Legendary runner Tom Longboat broke records and stereotypes

Onondaga runner Tom Longboat once held the title of 'Professional Champion of the World'. Longboat died 65 years ago today.

First Nations long distance runner died 65 years ago today

Legendary Onondaga runner Tom Longboat stands next to trophy. (Charles A. Aylett/Library and Archives Canada )

Onondaga runner Tom Longboat was one of Canada's greatest long distance runners, known around the world as "Wildfire."

Longboat was born on the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario on July 4, 1887.  As a child, he attended the Mohawk Institute, a residential school run by the Anglican church.
Tom Longboat was one of Canada's greatest long-distance runners. (The Canadian Press)
He escaped twice - by running away. The second time he made it to his uncle's house and he agreed to hide him from the authorities. 

Longboat's competitive running career began in his late teens. His first race was in 1905, in Caledonia, Ont. where he placed second. Afterwards he began competitively training and soon gained worldwide attention.

In 1907, he entered the Boston Marathon, the biggest running event of the time. An estimated 100,000 people came to watch. Running in the snow, uphill, Longboat won the Boston Marathon, beating his closest competitor by almost five minutes.
Tom Longboat was known around the world as "Wildfire". (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, George Grantham Bain Collection)

He was considered a favourite at the 1908 Olympics but he collapsed short of the finish line, fuelling rumours he had been drugged. 

Throughout his career, Longboat faced widespread racism and prejudice. Newspapers called him a "redskin", "obstinate" and "the original dummy". After his victory in Boston, one newspaper congratulated his trainers for "having such a docile pupil."

Longboat volunteered for service in World War I and was injured twice and even reported dead.
Tom Longboat was injured twice during WWI. (Canada Dept. of National Defence, Library and Archives Canada)

After the war, Longboat returned to Canada. He worked for 20 years for the City of Toronto in the street cleaning department.

He died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949 at his home on the Six Nations reserve.


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