Indigenous soccer pioneer finally inducted into B.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Harry Manson broke colour barriers more than a century ago, honoured alongside Steve Nash, Carl Valentine

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      More than a century after his death, a trailblazing aboriginal B.C. soccer player has finally been recognized in his own province.

      The B.C. Sports Hall of Fame announced at a news conference today that Harry Manson will be inducted in the pioneer category at its 50th anniversary banquet next June.

      The induction comes after two previous rejections, in 2013 and 2014, from the hall, which has been headquartered at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium since 1993.

      Manson, a member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation near Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, had previously been inducted into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame, the national Soccer Hall of Fame in Vaughan, Ontario, and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary.

      One of the few photos of Harry Manson known to exist.

      Steve Nash, Carl Valentine among other inductees

      Other 2016 B.C. inductees announced at the Thursday (December 10) news conference included, in the athlete category, NBA player Steve Nash, golfer Dave Barr, CFL kicker Dave Cutler, Whitecaps player Carl Valentine, and women’s national soccer team member Geri Donnelly.

      In the builder/coach division, B.C. Lions coach Wally Buono, women’s national basketball head coach Allison McNeill, and track-and-field athlete, manager, and coach Diane Clement were awarded places in the hall.

      The Western Hockey League’s 1994-1995 Kamloops Blazers—which included future NHL players Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Nolan Baumgartner, Darcy Tucker, Brad Lukowich, Jason Strudwick, and Tyson Nash, among others—won inclusion in the team category. Sportswriter Wendy Long nabbed a berth in the hall’s media division, and former Vancouver Canucks and Vancouver Grizzlies owner Arthur Griffiths will take home the W.A.C. Bennett Award.

      Pioneer's descendents at hall of fame event

      Almost a dozen of Manson’s descendents attended the conference, including two of his grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and several great-great-grandchildren.

      Harry Manson's great-great-granddaughter Mia and great-grandson Adam at the national Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Vaughan, Ontario, in 2014.

      Manson helped break colour barrier

      Manson, also known as Xul-si-malt (meaning “one who leaves his mark”), helped breach colour barriers in the earliest days of soccer in B.C. He was born on the Nanaimo Indian Reserve in 1879 and became a skilled player and captain of the all-Native Nanaimo Wanderers team, which made it to the provincial semifinals and later, in 1904, won the city championship.

      He also became one of the first indigenous players to play in and win a provincial soccer championship, and he was the only aboriginal player to be a member of all three senior Nanaimo teams. Racial discrimination and taunts were common at the time, and a local newspaper reported that at one game between the Wanderers and an all-white team, a cry of “Kill the savages” was heard as his team took the field.

      Manson died in 1912, age 32, after being struck by a coal train in Nanaimo while in town to get medicine for a sick child. The coroner’s report referred to him as a “drunken Indian”.

      Harry Manson grandchild Gary Manson accepted his grandfather's B.C. Hall of Fame induction scarf on December 10, six months in advance of the formal ceremony next year.
      Meade Manson


      Grandson Gary Manson, who attended with his brother Dean, told the Georgia Straight at the event that his grandfather’s upcoming induction was “very, very exciting”. “I wish he was honoured while he was here, of course, but I’m just so grateful,” he said.

      Harry Manson’s inductions into the four halls of fame are largely seen as the result of years of research and effort on the part of Vancouver resident Robert Janning, who discovered the pioneering player’s story while researching a book on early B.C. soccer history, Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892–1905.

      Robert Janning (right) stands with (from left) Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay, Harry Manson grandson Gary Manson, and Snuneymuxw chief John Wesley at the 2015 Canada Sports Hall of Fame ceremony in Calgary.
      Mia Manson

       Janning contacted Manson’s descendents, who knew little of his accomplishments, and he recruited influential local backers in a dogged and lengthy campaign to raise awareness of the player’s significance in the years before anyone had heard of Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, who broke colour barriers in baseball and track and field, respectively, in the 1930s and 1940s.

      “It was very exciting when Robert made that first phone call,” Gary Manson told the Straight of Janning’s initial communication with him. “It just changed my life, and it’s going to change the lives of a lot of First Nations people across this country.”

      “I’m very proud,” Janning told the Straight after the announcement. “I could feel a tear well up in my eyes. It’s just a very proud moment.”

      Of the B.C. hall’s belated recognition of Manson, Janning said: “This part of the journey is complete. I submitted four nominations, and they’ve all been successful.” He agreed with another attendee’s remark that he had accomplished a “grand slam” with the four inductions.

      Earlier this year, Janning organized an inaugural Harry Manson Legacy soccer tournament, an event that he hopes will become an annual tradition.

      Bad weather earlier in the day disrupted some attendees plans, Janning noted, but Harry Manson’s family members still made it in time. “They all took the ferry this morning; there was a lot of excitement.”

      Gary Manson said he plans to attend the June 9, 2016, B.C. Sports Hall of Fame official induction banquet with “about 40 or 50 people”.

      For an account of Robert Janning’s years-long effort to bring Harry Manson’s accomplishments to light, go here.

      For further information on Janning’s nonprofit Friends of Harry Manson group, go here.