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.
Shawn O'Sullivan, boxer (b at Toronto 9 May 1962). O'Sullivan's amateur record of 94-6 is matched by few Canadian boxers. From a boxing family, he started boxing at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre under Ken Hamilton, his original mentor. As a 16-year old, he won the Canadian junior title in Whitehorse.
George “Punch” Imlach, hockey coach and general manager (born 15 March 1918 in Toronto, ON; died 1 December, 1987 in Scarborough, ON). Imlach won the Stanley Cup as coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs four times in the 1960s. He had played junior and senior amateur hockey in Toronto and began coaching with the Cornwall Army team in the Que-bec Senior Hockey League during the Second World War. After the war, he joined the Quebec Aces, with which, between 1945 and 1957, he was a player, coach, general manager and part owner. After a season as coach and general manager of the Boston Bruins’ minor league farm club in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1957–58, Imlach began his NHL career in 1958–59. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
Steve Nash, basketball player (born 7 February 1974 in Johannesburg, South Africa). Nash is widely considered the greatest Canadian basketball player of all time. He is a two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) and the first Canadian to win the award. Nash is an eight-time NBA all-star and ranks third on the NBA’s all-time assists leaderboard with 10,335. He has represented Canada in international competition and led the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team to the quarter-finals of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Nash is a three-time winner of the Lionel Conacher Award, given to Canada’s best male athlete, and in 2005, he won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete. In 2007, he was inducted into the Order of Canada.
On 15 April 1947, Jackie Robinson played in his debut game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Prior to that point, professional baseball in the United States was segregated, with African Americans playing in the Negro leagues. When Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in 1947, he entered American history books. What many baseball fans may not realize, however, is that Robinson was embraced by Canadian fans one year earlier as a member of the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Canadian women have participated in every Olympic Winter Games since their inception in 1924. The first Canadian woman to medal at the Games was figure skater Barbara Ann Scott, who won gold in 1948. Her success was followed by gold medals in such sports as alpine skiing (e.g., Anne Heggtveit in 1960 and Nancy Greene in 1968), speed skating (e.g., Catriona Le May Doan in 1998 and 2002 and Cindy Klassen in 2006), biathlon (Myriam Bédard 1994), and hockey (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014). Canadian women have also excelled in Olympic sports such as bobsled, snowboarding, short track speed skating, freestyle skiing, and curling. Since the 1948 Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Canadian women have won 88 Olympic medals, including 33 gold medals.
Ross Rebagliati, snowboarder, businessman (born 14 July 1971 in Vancouver, BC). Rebagliati won the first ever Olympic gold medal in snowboarding at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano. However, soon after his victory, the International Olympic Committee announced that he had tested positive for marijuana and would be stripped of his medal. Within a week, the decision had been overturned by the Court of Arbitration in Sport and his medal reinstated. In 2013, Rebagliati founded Ross’ Gold, a medical marijuana business. The company promotes the medical and recreational use of marijuana for athletes.
Mark Lee McMorris, Canadian snowboarder (born 9 December 1993 in Regina, Saskatchewan). McMorris competes in both big air and slopestyle snowboarding. He won the bronze medal for Canada in men’s slopestyle at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, as well as silver in men’s slopestyle at the 2013 FIS Snowboarding World Championships. He has also won multiple gold medals on the World Cup circuit and at the Winter X Games, Dew Tour and the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships.
Dennis Lloyd (Denny) Morrison, speed skater (born 8 September 1985 in Chetwynd, BC). A four-time Olympic medalist in speed skating, Morrison won gold for Canada in the men’s team pursuit at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, with Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky. He also won silver in the men’s team pursuit at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin and two individual medals at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi: silver in the 1000m and bronze in the 1500m. Morrison has also won 11 career medals, including 2 gold medals, at the World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships and 57 career World Cup medals, including 16 gold medals, as of March 2018.
Alexandre Bilodeau, skier (born 8 September 1987 in Montréal, QC). Moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau was the first Canadian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil, when he won gold in moguls at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. He successfully defended his gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Danielle Goyette, hockey player, coach (born 30 January 1966 in Saint-Nazaire d'Acton, QC). Goyette was a member of the Canadian women’s national hockey team from 1991 to 2008. In 172 international matches, she won eight world championships, twenty gold medals, and four silver medals. She is a member of the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. Goyette was named to the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2018.
Mikaël Kingsbury, freestyle skier (born 24 July 1992 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, QC). Kingsbury won the silver medal in men’s moguls at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and the gold medal in moguls at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. In International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup competition, he has won six Crystal Globes as the overall champion of freestyle skiing (2012–2017) and the World Cup moguls title for seven straight years (2012–18). As of 16 January 2018, he had won a record 48 World Cup gold medals and 69 medals overall in moguls competition. Kingsbury has also won seven medals at the world championships.
Angela James, hockey player (born 22 December 1964 in Toronto, ON). Known as "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey," Angela James was a pioneering and dominant force in women's hockey during the 1980s and 1990s. James led the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997). She was also one of the first three women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. When James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (in Toronto) in 2010, she was one of the first two women, the first openly gay player, and the second black athlete to ever be inducted.
Simon Whitfield, triathlete (born 16 May 1975 in Kingston, ON). Simon Whitfield is a four-time Olympian and Canada's first-ever Olympic gold medalist in triathlon. Whitfield won gold at the 2000 Olympic Summer Games in Sydney, the first year that the triathlon was an Olympic event. Although he did not medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, he sprinted to a silver medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing. Whitfield was the Canadian flag-bearer at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London but crashed during the bicycle portion of the triathlon and was forced to pull out of the event. Whitfield has also amassed a total of 12 World Cup wins in addition to his gold and silver Olympic medals. He retired from competition in 2013 and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
Lanny King McDonald, hockey player (right wing), hockey executive, humanitarian (born 16 February 1953 in Hanna, Alberta). Known for his talent, dedication and generosity — and his moustache — Lanny McDonald has thrilled hockey fans in Toronto, Calgary and across Canada since he first started playing in the National Hockey League. He began his NHL career in the 1970s with the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing alongside such stars as captain Darryl Sittler. However, McDonald is probably best remembered as captain of the Calgary Flames, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 1989. He is also known for his charitable activity, particularly his lengthy involvement with the Special Olympics. He has received many honours, including the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy (1988) in recognition of his leadership and his humanitarian contributions. He is also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame (1992), the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame (1993) and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2017).