A trailblazing Snuneymuxw soccer player and an historic soccer match have been forever memorialized at Nanaimo’s Deverill Square Park by the British Columbia government.
Leonard Krog, Nanaimo’s MLA, unveiled a sign honouring an 1892 match between Snuneymuxw players and European settlers and Harry Manson, a pioneering Snuneymuxw soccer player in the early 20th century.
“[Manson] should be a real hero to all of you,” Krog told the crowd during a ceremony that also included songs and speeches from Snuneymuxw elders as well as members of the Manson family.
On Nov. 12 1892, a group of Snuneymuxw soccer players faced off at Deverill Square Park against the YMCA Juniors in what became the first organized soccer match between an all-aboriginal team and an all-European settlers team while Harry Manson, who was also known by his traditional name, Xul-si-malt, was a trailblazing soccer player on Vancouver Island in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Krog said he hopes he hopes the sign inspires young people of all ethnic backgrounds that anything is possible and that the sign is a “tangible” act of reconciliation.
“What I hope this will do in this community is remind everybody what an incredible achievement Mr. Manson’s life was,” Krog said. “He grew up in a time when colonization had essentially tried, and succeeded in too many cases, to take everything from the First Nations of this country. Their land, their culture, their beliefs, everything. They denied them every possibility.”
Doug White II, Snuneymuxw’s acting chief, told a crowd that included local politicians and members of Nanaimo United that the ceremony is a historic moment for his people and the community as a whole.
“We are very honored, chief and council, that this has taken place today,” he said.
Manson’s skills earned him playing time with Nanaimo Thistles and other teams during a deeply racist era. Manson, along with Louis Martin, became the first two First Nations player to ever win a provincial championship. Although Manson died in 1912 after being hit by a train, it was only within the last decade he was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame.
The ceremony might have never happened if it weren’t for Robert Janning, the author of Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905, a book released in 2012 that documents the history of soccer in the province and includes information about Manson’s life as an athlete. Janning has been pushing and promoting Manson’s story for years.
Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, Gary Manson, the grandson of Harry Manson, said that if it weren’t for Janning, there is a good chance his grandfather’s story would have never been discovered. He said growing up, he played soccer at Deverill Square Park and had heard stories about his grandfather, but knew very little.
“We knew that he played soccer but not to that extent. When my father died, he died with him. We were at a loss,” he said.
Janning, who wrote his book while recovering from years of drug and alcohol abuse, said it was Manson’s resilience and ability to deal with discrimination that touched him in a deeply personal way.
“My own personal struggles, my immigration, my sexual orientation, growing up in a bigoted environment and becoming bigoted myself, I know what it is like to be picked on,” Janning said. “I knew the pain of being discriminated against and it touched my heart.”