Diary of a weekend at the Soccer Hall of Fame

Wherein First Nations pioneer Harry Manson gets his due—a century after his death

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      The following is an account by Robert Janning of the proceedings leading up to, and including, the day of November 9, 2014, when the Soccer Hall of Fame in Vaughan, Ontario, inducted British Columbia First Nations soccer pioneer Harry Manson (1879-1912). The complete story of how Janning—a Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident, part-time cabbie, and self-described alcoholic addict—discovered Manson's story and how it helped him reclaim his own life and connect the neglected indigenous trailblazer's descendants to their heritage can be read here.

      The Harry Manson delegation began arriving in Toronto on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, November 5, 6, and 7. The entourage included four grandchildren, Harriet, Dean, Gary and Donna, five great-grandchildren (Emmy, Meade, Jerome, Adam, and Beckie), and two great-great-grandchildren (Trey and Mia).  Robert Janning and his parents, Robert and Reina, rounded out the party of 14.

      On Friday, Adam and Beckie joined me in my luxurious Element Vaughan Southwest hotel room to listen to Jean Paetkau’s 22-minute Harry Manson documentary, "Lost and Found", which aired on CBC Radio One program the Current.  By the end of the broadcast, we were all choked up with tears.

      I spent the afternoon having lunch with my parents at the top of the CN Tower and doing some sightseeing in Toronto. The phone in my room rang as soon I returned at five o’clock in the afternoon.  What followed was an hour-and-a-half interview with Martin Dunphy of the Georgia Straight.  During the interview, I received a text from Duncan McCue of the CBC informing me that his feature story, "Finding Xul-si-malt", which had been scheduled to air on the National that evening, had been bumped in favour of a story related to the Jian Ghomeshi affair.

      I also received a call during the interview from the Ontario Soccer Association's Robyn McComb, director of competitions and events, who wanted to know the family connections between all of the Mansons and how to pronounce certain Snuneymuxw words. Is this what it’s like being almost famous?

      Starting to feel the effects of sleep deprivation on Saturday, I had to figure out a way how to get five members of the Manson family to Vaughan who, due to their very limited financial means, had found affordable accommodations way out in Markham, a 35-minute drive from our hotel. Somehow, we managed to pull it off in time.

      Together with the other inductees, who were also provided accommodations at the recently opened Element, we were all shuttled to the Ontario Soccer Centre for the Soccer Hall of Fame reception. No sooner had we arrived than Gary and I were herded off to an upstairs office to do a phone interview with someone from, of all places, Ankara, Turkey.  Go figure.  Because of this, Gary and I never had enough time to check out the Soccer Hall of Fame’s museum, because the reception was stalled until we finished our interview.

      No sooner had we been shuttled back to the hotel than it was time to head over to Fionn MacCool’s for dinner and a chance to get to know the other inductees a little better. The place was packed to the rafters, with more people waiting to get in. A loud rock 'n' roll band and the effects of alcohol kicking in on everyone allowed this 58-year-old recovering alcoholic/addict to excuse himself after about an hour-and-a-half.  I don’t think anyone really noticed.

      Sunday. The BIG DAY had finally arrived! My room. Parents. Formal dress and tuxedos. Transportation challenges for the Mansons in Markham. Stress reminiscent of a wedding.

      We arrived at Chateau Le Jardin at 4:30 p.m.  I was introduced to many people I knew but had never met before in person.

      At 6 p.m., silence descended over the 200 officials, dignitaries, players, and the family and friends of Canada’s soccer community seated at their tables in Le Parisien Salon as Gary Manson, dressed in full traditional Snuneymuxw regalia, struck the first note of the "Welcome Song" on his drum. As he began to sing, his son Adam, in full paddle-vest regalia, led the procession of inductees into the room and onto the stage. What a moment. Standing there together, all the inductees on the stage and facing the audience in front of us.

      Around 7 p.m., co-MC Gerry Dobson summoned yours truly to the stage for the pioneer induction of Harry Manson. With tears in my eyes, I shakily walked up to the podium to face the audience. The following was my speech:

      Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

      My name is Robert Janning.  I nominated Harry Manson for induction into the Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum.

      (At this point, I felt compelled to add a brief improvised response to the guest speaker who had preceded me and who had ranted on for 20 minutes about Canada being ranked 128th in the world and that we never qualified for World Cup finals. He went on to tell us what he thought needed to be done to change our unacceptable situation. Well! My retort was that the aforementioned 128th ranking and World Cup absences only applied to approximately half of those present in the room and that Canadian women, in fact, enjoyed a much higher international ranking and frequently participated in World Cup final tournaments. I added that maybe if we listened a little more to our women, we men might be more successful. My comments seemed to be appreciated by the women, as they afforded me a warm ovation. Anyhow, back to my speech.)

      I would like to thank the following individuals for making this special evening possible: Ron Smale, president of the Ontario Soccer Association; the board of governors of the Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum; the selection committee; Robyn Gmeindl; Robyn McComb; Kim Watson.

      And I would especially like to thank Mr. John Knox for his phone call this past summer informing me that Harry Manson had been selected for induction into the Soccer Hall of Fame. If you happened to have listened to the CBC Radio feature on Harry Manson on Friday, you can appreciate how emotional this experience has been.

      I would also like to congratulate all of this evening’s other inductees.

      I first became aware of Harry Manson and his place in soccer history several years ago while researching my book, Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905.

      I discovered that Harry was a gifted athlete whose soccer career was uniquely distinguished in several respects. However, it was his exemplary outlook on life at a time when the attitudes of the world around him were rife with prejudice that proved to be the impetus for nominating Harry.

      All Harry Manson wanted to do was play soccer. The colour of teammates' or opponents' skin was never an issue for Harry, and it was his prowess on the field that made him a frequently sought-after player by non-Native teams.

      Every community needs heroes to look up to. Every community needs role models to emulate. Right here. By inducting Harry Manson into the Soccer Hall of Fame, we are bridging the gap of disparity that has separated First Nations and Canadians for far too long. Today, we formally recognize a Snuneymuxw hero, a First Nations role model, and a Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer.

      On behalf of Harry Xul-si-malt Manson, I lift my hands to you and extend a heartfelt "Huych’qa". All my relations.

      At this point, all of Harry Manson’s descendants took to the stage to perform a "Celebration Song" and "Excitement Song" for their ancestor. Adam Manson danced up a storm on the final song, and as the last notes of singing and drumming faded into time, the entire room rose in unison to its feet in a thunderous ovation.

      Next, Roger Barnes, president of the British Columbia Soccer Association, who had travelled to Vaughan to be a part of this celebration, was invited to the stage to participate in the presentation of the Soccer Hall of Fame plaque, which Gary Manson accepted on behalf of his grandfather. It was, at last, official.  Harry Xul-si-malt Manson was a Soccer Hall of Famer! Gary then shared a few emotional words of gratitude and we all went back to our two tables. The first to shake my hand and congratulate me as I came off the stage was Canadian sports commentator and former professional soccer goalkeeper Craig Forrest.

      At the conclusion of the evening, we were swamped with well-wishers. Toronto FC player Dwayne De Rosario, Soccer Hall of Fame chair John Knox, fellow Voyageurs Bill Spiers (Ontario Soccer Association) and SHoF's John Vanderkolk, fellow historian Colin Jose (SHoF and much more), and author Les Jones all came over to thank me. And then, once again, Gary and I were shuffled off to do one more interview, with Anthony Totera for OSA TV’s Touchline.

      Perhaps one of the nicest interactions I had over the four days in Vaughan occurred at 1:30 a.m. Monday, when I stepped out of the elevator and bumped into Isabelle Morneau, who had been just inducted as a player. She extended her appreciation for my acknowledgment of the women of the Canadian game, which the guest speaker at the Induction banquet had made to feel like an irrelevant part of Canada’s soccer community.

      Two-and-a-half hours later, I received my wake-up call to ensure I would catch my 6:45 a.m. flight back to Vancouver, where I could finally get some much-needed sleep.