Thomas Longboat, Cogwagee


Charles Aylett, Library and Archives Canada [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cogwagee (Thomas Charles Longboat), Haudenosaunee from Six Nations of Grand River First Nation, born on July 4, 1886 was an accomplished distance runner.
During his teen years, Longboat began running for sport and hobby on his reserve. His first competitive victory was a 5-mile Victoria Day race at Caledon, Ontario in 1905. Longboat’s talent was unquestionable, and it was there that he caught the attention of Bill Davis, a Six Nations runner who had placed second at the Boston Marathon in 1901. He was impressed with Longboat’s athleticism and they began training together in preparation for Hamilton, Ontario’s Around The Bay marathon in 1906.

Longboat won the Hamilton event and had placed first over three minutes ahead of the runner-up. His win thrust him into the spotlight, and trainers began to recognize his talent. Longboat’s career was then in the hands of trainer Tom Flanagan. That same year, Thomas Longboat took first place in three 15-mile marathons on Ward’s Island in Toronto. His career really took off in 1907 when he won the Boston Marathon. Longboat beat the previous record time by an astonishing four minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Tom Longboat’s goal and focus then switched to the 1908 London Olympics. Getting to the Olympics was no easy feat for him as American officials contested his entry as an amateur athlete by stating that he had trained and competed as a professional. Shockingly, even the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union backed up the American officials, but the public demanded to see Canada’s best marathon runner compete in the 1908 London Olympics.


Charles A. Aylett/Library and Archives Canada/C-014090

Tom Longboat made it to the Olympics but during his race he and another competitor collapsed for unknown reasons and were unable to complete the race on their own. Many rumours were tossed around after the Olympic fallout including sabotage by his trainers, and being administered illegal medication. After this, Longboat boldly bought out his contract and took control of his own career and training. Many people thought it would be the demise of his career following this move, but the Olympic controversy had given him international fame and he had beaten his previous record time. That same year Tom Longboat met and married Lauretta Maracle, a school teacher on the Tyendinaga Reserve. The ceremony was held on December 28 on stage at Massey Hall in Toronto.
[Embed: Photo]{Massey Hall| Massey Hall}

The following year, Longboat competed in the Madison Square Gardens Marathon against other notable contenders of the time and took home the title of Professional Champion of the World. In 1912 Longboat and his foremost rival, Alf Shrubb from Britain, held 10 head to head races in cities such as Toronto and New York for crowds of over 20,000 people. Longboat’s signature skill to save enough energy for a final kick at the end of a race enabled him to out perform Shrubb in every race that exceeded 20 miles.

At the age of 27, Thomas Longboat enlisted in the First World War. He was stationed with the 107th Pioneer Battalion where he served as a dispatch runner in France and Flanders with distinction. There he kept up his competitive racing by competing in as many inter-battalion races as he could. He was wounded twice during service and was once mistakenly reported as dead. Upon returning home from the war, Longboat discovered that Lauretta had remarried in 1918 after receiving news of his death. Lauretta remained married to her new husband and Longboat later married Martha Silversmith with whom he had four children. Thomas longboat retired from racing and lived in Toronto working for the city before retiring back to his reserve. He passed away of pneumonia in January of 1949.


Library and Archives Canada RG 150, accession 1992-93/166, box 5730-27, #862805, Thomas Longboat

Thomas Longboat is a significant member of Toronto’s, even Canada’s, Aboriginal history. Living in a colonially dominated society, he persevered and shone in the spotlight. It was never an easy road for Thomas Longboat, as he continually faced stigmas and racial attacks during and after his career. His collapse at the London Olympics perpetuated much speculation in the media, but after buying out his own contract he proved his talent to the world by improving his time.

Today, Tom Longboat is still considered to be one of Canada’s greatest athletes and his legacy lives on through the Tom Longboat Award, which was created in 1951 to reward excellence among First Nations athletes. A memorial display in Canada’s Sports Hall Of Fame, a public school and a street in Toronto were named in his honour.


Granatstein, J. L. “Tom Longboat.” Maclean’s Jul 01 1998: 49-. ABI/INFORM Global; CBCA Business; CBCA Complete; CBCA Reference & Current Events; ProQuest Business Collection; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2012 .
Hill, Amanda. “A local love story.” Deseronto Archives., January 16, 2008. Web. October 20. 2012

Newhouse, David, Cora Voyageur, and Daniel Beavon. “Hidden in Plain Sight – Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Petten, Cheryl. “Tom Longboat: Athlete continues to inspire.” Footprints. Windspeaker., Web. October 20. 2012.

“Tom Longboat”. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. n.p., n.d. Web. 24 October. 2012.


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