The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not so distantly — related. Along the way we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Richard (Rick) Marvin Hansen, CC, OBC, Paralympian, wheelchair racer, humanitarian (born 26 August 1957 in Port Alberni, British Columbia). In the 1980s, Rick Hansen won six Paralympic medals and three world championships in wheelchair racing. He was named Canada’s Disabled Athlete of the Year three times and, in 1983, received the Lou Marsh Trophy for Canadian Outstanding Athlete of the Year — an honour he shared with Wayne Gretzky. Hansen is perhaps best known for his Man In Motion World Tour. From 21 March 1985 to 22 May 1987, Hansen wheeled more than 40,000 kilometres in 34 countries to raise awareness, public support and finances for spinal cord research, rehabilitation and wheelchair sports. The tour raised more than $26 million.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a football team that plays in the Canadian Football League. Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Blue Bombers have alternated between the league’s West Division and East Division; they are currently part of the West Division. Since its founding in 1930, the team has won 10 Grey Cup championships.
Sometimes the past is interesting, not because of its long-term historical significance or because it might teach us some questionable lesson about the present, but simply because it contains wondrous reminders of the serendipity of fate. I am fascinated by a goal that Bill Barilko scored on 21 April 1951, not because it was a precursor to Paul Henderson's life-saving marker in 1972, or to Sidney Crosby's goal of redemption at the 2010 Olympics, but because I was there.
Douglas Richard Flutie, football player, philanthropist (born 23 October 1962 in Manchester, Maryland). Doug Flutie is widely considered to be one of the greatest players in Canadian Football League (CFL) history. A Heisman Trophy winner as the best player in US college football, Flutie went on to play for eight teams in three different leagues over a 21-year pro football career (1985–2006). A quarterback with the CFL’s BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts, he appeared in four Grey Cup games and won three championships, earning MVP honours in all three victories. Flutie is the first non-Canadian inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2007). In 1998, he and his wife established the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are a team that plays in the Western Conference of the Canadian Football League. They are the oldest continuously operating professional football club in western Canada, and second only to the Toronto Argonauts of the Eastern Conference in length of history. One of only three community owned football teams in the CFL, they play their games in Regina, the least populated sports market in Canada; only the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League are based in a smaller centre. Like the Packers, however, the Roughriders are famed for the intensity of their supporters, known as “Rider Nation,” many of whom live well beyond the borders of Saskatchewan.
Carey Price, hockey player (born 16 August 1987 in Vancouver, BC). Goaltender Carey Price has played his entire National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Montreal Canadiens. During the 2014–15 NHL season, Price won the Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Vezina Trophy and William M. Jennings Trophy and was the first player to win all four awards in the same season. In international competition, Price has also won gold medals with Canada at the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey Junior World Championship in Sweden, the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
Michael “Pinball” Clemons, O Ont, football player, coach, motivational speaker (born 15 January 1965 in Dunedin, Florida). Michael Clemons is one of the most accomplished athletes in Canadian Football League (CFL) history and the first African American to coach in the Grey Cup. Known to many simply as “Pinball,” he is a CFL Hall of Famer and four-time Grey Cup winner with the Toronto Argonauts, earning three championships as a player (1991, 1996, 1997) and one as a head coach (2004). He is the all-time leader in total combined yards in CFL history (25,438). Clemons, a naturalized Canadian citizen, moved into an executive role in the Argonauts’ front office after retiring from coaching. He is involved with a number of charities, including the Pinball Clemons Foundation.
Donovan Anthony Bailey, O.Ont., track and field sprinter (born 16 December 1967 in Manchester Parish, Jamaica). Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for Canada in the men’s 100m at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and set a world record with a time of 9.84 seconds. He later won a second Olympic gold medal when he led Team Canada to a first-place finish in the men’s 4x100m relay. During his athletic career, he also won four medals (three gold and one silver) at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.1
In a country that frowns upon self-promotion, Canadians prefer modest heroes. This is true even when a hero’s fame lives on long after him, touches millions of people beyond the country’s borders and when his accomplishment has resulted in almost $700 million being raised for an important cause.
Penelope (Penny) Oleksiak, swimmer (born 13 June 2000 in Scarborough, Ontario). At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Oleksiak won four medals, setting the Canadian record for most medals won at a single Olympic Summer Games. Her four swimming medals came in the women’s 100 m freestyle (gold), women’s 100 m butterfly (silver), women’s 4 x 100 m freestyle relay (bronze) and women’s 4 x 200 m freestyle relay (bronze). In the 100 m freestyle, Oleksiak tied for gold with American Simone Manuel, with both swimmers setting an Olympic record of 52.70 seconds in the final. Oleksiak is tied with the late Victor Davis for the most Olympic career medals won by a Canadian swimmer (four) and holds the record as the youngest Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal (16 years and 59 days). In 2016, Oleksiak received the Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s athlete of the year) and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award (Canadian Press female athlete of the year).
On 15 April 1947, Jackie Robinson played in his debut game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Prior to that point, professional baseball in the United States was segregated, with African Americans playing in the Negro leagues. When Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in 1947, he entered American history books. What many baseball fans may not realize, however, is that Robinson was embraced by Canadian fans one year earlier as a member of the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.