Decades before Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson broke colour barriers in sport elsewhere, soccer player Harry Manson of Nanaimo’s Snuneymuxw First Nation broke a colour barrier of his own here in BC. Manson’s Snuneymuxw name was ‘Xulsimalt’ which means ‘one who leaves his mark’. Facing widespread racial discrimination in all facets of life at that time, Manson most certainly did as one of BC’s great pioneering athletes prior to World War I.

Born and raised in Nanaimo, Manson worked as a commercial fisherman and was a loving father to his children. Most of what we know of his background comes from the sports pages covering soccer. Nanaimo was the leading soccer hotbed in the sport’s early years in BC and one of the best players Nanaimo has produced proved to be Manson as acknowledged by the Nanaimo Daily Herald in 1912.

Known for his blazing speed and scoring ability, Manson was the only player of either European or Aboriginal descent to play on all three Nanaimo premier soccer teams—Nanaimo Thistles, Nanaimo Indian Wanderers, and Nanaimo Association Football Team—between 1897-1905, reflecting the widespread high esteem in which he was held as a player. In 1898, along with teammate James Wilks, Manson became one of the first two Aboriginal players to appear in a BC provincial championship match, scoring the first goal for Nanaimo Thistles against Victoria YMCA, led by Bernie Schwengers, then considered the best all-around athlete in BC. Two years later, Manson became convinced the Snuneymuxw players had the necessary talent to compete against BC’s best intermediate teams and formed the Nanaimo Indian Wanderers AFC, serving as team captain for the next five years. Facing racial abuse from the surrounding largely white mining communities proved common, but Manson and his teammates played with undaunted courage and skill.

In 1903, he was selected alongside Wanderers teammates Louis Martin and Joe Peters to play on a Nanaimo all-star team representing the city in the BC Football Association provincial championships. After defeating Cowichan AFC in the semi-finals, Manson led Nanaimo to a 4-0 victory over Esquimalt Garrison to win the BCFA senior Challenge Cup and thus become the first Aboriginal players to win a provincial championship.

Sadly, Manson was tragically killed in a train accident at age 32 in 1912 while retrieving medicine from town for his sick infant son.

If not for Vancouver soccer historian Robert Janning, Manson’s story may have remained buried and forgotten. Janning discovered Manson’s story while researching his 2012 book Westcoast Reign on the early history of BC soccer and reconnected the Manson family back with their trailblazing relative.

Honoured with inductions into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Manson’s memory will long live on.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.