By Ciarán Breen
On November 9, 2014, the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame inducted four former players. Isabelle Morneau and Geri Donnelly, distinguished members of the Canadian Women’s National Team were joined by Carmine Marcantonio, who won the 1976 NASL championship with the famed Toronto Metro-Croatia team. However, it is the last member of the quartet honoured who deserves special attention.
Inducted in the Pioneer category, Harry Manson became the first indigenous player ever to enter the Hall of Fame. Manson, whose traditional name is Xul-si-malt, was almost completely unknown until more than a century after his death. In 2013, Robert Janning, from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, discovered the former player while researching for his book, ‘Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905’.
From Snuneymuxw First Nation, next to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Manson played in local and provincial soccer leagues during the turn of the 20th century, scoring bucket loads of goals along the way. He helped establish an all-Snuneymuxw squad called the Nanaimo Indian Wanderers and then captained them to a Nanaimo city championship.
However, his place in history as a footballing pioneer was secured when he was drafted by the all-white Nanaimo team. As the 20th century was taking its early breaths, the Confederation still in living memory for many, and open racism the menu of the day, Manson played in spite of the abuse he faced and won the respect of his peers on the pitch, if not off it. He was named to the provincial all-star team in 1903.
From Robert Janning’s research it would seem that Manson’s experience as a soccer star draws comparisons to that of Jackie Robinson, who broke the race barrier in Baseball in 1947. No matter his contribution on the field, and Manson scored goals for fun, he and his Snuneymuxw colleagues were segregated from their white teammates off the pitch.
Along with a few select other Snuneymuxw players who were also integrated, Manson helped drive the Nanaimo team to the Challenge Cup, the biggest prize on the West Coast. These achievements and Manson’s story serve not only as a window to a darker past but should cause us to reflect on our own times, when indigenous athletes and their stories remain on the margins.
Harry Manson died tragically in a train accident in 1912, aged just 30. A century later, his legacy lives on. While his grandfather's story remained lost to history, grandson Gary Manson spent his life coaching soccer teams from Snuneymuxw. On learning of his now famous family member, Gary said that "Soccer is in our blood, it's what we do."
The inaugural Harry Manson Legacy tournament was held in October, 2015 in North Vancouver. Friends of Harry Manson, who organized the event, said the motivation was to "redress the legacy of colonialism in British Columbia" and "to honour the outstanding First Nations sportsman" Harry Manson.
More than a pioneer, Harry Manson’s love for the game and leadership in his community makes him a hero. From a sporting perspective, one would be forgiven for thinking that soccer in Canada is in its infancy but as Manson’s story shows, people having been kicking a football on this land for a very long time.
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