To mark Tom Longboat Day, Historica Canada has released a new Heritage Minute that tells the story of the Onondaga distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario.
Born in 1886, Longboat was sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford. He escaped and returned home where he attracted attention for his long-distance running. He won his first race, the five-mile Victoria Day race in Caledonia in 1906 —and his winning streak continued with the 1906 Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton; the 1906, 1907, and 1908 Ward Marathons in Toronto; the 1907 Boston Marathon; and the 1909 World Professional Marathon Championship in New York. He was one of the most celebrated and renowned athletes in North America when he enlisted in 1916 and served as a Dispatch Carrier in the First World War, seeing active duty at both Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.
In 1919, upon returning to Canada after the war, Longboat settled in Toronto for nearly 20 years before retiring in Ohsweken, Six Nations Grand River where he passed away in 1949. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame in 1960.
“Tom Longboat was a world champion runner, a pioneer in training methods, a war hero, and an inspiration for his resilience against discrimination,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, President and CEO of Historica Canada. “He inspires athletes across Canada to this day.”
This Heritage Minute was filmed in November 2021. It was produced by Historica Canada and Indigenous-owned production company Nish Media. It was written by Jessie Anthony (Brother, I Cry), a Haudenosaunee filmmaker from the Onondaga Nation, and directed by Jason Brennan (L’Inhumain), a member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. John Ashmore (I am my Father) was director of photography.
Tom Longboat is portrayed onscreen by Joshua Odjick (Wildhood; Bootlegger), a member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg First Nation, while the voiceover narration is provided by Gary Farmer (Dead Man; Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai; Smoke Signals), a member of the Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy. The English end narration is provided by Haudenosaunee Wellness Speaker and Longboat family descendant Cindy Martin, and the French narration is provided by Kanyen’kehà:ka and Québécois filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau.
“It was an honor to re-enact the legacy of someone as legendary as Tom Longboat,” said actor Joshua Odjick. “It’s so important to shine a light on Canada’s dark history to identify the hero story. His story is not one of a victim. He overcomes odds that seemed impossible for Indigenous Peoples at the time. From residential school systems, and identity theft, to a war hero and Olympian. He’s an incredible inspiration to all Indigenous people and for all of Turtle Island.”
On this production, Historica Canada consulted with Professor Bruce Kidd, former Olympian, scholar and author (Tom Longboat); Dr. Janice Forsyth, member of the Fisher River Cree Nation, scholar and author (Reclaiming Tom Longboat); Brian Maracle, member of the Mohawk First Nation, author, journalist and radio host; Cody Groat, Kanyen’kehà:ka scholar, band member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and President of the Indigenous Heritage Circle; Dr. Evan Habkirk, scholar of Indigenous military history; and Richard Hill, Haudenosaunee historian and curator from the Tuscarora Nation, Senior Coordinator of Deyohahá:ge – Indigenous Knowledge Centre at the Six Nations Polytechnic.
The Tom Longboat Heritage Minute was made possible through funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage and Veterans Affairs Canada. Historica Canada is a charitable organization that offers programs in both official languages that you can use to explore, learn, reflect on our history, and consider what it means to be Canadian.