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The Black Lives Matter movement has shown me that I’ve much work to do. 

I’m a white man, born into working class England. Like many raised in an atmosphere of poor schooling, little money, and few prospects for ourselves other than dead end manual work, I’d raised an eyebrow when I’d first been referred to as privileged. Me? Privileged? Are you kidding?!

But then came along the Me Too movement, and the Covid 19 crisis, and finally Black Lives Matter, all of them demanding I look at myself.

It became clear that although I’d never physically hurt anybody I had been raised within a racist, sexist society, and had based a large part of my personality on the lessons I’d learnt as a child. I’d called Indian and black kids names behind their backs, avoided their friendships, and thought of them as ‘other’ and, perhaps, inferior.

It wasn’t easy to accept my failings – I’d thought of myself as a decent guy, turns out that wasn’t quite the case – but once I had I knew that although I couldn’t alter the past it made sense to try to understand the deeper reasons for my thoughts so that changes might be made, and the future would have a chance to be better.

Late last year I tried to drop my defensive attitude, to stop making the conversation all about me, and when people have said ‘Black Lives Matter’ since then my reaction has been to nod and to listen, rather than answer ‘But all lives matter,’ as I used to.

When thinking of my own past, I tried to understand that although we were poor my parents were solid. The society I was raised in was also safe, at least for me. We walked to school or work without fear of the police, or of being beaten or lynched for our colour or race, and if we were poor it was only in relation to the middle classes. We were never on food stamps or unable to get fresh food, we had opportunities for travel, and although our politicians regularly lied to us they never tried that hard to stack the deck against us to prevent us from voting, as they do to black people in the States. Just listening to a few of the reports coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement helped to make it clear that no matter my perception of the challenges I faced they couldn’t be seriously compared to those of most non-whites living in a white dominated society, and that I should start listening intently to the experiences and evidence being put forward by black and indigenous activists. Not just for their sake but also for mine. I believe we get one shot at this life and I didn’t want to waste mine reinforcing divisions and falsehoods, or the status quo that benefits from them.

I’m probably not talking about this right, and to those with an education in racial matters I might seem like a right jackass. To others with a right wing agenda I may also seem riddled with a white guilt infused attention seeking disorder. Deciding to face up to all the inevitable critisicm that comes with outspoken self reflection is part of the choice; to move forward it’s inevitable that I’m going to appear like a fool and say the wrong thing at times. I can keep the walls up and stay where I am, or I can accept that becoming part of an equitable future might initially feel like dropping back a few grades at school.

With my background I’m also justifiably concerned that I’m not up to the job of working this out. Do I have the education, the empathy, the emotional intelligence, the focus, and the bravery to deal with this? 

Supposing I do, where do I start? So much of the history we were taught in school and which underpins my thoughts has been shown to be propaganda designed to keep a few rich people on top and their viewpoint at the forefront. What of it can I trust? Can I even use it now? If so, how? Where are the pitfalls among the narratives? Wherever I look there’s a daunting rabbit hole. At times it seems easier just to cower on the porch, reassume my role as a decent enough guy, and pretend it all didn’t happen.

But maybe I don’t have to start so big. Maybe I can just focus on a person in the city that I live, learn about them, and start there. As Charlie Chaplin said in 1947, a million deaths is a statistic, a single death a tragedy (the saying is commonly attributed to Stalin in the same year, or to Porteus in 1759, or to Tucholsky in 1925…facts, eh…) . My point is, by focusing on the individual, I may be able to avoid being overwhelmed and begin to build an elevated view that will offer a wider picture as a result. It’s also possible that like all my previous travel journeys this one will show me things that I can’t imagine just yet, and that these will add to my understanding.

I start, tentatively, with the premise that if I want to make learning an ongoing process I have to make it fun and rewarding. Like you do with exercise. If you hate going to the gym you won’t go to the gym, it doesn’t matter how beneficial it is for you. So my first task is to make the act of learning something that I want to do on a regular basis. 

I love running, I love being outdoors. So I look for a way forward using this. I google ‘Canadian Runners’. Many roads of inquiry lead to Tom Longboat.

Tom Longboat Learning/ReLearning Run – 15 miles around Toronto

First, here’s a brief biography of the great runner Tom Longboat, together with a couple of short videos that’ll give you more information. Then I’ll move onto the account of the 15 mile run in Tom’s footsteps that I undertook. 

My main sources for this article have been the work of Bruce Kidd, and the following websites and articles;

https://time.com/5300025/tom-longboat/

https://firststoryblog.wordpress.com/

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/tom-longboat

http://www.tomlongboat.ca/

https://www.sportsnet.ca/more/powerful-legacy-canadian-running-legend-tom-longboat/

https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/first-nations,-inuit-metis/who-do-you-think-i-am-a-story-of-tom-longboat

https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/tom-longboat-indigenous-self-determination-and-discrimination-sport

Tom was born in 1887 on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, to parents of the Onondaga tribe. He started running races aged 18 and over the next 19 years broke several Canadian and world records, represented Canada at the Olympics, was crowned the Professional Running Champion of the World in New York City and became, according to his closet rival, possibly the greatest marathon runner of all time.

His indigenous name was ‘Cogwagee’, which means ‘Everything.’ The names the press gave him when he achieved fame as a runner are an indicator of the world he grew up in and conflicting, racist attitudes he had to contend with. For as well as Cogwagee he was also called the ‘Bulldog of Britannia’, the ‘Bronze Cyclone’, the ‘Bronze Wonder’, the ‘Racing Redskin’, the ‘Wonderful Redskin’, ‘Tireless Tom’, ‘Big Chief’, ‘Heap Big Chief’, the ‘Great Indian’, the ‘Irish Indian’ and, later – when he was still in his thirties – ‘Old Tom’. He was also described by journalists as ‘the original dummy…a lazy…stall fed…Injun,’ and a ‘stubborn, once-talented Redskin’ who ended his days penniless and probably alcoholic‘ (this wasn’t true, Tom drove a car through the height of the Depression when many Canadians couldn’t even afford bus fare). Many journalists just didn’t know how to behave correctly then it seems, as so often is still the case now. 

Tom came to prominence as a runner when he took part in the 1906 Hamilton ‘Around the Bay’ race which, despite taking a wrong turn and adding 140 metres to the course, he won by nearly 4 minutes. Marathon racing was big news in those days so by the time he entered the Boston Marathon in 1907 the media had already proclaimed him a legend, calling him ‘the greatest distance runner the world has ever seen.’ 

The media was later to portray Tom as a lazy, stubborn ‘Injun’ who needed the help of an honest (white) trainer to reign him in but before the 1907 Boston race they went easy on the racism, although when he shunned pre-race interviews and photo calls they did use a photo of an indigenous football player to illustrate their made-up stories instead. Perhaps they decided that since they personally thought all Indians looked alike it really didn’t matter what photo they used. Or maybe that was the public attitude that they were trying to foster.

Tom won the race easily, running the final mile – uphill into a snowy headwind – in an astonishing 4 minutes and 46 seconds, and broke the previous Boston marathon record by 5 minutes. 

A comment that reveals much about how the dominant whites of Canadian society thought (and by dominant I mean the journalists and their masters – the businessmen and politicians) came from a Toronto Star writer who, after Longboat’s triumph at Boston, wrote ‘His trainers are to be congratulated…for having such a docile pupil.’ The media view was clearly that there was no way an indigenous man could be up to the task of becoming outstanding in his field and developing his full potential. For that to happen, he needed the help of the white man.

In 1908 Tom joined the Canadian team at the London Olympics. He was odds on favourite to win the marathon so when he dropped out of the race at the 20 mile mark whilst in 2nd place it was a huge shock. The Canadian papers said the heat had got to him although according to Canadian team manager J. Howard Crocker, ‘Longboat should have won the race. His sudden collapse and the symptoms shown to me indicate that some form of stimulant was used contrary to the rules of the game. Any medical man knowing the facts of the case will assure you that the presence of a drug in an overdose was the cause of the runner’s failure.’

Tom is shown here in 3rd place at the start of the Olympic Marathon in 1908.

It’s been said that the drugs were put into Tom’s race nutrition by sports writer Lou Marsh, the Canadian journalist who was one of his most outspoken, racist critics. Lou had followed Tom on his bicycle to report on the race. Perhaps he was in league with Tom’s manager, Tom Flanagan, who allegedly bet heavily against Tom and collected $100,000 in wagers as a result of Tom’s loss.

Tom parted ways with his trainer Mike Flanagan (Tom Flanagan’s brother) soon after the Olympics. Flanagan, complaining of the runner’s physical condition and supposed refusal to train, told The Globe, ‘I wouldn’t take $200 a day to handle that fellow. He is the most contrary piece of furniture I have ever had anything to do with.’ Although he was close enough friends to have been the best man at Longboat’s wedding only two weeks earlier, Tom Flanagan sold the runner’s contract to another promoter for a quick $2,000 a couple of weeks later.

‘He sold me like a racehorse,’ Tom Longboat told the press, who in turn relied on the easy stereotypes of the day to turn the blame on Tom Longboat himself, with The Globe claiming that it was Longboat’s fault for not training. ‘He has all the waywardness and lack of responsibility of his race,’ their editorial read.

In 1909 Tom Longboat took on the Englishman Alfred Shrubb, who lived at the Grand Central Hotel in Toronto at the same time as Tom, for the title of ‘Professional Running Champion of the World’ in New York City. Shrubb took an early lead but Tom came back at him after 20 miles and was looking every inch the champion elect when his ex-manager Flanagan suddenly appeared, stripped of his suit jacket, shirt and tie, running up and down one side of the track, jeering Shrubb and leading the cheers for his former client. Tom Longboat won the title yet days later, when his ex manager Flanagan returned to Toronto alone, he was lifted onto the shoulders of a large crowd as if he were the returning hero.

I had no intention of stepping into the arena,’ Flanagan was quoted in one newspaper, ‘but when I saw how things were shaping I just had to strip off my coat and go at it…and we won.’ He was widely credited with the victory.

‘To Flanagan belongs the real credit of winning the race,’ Lou Marsh wrote in The Star. ‘He worked like a hero and pulled a man through to victory who had but little real licence to win.’

When Tom Longboat, the new Professional Running Champion of the World, arrived in Toronto a few days later he was not greeted by a parade but just a handful of reporters. To those of them who would give Flanagan credit for the win, Tom said, ‘I do not like the idea of doing all the work and somebody else getting all the credit for winning my victories. Do you think that Flanagan could make me run if I do not want to? I can get along without assistance and if any of these other runners want to race me they will have to make arrangements with me, and no one else.’

Knee and back issues began to plague Longboat post-1909. Although this was public knowledge reporters often blamed ‘Indian laziness’ for his occasional poor showing. Tom was also criticized for his training style. Every day he took two long-distance walks, lifted weights, and played handball or other vigorous sports. Running was part of his fitness routine but was limited to twice per week. The (white) Englishman Alfred Shrubb said to The Star; ‘I never run unless I feel like it. I know there are many athletes that go out to train when they are not feeling quite well, but they are doing themselves more harm than good.’ He faced no controversy or public complaint for his statement or methods whilst Tom Longboat was viewed as a lazy, stubborn, foolish, troublemaker for speaking his truth in the same way.

Over the next few years Tom went on racing, and mostly winning. The Canadian History Journal (https://www.canadashistory.ca) has this to say on how the media helped enforce racist views about Tom, and other non-white people, and how they followed the predictable media strategy of setting people up on a pedestal in order to pull them down (a bit like how politicians inflate incidences of black crime partly in order to promise that if you vote for them they’ll get tough on that crime. They invent something in order to make themselves relevant).

‘Journalists fostered his celebrity by adding racialized commentary to their reports and frequently drawing on stereotypes to describe his character, knowing that such commentary would make their stories more compelling for readers. On any given day, they would frame Longboat as a hero who had conquered the world; as a lazy Indian who would not train; as a gifted athlete admired by all; as a drunken Indian who squandered his prize money; as a cultured man with expensive tastes; as an uncivilized Indian who needed white men to help him find his place in mainstream society; as a role model to admire and emulate; or as a wayward Indian who needed to be steered away from his ‘natural’ inclinations and vices. Longboat’s status as a tragic hero thus hinged to a large degree on the desires and prejudices of writers who fused together ideas about nation, race, masculinity, and class to create a composite picture that barely resembled the man.’

One sportswriter in The Star actually wrote that Longboat ‘must be taken in hand by a trainer who will handle him like a race horse – made to live and work absolutely under his trainer’s orders – or he will be into the discard before the year is out. Longboat cannot be left to his own devices a moment when preparing for a race.’

Even though Tom wasn’t seen as a full member of society by white Canada (Indigenous people weren’t allowed to vote in Canada until 1960) he gave up his athletic career in 1916 to join the Canadian forces serving in World War One. He was one of 292 members of the Six Nations Reserve who served in the war. Facing the horrors of trench warfare and poison gas, Tom was assigned to be a dispatch carrier along with fellow indigenous runners Arthur Jamieson (Tuscarora), who had finished eighth in the 1916 Boston Marathon and who was killed in action on June 2, 1917, and Joe Benjamin Keeper (Norway House Cree First Nation) who had placed fourth in the 10,000-meter race in the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, and who joined with Tom to win an inter-Allied cross country championship near Vimy Ridge in 1917. 

Tom was wounded twice and mistakenly declared dead during the war years. Discharged in 1919, he returned to Caledonia and then Toronto, where each day he rode the Queen Street streetcar to south Riverdale to work at the Dunlop Rubber Company. In 1924 Tom asked the Amateur Athletic Union to reinstate him as an amateur so he could resume running but nothing came of his request. Later he found another job, working for the city as a street cleaner, which he did for the next 19 years. The media enjoyed themselves royally at this time, gloating, ‘A rubbish man!…a particularly nice rubbish man…an Indian rubbish man.’

Tom died in 1949, aged 61. 

6 years after his death he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which today recognizes him as ‘Canada’s greatest long-distance runner.’ 

The sports community should be complimented on doing the right thing. The same could not be said of the business community. For a year after his induction in the Hall of Fame, in a 6 page article titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Tom Longboat’ that appeared in Maclean’s – Canada’s leading business and political journal at the time – the journalist Fergus Cronin worked hard to enforce the racist perspective of the whites who dominated Canadian society.

‘He worked his way to the bottom…he hated to train, and he was a fool with his money. But for half a dozen dazzling years this Canadian Indian could run farther, faster than any man alive. His downfall was just as swift… He started very near the top in 1906 and was not long in reaching it. Then, over the years, he worked his way to the bottom. Literally, his was a story of Public Hero to Garbage Collector. ’ 

If you’d like to read this sad episode in Canadian journalism you can do so here – https://archive.macleans.ca/article/1956/2/4/the-rise-and-fall-of-tom-longboat

And to learn more about Tom Longboat, here are a couple of short videos.

The Run

As I prepare to head out on a run that would take in several Toronto sights associated with Tom the image of the media crowing over him as a garbage man is foremost in my mind. I can empathise somewhat. I think back to the day after I’d won the 2016 Canadian 24hr men’s running Championship. I hadn’t been allowed to claim the title because I was only a Permanent Resident of Canada at the time, not a Citizen. They were saying I was Canadian enough to pay taxes but not Canadian enough to vote or take home a running trophy that I’d won, fair and square. And the day after I’d run those 195kms there I was, back at work, bent over picking up garbage all along the front of the factory on an industrial estate in Etobicoke.

The same happened the following year after I’d won the Canadian title outright. A Canadian ultra running association official had awarded me my medal, congratulated me on my winning run, looked sheepish as he handed the Championship trophy to the second placed runner, had kindly explained to me that he was sorry, but that there were rules…

I’d shrugged it off easier this second time, laughed that it was one less hunk of silver to clog up my sideboard. And so I should have done, after all, this was just a minor slight of no lasting consequence, and clearly nothing personal. Nothing like Tom and other non-whites had to face, then and now.   

I know I’m far from being able to understand what it is to be non-white, or a non-white runner like Tom Longboat. But all journeys start with a single step. I focus on what we have in common. I lace up my running shoes. We have this act in common. I take a deep drink from the cold tap in the bathroom to last me the next 2 hours of running and relish the refreshing taste. We probably have this in common. I walk out the door and feel the sun on my face, smile and relax. I’m sure Tom did this too. When you feel nature prominently on your skin, it’s hard not to feel happy and smile.

I head down through Roncy to Lakeshore. It’s one of those sunny 24C days that has you running lightly, gliding with joy. Lamp posts are covered with flyers listing the names and photos of black and indigenous people who have been murdered by the police, here and in the USA. Locals are making sure that we Canadians understand that there are racial problems on both sides of the border. ‘Say their Name’ proclaims one poster. I see value in that. It’s partly why I’m running today. Among many other things, I’m saying Tom’s name, to others but primarily myself. 

Lake Ontario sparkles, I think of Tom Longboat’s Onondaga heritage as I run along the boardwalk. Before Tom I knew of his tribe because of another prominent historical figure, Hiawatha, who I’d heard about as a very young boy. Hiawatha was also an Onondaga and was presented to us as a brave warrior. I read a book about him and learnt of his role as mouthpiece for a man known as the Great Peacemaker. The Great Peacemaker was a Huron prophet and spiritual leader who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, but he suffered from a severe speech impediment which hindered him from spreading his proposal. Hiawatha was a follower of his, and a skilled orator, so he took on the task of disseminating the message of peace. As a young boy with a severe stutter of my own I identified with the Great Peacemaker. Like many kids of my country and my race I thought I was special, with something unique to offer and say. But the fact that I literally couldn’t speak of my feelings or ideas set me apart, at least in my own mind. Yet here was a feted man of the forest and a holy prophet, joined in a tale of speech impediment and noble goals. Naturally I gravitated towards them, their story offered me comfort, and hope I suppose.

Lakeshore Boulevard is noisy with traffic. The clear, quiet skies of Covid 19 are fading. I cross the footbridge into the Exhibition grounds and stand in Tom’s shadow for the first time. It was here that he started, finished and won the 1907 and 1908 Ward’s Marathons. 

The Telegram reported on the 1907 race, saying that crowds gathered along both Queen and Dufferin streets in anticipation of the runners’ return. ‘Packed close and alert like the bristles on a shoe brush were the spectators, foresting deep the path of the Ward Marathon runners. The lead runner (Tom Longboat) loped by the cheering thousands and honking autos and was proclaimed the winner of the Ward Marathon.’

The Globe reported on the 1908 race saying there were 20,000 spectators packed into the Exhibition Grandstand to see him win, and that ‘at O’Brien’s Hotel, Longboat had gained such a lead that it was apparent he would win easily, barring accidents. The Indian chatted with his attendants and acknowledged the cheers of encouragement with which he was greeted all along the course.’ 

Tom finished eight minutes ahead of his nearest challenger and since this was the 3rd year running he’d won the race he was allowed to permanently keep the Ward Cup as a reward for his dominance.

I keep a note of a wish to retrace the steps of the Ward Marathon. It will become the route of a future run (it turns out to be shorter than a modern marathon, about 19 ¾ miles, or around 31 kms; this was normal for marathon races of the early 1900’s when distances could vary in length).

Also on the Exhibition Grounds is the Better Living Centre where a portrait of Tom was featured in the ‘Indian Hall of Fame’, a yearly display from 1967 onwards that was set up by a movement led by the Indian-Eskimo Association to honour individuals who’d had an impact on the past, present and future of indigenous people in Canada. 

Heading out of the monumental Princes Gate I stop to locate the logo of the MNCFN – the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. It’s easily missed as it’s quite small and can be found on the side of 1 of 10 granite benches that were created as part of a joint project between design firms in Toronto and Milan in 2005. The Milan Marathon flashes across my mind as I’d been invited to run as a journalist in early 2019. I’d shared my hotel there with the elite athletes – most of them black Africans – interviewed them, filmed them, ran alongside them. In light of recent information I reconsider my conduct there. I’d acted with equality verbally but how had my thoughts been? I think I was ok but there’s no harm reflecting. I make a note on my phone to explore this experience later, after the running is over for the day.

Having the MNCFN logo placed on the side of the bench was apparently not a simple achievement and First Nations people had to work hard to overcome official efforts to ignore Toronto as their territory. That such pushback was still present as recently as 2005 shows how far white dominated society has to go in matters of talking and thinking straight. The good news is that in this case right prevailed, albeit in a small way.

The eagle in the centre of the MNCFN logo is a representation of ‘the Messenger’. The Mississaugas were once said to be great messengers, covering up to 80 miles a day on foot. In early indigenous thought running was said to bring myths to life, to create a link between runners and the universe. I’m drawn to understanding more about this idea, to try to understand how indigenous runners all around the world could cover as much ground as they did. The Lung Gom Pa of Tibet would cover 200 miles a day because of their control of ‘internal air’ (according to one of their more famous runners, Milarepa). Tom Longboat himself was said to draw on some internal force that gave him a terrific finishing kick (his Boston marathon final mile time confirms this) and make him near unbeatable on any distance over 20 miles. I’m not suggesting this ‘internal air’ or force has to be mysterious, or anything other than a result of intelligent training, but I think that adopting other perspectives than I already have may prove to be vital in understanding more.

Before I leave I pause to give space to the blue writing that surrounds the eagle. It symbolizes our connection to water, and the circle teaches that every living thing is connected and related, that we are all part of the circle of life. This is wisdom.

I turn my face to the other side of the city centre; I’m heading for Tom Longboat Lane. To make the city running more pleasant I pass first through Garrison Common, a place known for being home to urban coyotes. I know I’m passing by much history that is of value to me but I can come back to that later; now I’ve got to focus on Tom Longboat. It’s like when people say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and others shout in response ‘All Lives Matter!’ It just shows they’re not focusing because when somebody says ‘Black Lives Matter’ then that’s the conversation, nothing else. If you want to talk about all lives mattering then fair enough but that’s not the same thing, it’s another conversation for another time. The concept of black lives mattering and equality is too important to relegate it to a bit part of a rolling discussion. And Tom Longboat is too important to just slot him in among all the many other characters and sights of Toronto past.  

But I am attracted to the idea of seeing coyotes if possible so I run down a shady, quiet path and keep my eyes peeled. Coyote is seen as a trickster figure by many indigenous people, and a shapeshifter. Tom had something to say about shapeshifting when he was interviewed by The Toronto Mail and Empire in 1930. 

‘The medicine men can do strange things. If a dog comes into their room they can make themselves into that dog. Or they can be in the bear and then be men again. You can see it on the reserve. They can do anything…People laugh about that wisdom and learning, but they do not realize that they do not know everything.’

This is an important quote, worth dwelling on.

My path, which isn’t marked on my Google map, ends beneath Bathurst Bridge. There’s a blue canoe full of soil and greenery laid across the remnants of a train line, marked with a sign saying ‘North American Native Plant Society’. Sumac bushes shade wooden sleepers.

I backtrack and head on down to the lake. On past the CN Tower and Sugar Beach…

…and then a left turn up Sherbourne before looping round to the lane named after Tom. 

‘Longboat Avenue’ is residential and looks like a nice place but ‘Tom Longboat Lane’ is around the back.

It’s all garages and dry heat, the only sign of athleticism are 2 basketball hoops. I don’t want to read too much into this naming but I can’t help but think of a poem by Langston Hughes as I stand there in the lane. 

‘I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me

‘Eat in the kitchen,’

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed –

I, too, am America.’

Maybe one day Tom, and so many others alive and dead, will be given an equal seat at the table, somehow. For now I continue on, running up Jarvis St. It’s a wide road named after William Jarvis, a man who owned 6 slaves in what is now Toronto. Jarvis was a champion for slavery during his time as Provincial Secretary of Upper Canada, watering down legislation to allow for the practice to continue. I’m surprised we still honour him in any way but maybe it’s good that roads are named after such characters so we’re encouraged to learn more about what they did instead of forgetting and pretending such practices ‘could never happen here’.

I arrive at Massey Hall, where Tom Longboat celebrated his marriage to Lauretta Maracle, a school teacher on the Tyendinaga Reserve, on December 28th, 1908.

They’d actually got married earlier in the day elsewhere but such was Tom’s fame that there was a presentation on stage at the hall and thousands turned up to wish the couple well. Maybe the everyday Torontonians were star struck, or maybe they’re weren’t as racist as those in charge of society would’ve liked them to be. Tom had just won a big race in New York and The Toronto Star had commented that ‘It is hoped that Longboat’s success will not develop obstinacy on his part, and that he will continue to be manageable.’ I’m suprised they didn’t use the word ‘uppity’ here; perhaps that was yet to enter their vocabulary. Other papers at the time described him as a ‘lanky, raw-boned, headstrong Redskin’ who did not run, but ‘galloped’, as an animal might, and in response to complements ‘would smile as wide as a hippo and gurgle his thanks’, whilst Lou Marsh, the guy who was said to have doped Tom at the London Marathon, wrote that after a victory Tom was ‘smiling like a coon in a watermelon patch.’

In the eyes of the white press, Tom was an animal in need of containing. When he got married The Globe wrote, with the usual casual racism, that the new bride ‘does not like to talk of feathers, war paint or other Indian paraphernalia…If anyone can make a reliable man…of that elusive human being, it will be his wife.’

Later Tom was to marry again (Lauretta had remarried after Tom had been reported dead in France) and had four children. In the words of the Maclean’s article written after his death, ‘he took another squaw.’

I run on through the city centre, past 57 Simcoe Street where Tom had lived at the Grand Central Hotel during his early years in Toronto. The hotel is long gone now, replaced by a shield of shiny glass.

Then I have a straight haul along Wellington and up onto Dovercourt, where I pause to view the YMCA, which still looks the same on the outside as when Tom had trained on the wooden indoor track before the Boston Marathon. 

It was here, in March 1907, that a thousand spectators lined Dovercourt Rd to watch as Tom set a new record on the YMCA’s 2.5 mile course, which served as a warm-up for his triumph in the Boston Marathon one month later. I can’t find any record of the exact course but the distance from Queen St straight up Dovercourt to Bloor and back is 2.5 miles, so I’m guessing that could be it. 

I’m tired – I’ve just done 14 miles in midday heat – so I decide to run halfway up Dovercourt before turning on College and heading home. I’ll return in a day or 2 to run the full 2.5 mile course when I’ve more energy to do the occasion justice. I raise my game and increase pace, moving easily as you do when you know it’s the final push. I imagine the crowds that lined this street in 1907, cheering Tom on. I think I can understand a little more about the man now. Running can give us an avenue when all others are closed, of course, but this is just my (white, working class, western) perspective. As I increase my pace I dig further, is there anything more I can discern here? 

I am energy. Everybody and everything is. This is an incomplete, basic and vague thought yet it strikes me as an important one. There’s more. This movement feels right. Many things in life feel necessary but running free like this feels right. I imagine Tom running here, feeling right, and then as a young man on the dirt roads of the Six Nations Reserve, and then I think of me in my early teens running over the hills after school every day because running was one of the only things that felt right to me then. 

I veer left onto College and pick up the pace more, boy it’s hot now, 30C or more. A mile later I’m home, hands cupped under the cold tap again, with much to think of courtesy of a couple of hours spent in the company of Tom Longboat. 

Later I’m cruising the internet and I see an article in which the white boxer Tyson Fury is talking about something the black boxer Anthony Joshua said at a Black Lives Matter protest a couple of days ago in England. Joshua had urged peaceful protest, and that if people wanted to help they should buy from black owned businesses. Fury had much to say in response to the speech including this;

‘The thing is with Joshua, he’s always got Eddie (Eddie Hearn, his white promoter) to talk for him and Eddie does all the media stuff and all that and he (Joshua) sort of just reads off a piece of paper. Even that speech he was reading, he read it off a piece of paper. Nothing is freestyle, everything is wrote out or planned. So during the lockdown obviously Eddie wasn’t with him when he did this, or else he’d have given him a right kick up the rear end.’

And it hits me that this is exactly the sort of talk that Tom Longboat was subject to, over 100 years ago. People saying that as a non-white man he was too stupid to handle his own affairs, that he needed a white man to think and speak for him. And perhaps this is one of the most important thing to come out of today for me. Because it’s often not easy to recognise when we’re being racist these days. I don’t think Tyson Fury is knowingly racist but like many of us he acts as a mouthpiece for the racists in charge of society because he doesn’t learn about the language they use. So when you do find something that identifies clearly who the racists are, how they speak and who supports them it’s very useful. So you don’t get caught up by their rhetoric again, and so you can stop circulating their hate speech and ideology. I google all the news sources that reported this Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua story. I figured that a professional journalist would recognise Fury’s words as classic racism-speak and that if they chose to print it then it meant they were either unaware of the history of the style of slur – in which case we really have to question their knowledge of their own craft – or that they are aware of the style of talk and want to perpetuate its use. In which case, we definitely shouldn’t be reading them. The list of media outlets that printed the story, all outlets that I shan’t be taking any notice of again, is:

DAZN – Canada (you can read the story here – https://www.dazn.com/en-US/news/boxing/tyson-fury-critical-of-anthony-joshuas-statements-at-black-lives-matter-protest/14q1siqxioveq1e4n9zsbyd1kh)

The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Metro, The Mirror, The Independent – UK

After Tom’s death the great English distance runner Alfred Shrubb (who’d set 28 world records, won over 1,000 events, and had raced against Tom 10 times) stated in an interview that Tom was ‘one of the greatest, if not the greatest marathoner of all time.’ 

18th January 1912: A race official prepares to fire the starter’s gun for a long distance race, with competitors Alfred Shrubb of Great Britain (left) and Tom Longboat of Canada at the ready. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 2000, Tom was represented on a Canadian stamp.

In 2008, June 4 was officially declared ‘Tom Longboat Day’ in Ontario.

There is a running group in Toronto called the Longboat Roadrunners. You can check out their events here https://torontoislandrun.com/

I’ll leave you with the following article that was published in the Boston Globe on the day after Tom had won the marathon there in 1907.

‘The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdy.’