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.
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 U.S. 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.
In a country that frowns upon self-promotion, Canadians prefer modest heroes. This is true even when a hero’s fame lives on long after him, touches millions of people beyond the country’s borders and when his accomplishment has resulted in almost $700 million being raised for an important cause.
Penelope (Penny) Oleksiak, swimmer (born 13 June 2000 in Scarborough, Ontario). At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Oleksiak won four medals, setting the Canadian record for most medals won at a single Olympic Summer Games. Her four swimming medals came in the women’s 100 m freestyle (gold), women’s 100 m butterfly (silver), women’s 4 x 100 m freestyle relay (bronze) and women’s 4 x 200 m freestyle relay (bronze). In the 100 m freestyle, Oleksiak tied for gold with American Simone Manuel, with both swimmers setting an Olympic record of 52.70 seconds in the final. Oleksiak is tied with the late Victor Davis for the most Olympic career medals won by a Canadian swimmer (four) and holds the record as the youngest Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal (16 years and 59 days). In 2016, Oleksiak received the Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s athlete of the year) and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award (Canadian Press female athlete of the year).
Michael “Pinball” Clemons, O Ont, football player, coach, motivational speaker (born 15 January 1965 in Dunedin, Florida). Michael Clemons is one of the most accomplished athletes in Canadian Football League (CFL) history and the first African American to coach in the Grey Cup. Known to many simply as “Pinball,” he is a CFL Hall of Famer and four-time Grey Cup winner with the Toronto Argonauts, earning three championships as a player (1991, 1996, 1997) and one as a head coach (2004). He is the all-time leader in total combined yards in CFL history (25,438). Clemons, a naturalized Canadian citizen, moved into an executive role in the Argonauts’ front office after retiring from coaching. He is involved with a number of charities, including the Pinball Clemons Foundation.
Donovan Anthony Bailey, O.Ont., track and field sprinter (born 16 December 1967 in Manchester Parish, Jamaica). Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for Canada in the men’s 100m at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and set a world record with a time of 9.84 seconds. He later won a second Olympic gold medal when he led Team Canada to a first-place finish in the men’s 4x100m relay. During his athletic career, he also won four medals (three gold and one silver) at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.1
Carey Price, hockey player (born 16 August 1987 in Vancouver, BC). Goaltender Carey Price has played his entire National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Montreal Canadiens. During the 2014–15 NHL season, Price won the Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Vezina Trophy and William M. Jennings Trophy and was the first player to win all four awards in the same season. In international competition, Price has also won gold medals with Canada at the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey Junior World Championship in Sweden, the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
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.
Sidney Crosby (Sid the Kid), ONS, hockey player (born 7 August 1987 in Cole Harbour, NS). Crosby is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League and a two-time Olympic gold medallist with Canada’s men’s hockey team. He has won the Art Ross Trophy (2007, 2014), the Hart Trophy (2007, 2014), the Ted Lindsay Award (2007, 2013, 2014), the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (2010, 2017), and the Conn Smythe Trophy (2016, 2017). Crosby has also received the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete of the year (2007, 2009) and the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male athlete of the year (2007, 2009, 2010).2
Cindy Klassen, OM, speed skater (born 12 July 1979 in Winnipeg, MB). Cindy Klassen is the first Canadian to win five medals in one Olympic Games (Torino 2006). With a total of six Olympic medals, she is tied with fellow speed skater and cyclist Clara Hughes as the most decorated Canadian Olympians. Klassen was also overall world champion in speed skating (2003 and 2006).
Hull won the Art Ross Trophy 3 times, the Hart Trophy twice and the Lady Byng Trophy once, scoring 610 goals and 1170 points in 15 NHL seasons. In 1972 he accepted $1 million to jump from the NHL to the Winnipeg Jets, giving immediate credibility to the fledgling World Hockey Association.
The Toronto Argonauts are a professional football team in the East Division of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Formed in 1873 as part of the Argonaut Rowing Club, the team has won 16 Grey Cup championships, the most of any team in the history of Canadian football. In total, the Argonauts have appeared in 22 Grey Cup games, losing only six. (The Grey Cup has also been won by two other Toronto teams — the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers — for a combined 23 championships for the city.)
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are a professional team in the Canadian Football League (CFL). The franchise dates back to the formation of the Hamilton Football Club (the Tigers) in November 1869. The Tigers and another Hamilton football team, the Wildcats, amalgamated as the Tiger-Cats for the 1950 season and played in the Inter-provincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU), which became the Eastern Conference of the CFL in 1960. Since the early 20th century, the Tigers and Tiger-Cats have been associated with a tough, physical brand of football that reflects the blue-collar roots of Hamilton as an industrial city. The team’s iconic cheer, “Oskie Wee Wee, Oskie Waa Waa, Holy Mackinaw, Tigers… Eat ’em Raw!” is well known throughout Canada and dates back to the early 20th century. The Tiger-Cats have won the Grey Cup 13 times, including five times as the Tigers.
The Calgary Stampeders are a professional football team that plays in the West Division of the Canadian Football League (CFL). The Stampeders are one of the nine founding teams of the CFL and have won the Grey Cup seven times. The team played its first game in 1945 and has won the second-most CFL West Division championships, with 15.