The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not so distantly — related. Along the way we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
In 2005, to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Canadian celebrities spoke about the meaning of remembrance as part of the Stories of Remembrance Campaign, a project of CanWest News Service (now Postmedia News), the Dominion Institute (now Historica Canada) and Veterans Affairs Canada. This article is reprinted from that campaign.
Stan "Stosh" Mikita, hockey player (b at Sokolce, Czech 20 May 1940; died 7 August 2018). Born Stanislaus Gvoth, he took the name of his uncle after moving to St Catharines as a boy. He played junior hockey for the St Catharines Teepees and joined the Chicago Black Hawks for his first NHL season in 1959-60.
Ryder Hesjedal, cyclist (born 9 December 1980 in Victoria, BC). Ryder Hesjedal is a retired Canadian professional cyclist, and the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour race with his victory at the 2012 Giro d’Italia. He competed in international races between 1998 and 2016, first in mountain biking and then in road racing, and represented Canada at three Olympic Summer Games.
John William Kiszkan (Johnny Bower), hockey player (born 8 November 1924 in Prince Albert, SK; died 26 December 2017 in Mississauga, ON). Bower had a 24-year career in professional hockey as a goalie in the American Hockey League (AHL) and National Hockey League (NHL). Born John William Kiszkan, he adopted his mother’s maiden name, Bower, after he became a professional hockey player. Nicknamed “The China Wall” for his prowess in the net, Bower won two Vezina Trophies and four Stanley Cups. He was a popular and beloved member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, first as a player and then as a scout and coach, taking on various positions within the organization until officially retiring in 1990. He remained unofficially affiliated with the Leafs until his death in 2017. The same year, he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history. Bower was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.
Tessa Virtue, figure skater (born 17 May 1989 in London, ON) and Scott Moir, figure skater (born 2 September 1987 in London, ON). Virtue and Moir are the most successful Canadian ice dance team of the early 21st century, and were the first North Americans to win the Olympic Gold Medal for ice dance, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. At the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, they won silver in ice dance and in the team competition. They won gold in ice dance and in the team competition at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, becoming the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. They have also won four world championships (three senior and one junior), three Four Continents championships, nine Canadian championships (eight senior and one junior) and multiple Grand Prix events, including a Grand Prix Final.
Kay MacBeth (née MacRitchie) was the last player to join the Edmonton Grads, a women’s basketball team James Naismith, inventor of the game, considered “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.” At 95 years old, MacBeth is also the last surviving Grad, a club that played from 1915 to 1940. In those 25 years, the Grads accumulated a record that is quite possibly beyond parallel. Over the course of some 400 official outings, the Grads lost only 20 games. The Grads were both national and world champions who often defeated their opponents by lopsided scores. MacBeth played for the Grads in 1939–40. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Stephen Todd “Steve” Bauer, cyclist, businessman (born 12 June 1959 in St. Catharines, ON). Steve Bauer won a silver medal in the men’s road cycling race at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. Four years later, he became the first Canadian to win a stage at the Tour de France. He won five stages in total during the 1988 Tour de France and finished fourth overall — a Canadian record. Bauer rode in the Tour de France 11 times between 1985 and 1995, and in 1990 he wore the yellow jersey for nine stages. He received the Meritorious Service Medal in 1994 in recognition of his importance in the Canadian cycling world. Bauer is a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame.
Alex Stieda, cyclist, television commentator, columnist (born 13 April 1961 in Belleville, ON). In 1986, Canadian cyclist Alex Stieda became the first North American to wear the yellow jersey (or maillot jaune) in the Tour de France, as leader of the race. He also won a bronze medal in the individual pursuit (track cycling) at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and competed at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, California.
Harold Ballard, hockey executive (born 30 July 1903 in Toronto, ON; died 11 April 1990 in To-ronto, ON). Ballard was a sports enthusiast from a young age and began running hockey teams in Toronto in the early 1930s. After helping to build a successful organization with the Toronto Marlboros in the 1940s and 1950s, Ballard became part of a seven-man committee running the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1957. He was one of three owners in control of the team when Toronto won the Stanley Cup four times in the 1960s, but after becoming principal owner in 1972, his bombastic, autocratic style contributed to the team’s decline on the ice. Ballard was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977. He bought the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1978 and was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
Douglas Richard Flutie, football player, philanthropist (born 23 October 1962 in Manchester, Maryland). Doug Flutie is widely considered to be one of the greatest players in Canadian Football League (CFL) history. A Heisman Trophy winner as the best player in US college football, Flutie went on to play for eight teams in three different leagues over a 21-year pro football career (1985–2006). A quarterback with the CFL’s BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts, he appeared in four Grey Cup games and won three championships, earning MVP honours in all three victories. Flutie is the first non-Canadian inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2007). In 1998, he and his wife established the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.
Kelly-Ann Way, cyclist, registered massage therapist (born 18 September 1964 in Windsor, Ontario). A successful track and road cyclist, Way famously won a stage at the Tour de France féminin in 1984. She was the first North American to win a stage at either the Tour de France or the Tour de France féminin. She was also the first Canadian to wear the maillot jaune as overall leader in the women’s tour. Way represented Canada at two Olympic Summer Games (1988 and 1992) and was a medallist at the Commonwealth Games.
Thomas Charles Longboat, distance runner (born 4 July 1886 in Ohsweken, Six Nations Grand River reserve; died 9 January 1949). Tom Longboat (Haudenosaunee name Cogwagee) was an Onondaga distance runner from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reserve near Brantford, Ontario. Largely because of his ability to dominate any race and his spectacular finishing sprints, he was one of the most celebrated athletes before the First World War.
Barbara Howard, athlete, educator (born 8 May 1920 in Vancouver, BC; died 26 January 2017 in Vancouver). Barbara Howard is believed to be the first Black female athlete to represent Canada in international competition. At only 17 years old, she broke the British Empire record for the 100-yard dash, qualifying to represent Canada at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia. At the Games, she finished sixth in the 100-yard race but won silver and bronze medals as part of the 440-yard and 660-yard relay teams. Howard never competed in the Olympic Games, which were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 because of the Second World War. In 1941, she became the first racialized person to be hired by the Vancouver School Board. She had a 43-year career in education, including 14 years as a physical education teacher, before retiring in 1984.
Willie O’Ree, OC, ONB, hockey player (born 15 October 1935 in Fredericton, NB). On 18 January 1958, O’Ree became the first Black hockey player to play a National Hockey League game when he debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. O’Ree played a total of 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins. Since 1998, he has been the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, and has led the Hockey is for Everyone program. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.1
Joannie Rochette, figure skater (born 13 January 1986 at Île Dupas, Quebec). Figure skater Joannie Rochette won the silver medal at the 2009 World Championships and was the Canadian ladies’ champion for six consecutive years (2005–10). She is best known for her courageous bronze-medal performance at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, just days after her mother’s sudden death. Rochette also medalled at several international Grand Prix competitions.
Christine Girard, weightlifter (born 3 January 1985 in Elliot Lake, ON). Christine Girard is one of Canada’s top athletes and among the world’s best female weightlifters. She was North America’s top female weightlifter in the 63 kg class and holds two Canadian weightlifting records and one Pan American Games weightlifting record. Girard won bronze at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing and gold at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London. She is the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in weightlifting and the only Canadian to win two medals in the sport.