Harry Manson was one of the great soccer players of his era in British Columbia.
But he’s not in the hall of fame just because he was a goal scorer. Manson is in the hall of fame because when it came to being a teammate, he was a pioneer.
Manson was inducted last week into the legends category of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. It followed his induction into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame earlier this month, and the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame last fall.
Manson, also known by his traditional name, Xul-si-malt, was a champion soccer player at the turn of the 20th century. His exploits with his Snuneymuxw team earned him an invite to the Nanaimo Thistles and other top-tier sides of the era.
“Harry didn’t care if he was playing with white men or his fellow Snuneymuxw players,” said Robert Janning, soccer historian, at the Nanaimo hall of fame ceremony earlier this month. “Aside from the honours he won as a player, I think Harry Manson, Xul-si-malt, set an example for all of us to follow.”
Manson and James Wilks, recruited to the Thistles in 1898, were the first aboriginal players to compete at B.C. provincials, according to Janning’s book Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905. Manson and Louis Martin were the first indigenous players to win the B.C. championship when the Thistles defeated the Victoria Columbias in 1901.
In Manson’s time, Vancouver Island was B.C.’s soccer hotbed – Nanaimo and Wellington won three provincial championships apiece in the 1890s. It was a time of steamships, coal mining and racism.
“Try to imagine what it must have been like growing up in that era and putting up with that discrimination,” Janning said. “Going to Ladysmith for a match with 2,000 miners on the sidelines screaming, ‘Kill the savages.’”
Manson’s grandson, Gary Manson, said when he thinks about his grandfather, he thinks about “the history that we have, and it wasn’t a very good one…
“My late grandfather … he carried himself in such an honourable way in his times, when there was racism in the country. He put all those things aside.”
For Harry Manson, it was all about the next match, Janning said.
Manson just wanted to play, that’s all – but his status as a First Nations man combined with his stature as a soccer all-star made him a pioneer. It’s why his death, when he was struck by a train in 1912, made the front page of Nanaimo’s newspapers, and it’s why, 100 years later, he’s a legend.
Manson’s hall-of-fame exploits are a source of pride for his descendants.
“I’m almost speechless – I’ve spent the whole day bragging about the accomplishments of my grandfather,” joked Gary Manson, adding that past generations might have potlatched for days over these sorts of remembrances.
Snuneymuxw Chief John Wesley said Manson’s hall of fame induction is meaningful today.
“I thank everybody for bringing down barriers,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Janning said it’s beautiful that Harry Manson’s story brings together First Nations and non-First Nations, and not just with lip service, but with actual dialogue and healing.
“No country, no province, no city is perfect, just like people; we all make mistakes,” the historian said. “But in our society we strive to learn from our mistakes to make our world better. So it is my sincere hope that Harry Manson will stand for a brighter future.”