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.
The Montreal Alouettes are a Canadian Football League (CFL) franchise located in Montréal, Québec. The team was founded in 1946 and played until 1987 before folding due to financial difficulties (from 1982 to 1986, the team was known as the Montreal Concordes). In 1996, the Baltimore Stallions relocated to Montréal and were renamed the Alouettes, reviving the franchise. The Alouettes play in the East Division and have won seven Grey Cup championships.
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.
Meaghan Benfeito, diver (born 2 March 1989 in Montréal, QC). Three-time Olympian Meaghan Benfeito and partner Roseline Filion won bronze in the 10m synchronized dive at the Olympic Summer Games in 2012 and 2016. Benfeito also won bronze in the 10m individual event at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. Benfeito has won titles at the Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games and multiple medals in both synchro and individual competitions at the FINA Diving Grand Prix circuit, FINA Diving World Series, World Cup and World Championships. She has also won multiple Senior National Championships.
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).
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are a team that plays in the Western Conference of the Canadian Football League. They are the oldest continuously operating professional football club in western Canada, and second only to the Toronto Argonauts of the Eastern Conference in length of history. One of only three community owned football teams in the CFL, they play their games in Regina, the least populated sports market in Canada; only the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League are based in a smaller centre. Like the Packers, however, the Roughriders are famed for the intensity of their supporters, known as “Rider Nation,” many of whom live well beyond the borders of Saskatchewan.
Joseph Albert (Pierre) Paul Pilote, hockey player (born 11 December 1931 in Kénogami, QC; died 9 September 2017 in Barrie, ON). Pilote was a National Hockey League (NHL) defenceman and was regarded as one of the best blueliners from the Original Six era. He played a hard-hitting style but was also respected for his offensive prowess. Pilote won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961 and was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy three times. During his NHL career he scored 80 goals and tallied 418 assists and 1,251 penalty minutes during the regular season; in 86 career playoff games, he scored eight goals and 53 assists.
Ron Turcotte, jockey (b at Drummond, NB 22 July 1941). One of 11 children, Turcotte was always a strong jockey because of his early years as a lumberjack in New Brunswick. Unemployment in 1959 sent him to Toronto where he obtained a job as a hot-walker at E.P. TAYLOR's Windfields Farms.
Richard (Rick) Marvin Hansen, CC, OBC, Paralympian, wheelchair racer, humanitarian (born 26 August 1957 in Port Alberni, British Columbia). In the 1980s, Rick Hansen won six Paralympic medals and three world championships in wheelchair racing. He was named Canada’s Disabled Athlete of the Year three times and, in 1983, received the Lou Marsh Trophy for Canadian Outstanding Athlete of the Year — an honour he shared with Wayne Gretzky. Hansen is perhaps best known for his Man In Motion World Tour. From 21 March 1985 to 22 May 1987, Hansen wheeled more than 40,000 kilometres in 34 countries to raise awareness, public support and finances for spinal cord research, rehabilitation and wheelchair sports. The tour raised more than $26 million.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a football team that plays in the Canadian Football League. Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Blue Bombers have alternated between the league’s West Division and East Division; they are currently part of the West Division. Since its founding in 1930, the team has won 10 Grey Cup championships.
Sometimes the past is interesting, not because of its long-term historical significance or because it might teach us some questionable lesson about the present, but simply because it contains wondrous reminders of the serendipity of fate. I am fascinated by a goal that Bill Barilko scored on 21 April 1951, not because it was a precursor to Paul Henderson's life-saving marker in 1972, or to Sidney Crosby's goal of redemption at the 2010 Olympics, but because I was there.
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.
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.
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