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.
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.
Charles Hamelin, short track speed skater (born 14 April 1984 in Lévis, QC). Hamelin has won three Olympic gold medals for Canada in short track speed skating. With five Olympic medals in total, he shares the record for the most medals won by a Canadian male Olympian. At the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, he won the men’s individual 500m event and men’s 5000m team relay event (with Guillaume Bastille, François Hamelin, Olivier Jean and François-Louis Tremblay). At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, he won a gold medal in the men’s 1500m short track speed skating event. Hamelin also won a silver medal in the men’s relay at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin and a bronze medal in the relay at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. As of March 2018, Hamelin has won 12 gold medals at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships. He became overall world champion in 2018, the first Canadian to hold that title since Marc Gagnon in 1998. Hamelin has been named Male Short Track Athlete of the Year 10 times by Speed Skating Canada.
Patrick Lewis Wai-Kuan Chan, figure skater (born 31 December 1990 in Ottawa,ON). Patrick Chan is a Canadian champion and world champion men’s singles figure skater. A three-time world champion, he has won 10 national championships in the singles competition, breaking the record set by Montgomery Wilson in 1939. Known for dazzling artistry, Chan has repeatedly won major international competitions such as the World Figure Skating Championships and the Skate Canada, Grand Prix, Trophée Eric Bompard, and Four Continents events. He has set world records for points at competitions including the 2011 and 2013 World Championships and the 2013 Trophée Bompard, and has won three medals at the Olympic Winter Games: a silver in the men’s competition (2014) and a gold (2018) and silver (2014) in the team event.
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.
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.
Waneek Horn-Miller, athlete, activist, broadcaster (born 30 November 1975 in Montreal, QC). Horn-Miller, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Quebec, was co-captain of Canada’s first Olympic women’s water polo team and a gold medallist in water polo at the 1999 Pan American Games. She is a well-known activist for Indigenous rights and a prominent role model, mentor and advocate for youth involvement in sports. The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity named her one of the country’s most influential women in sport in 2015.
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.
Mark Arendz, Paralympian, biathlon and cross-country skiing (born 3 March 1990 in Charlottetown, PEI). Arendz has won eight medals at the Paralympic Winter Games in biathlon and cross-country skiing, including a gold medal in the men’s 15 km standing biathlon at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. He has also won eight medals at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Nordic Skiing World Championships and has had great success on the IPC World Cup circuit, including winning the 2013 World Cup Crystal Globe in para-biathlon.
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.
Jasey-Jay Anderson, snowboarder (born 13 April 1975 in Montreal, QC). Anderson has competed in every Olympic Winter Games since 1998, when snowboarding made its Olympic debut. At the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, he became the first Canadian to compete in six Games. Anderson won the gold medal in parallel giant slalom at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Over his career he has also won four World Championship titles, as well as six World Cup titles, including four as overall World Cup champion (2001–04).