10 for 15 miles, 7 minutes faster than his amateur record.
In February 1916, Longboat enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, serving as a dispatch carrier with the 107th Pioneer Battalion in France. In addition to running messages and orders between units, he also continued to race, winning several inter-battalion sporting contests. In 1918, he won the eight-mile [13 km] race at the Canadian Corps Dominion Day competitions. He was wounded twice but survived the war and in 1919 returned to Canada. After the war he lived and worked in Toronto until 1944, when he retired to the Six Nations reserve. He died in 1949.
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Longboat was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1951, the Tom Longboat Award was established in his honour. Every year, the Aboriginal Sports Circle presents this award to Indigenous athletes who demonstrate excellence in sport.
In 2008, Bill 120 proclaimed June 4 of every year Tom Longboat Day in Ontario. The date of this holiday reflects some confusion about Longboat’s birthdate. Many sources state that Longboat was born on 4 June 1887. However, the Canadian census of 1901 and Longboat’s military records (particularly his attestation paper, signed by Longboat on 17 February 1916 in Brantford) support a birthdate of 4 July 1886.