This Week in History
Canada's Best Athlete – Modelled from a Book
For the week of Monday May 22, 2006
On May 24, 1900, Canada celebrated Queen Victoria’s 85th birthday and, on the same day, Lionel Pretoria Conacher was born in Toronto. He was named after the South African city of Pretoria, which was under siege during the South African War at this time and was evidence of his family’s allegiance to the British. The oldest in the large Conacher family, Lionel grew up in the poor and rough north end of Toronto to eventually become “Canada’s Best Athlete.”
At 16, he was crowned the Ontario Wrestling Champion and a year later won the Light Heavyweight Boxing of Canada title. In 1919, both hockey teams he played on captured Canadian titles and the Toronto St. Pats of the National Hockey League offered him a contract worth $3500 - nearly three times a normal salary.He declined to maintain his amateur status and stay eligible for other sports. In June 1924, after hitting home the winning run for his Toronto baseball team, Lionel took a taxi across town to score the winning goal for his lacrosse team. Besides hockey, lacrosse and baseball, football was his best sport. He was dubbed “Big Train” for his size and speed. In 1921, he played his first game for the Toronto Argonauts and scored 23 of his team’s 27 points.
However, realizing that through hockey he could make more money, he turned professional in 1925. He played until 1937 with several teams including the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, New York Americans, Chicago Blackhawks and Montréal Maroons and won numerous all-star awards and Stanley Cups with his rugged defensive play.
In 1950, Canadian sports writers voted Lionel Pretoria Conacher Canada’s Male Athlete of the Half Century. He was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994, and is a National Historic Person. For more information, please visit the website of the Toronto Argonauts.
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