'Forgotten' indigenous soccer star to be inducted into national Hall of Fame UPDATED
Racism and tragedy might have lost the legacy of pioneering First Nations soccer player Harry Manson, but they could not destroy it.
Manson, who broke barriers as an indigenous soccer star during the sport's formative years in British Columbia, will be inducted into the national Soccer Hall of Fame in Vaughan, Ont. this November.
The Snuneymuxw First Nation competitor and fellow resident James Wilks in 1898 became the first indigenous athletes to compete in a provincial championship soccer match — and they did it while competing alongside white men.
Manson captained the indigenous Nanaimo Wanderers to numerous victories during 1897-1904, including a Nanaimo City Championship.
The team became the first aboriginal soccer club to compete in a British Columbia championship and in 1903, Manson was recruited to play on a Nanaimo all-star team. "He represents the building of soccer in Canada," said Soccer Hall of Fame board chairman John Knox. "There is no doubt in my mind, from all the information that I have, that he is a very worthy recipient."
Manson — known by his community as Xulsimalt — achieved much playing the sport he loved, despite a prevailing and socially accepted climate of racial intolerance.
Crowds were known to cry 'savage' at the sight of Manson lacing up, but few could ignore his talents and leadership on the field.
Nevertheless, Manson's contributions as a sporting pioneer became lost to time after his tragic death in 1912.
Manson was killed by a train during a journey to Nanaimo to get medicine for his six-month-old son.
A harshly-worded coroner report from the time dismissed him as "a drunken Indian," a document which came to form one of the few references the modern day Mansons had been able to find about their ancestor.
The infant son Manson left behind went on to have eight children of his own, sowing the seeds for what has become "quite a huge" family in present-day Snuneymuxw.
Lost as it was, Manson's legacy found its way home last year when Vancouver-based soccer historian Robert Janning came knocking on the family's door.
Janning, who spearheaded the campaign to have Manson inducted into the Hall of Fame, had come across the name several times during the research of Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905.
Expecting to learn more about the First Nations soccer star he had read so much about in old newspaper archives, Janning found it was the family who had the most questions.
"I didn't know too much (about Harry) other than the picture we had hanging on our wall," said Snuneymuxw elder Geraldine Manson. "Having (Harry) going into the Hall of Fame, it means a lot to us."
While it may have required more than a century after his death for Manson's story to again come to light, hints of his influence have remained present in the community to this day.
Snuneymuxw First Nation is something of a soccer-crazed locale.
While Manson's contributions to the sport were nearly lost to history, the community's passion for soccer never left. In fact, as many as 500 out-of-towners descended upon Snuneymuxw and the Harbour City last month for a brand new soccer tournament organized by the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre. That tournament, one of several that take place in the community every year, is expected to grow well into the future after a successful inaugural year.
As Geraldine can attest, soccer plays an important role in the lives of youth and elders alike. "My brother-in-law Gary (Manson) is still active and his sons are still active in soccer," she said. "Getting the youth involved is so important." She said members of the family will discuss the possibility of travelling to Toronto for the November induction ceremony.
Every year, the Soccer Hall of Fame welcomes three players, three builders and one pioneer into its midst.
A specific date and official list of inductees for the event are expected to be released in the coming weeks.