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 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.
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.
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.
Montgomery (Bud) Wilson, figure skater (born 20 August 1909 in Toronto, ON; died 15 November 1964 in Lincoln, Massachusetts). Wilson was the first Canadian to place in the top three in the ISU World Figure Skating Championships when he finished second in 1932. He also won the Olympic bronze medal that year, becoming the first Canadian (and the first North American male) to win an Olympic medal in figure skating.
Milos Raonic, tennis player (born 27 December 1990 in Titograd, Yugoslavia [now Podgorica, Montenegro]). Known for having one of the best serves in the history of tennis, Milos Raonic is the only Canadian male tennis player ever to reach the singles final of a Grand Slam tennis tournament, qualifying for the final of Wimbledon 2016 before losing to Andy Murray of Great Britain. Raonic reached 19 finals on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour between 2011 and 2016, winning eight men’s singles titles. He has more career victories in the history of the ATP tour than all other Canadian men’s singles tennis players combined. He was named ATP World Tour Newcomer of the Year in 2011, and received the Lionel Conacher Award as top Canadian male athlete in 2013 and 2014. In November 2016, he was ranked third in the world, the highest ranking every achieved by a Canadian tennis player, male or female.
Arthur Howey Ross, hockey player, inventor/innovator and NHL team executive (born 13 January 1885 in Naughton [Sudbury], ON; died 5 August 1964 in Medford, Massachusetts). Ross was considered a top defenseman during a playing career that included several years as a professional (with a brief stint in the fledgling National Hockey League). Following his retirement as a player in 1918, Ross worked as an NHL referee and coached the NHL’s Hamilton Tigers in 1922–23. The Boston Bruins hired him when they entered the league in 1924, and Ross served as coach, general manager and vice president (often holding all three titles at once) until 1954. Ross also invented improved versions of the hockey puck and goalie nets that were used for decades in the NHL, and introduced many of the rules that modernized the game.
Aleksandra Wozniak, tennis player (born 7 September 1987 in Montréal, QC). Aleksandra Wozniak is a world-ranked tennis player. In 2008, she captured the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, becoming the first Canadian woman to win a WTA singles world title since Jill Hetherington-Hultquist in 1988, and the first woman from Québec to achieve the honour.
Roseline Filion, diver (born 3 July 1987 in Laval, QC). Three-time Olympian Roseline Filion and partner Meaghan Benfeito won bronze in the 10m synchronized dive at the Olympic Summer Games in 2012 and 2016. A Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games champion, Filion has won medals in both synchro and individual competitions on the FINA Diving Grand Prix circuit and at the FINA Diving World Series, World Cup and World Championships. She has also won multiple Senior National Championships. Filion retired from competition in January 2017.
Hayley Wickenheiser, hockey player, softball player (born 12 August 1978 in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan). A four-time Olympic gold medallist, Wickenheiser is the all-time leader in goals (18), assists (33), and points (51) for women’s ice hockey at the Olympic Winter Games and all-time leader in assists (49) and points (86) at the Women’s World Hockey Championship. She was also the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. Wickenheiser retired from competitive hockey on 13 January 2017, finishing with 379 points (168 goals and 211 assists) in 276 games with Team Canada.