In their own words: the stories of great Saskatchewan Indigenous athletes

February is Indigenous Storytelling Month in Saskatchewan. To celebrate this month, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame is sharing some of the stories of some of the pioneering Indigenous athletes in the province – in their own words as much as possible.

Tony Cote was inducted into the SSHF as a builder in 2011. He was first elected as Chief of the Cote First Nation in 1970. In 1974 he was instrumental in the creation of the Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games. They would grow to include a Winter Games and now both the Summer and Winter Games bear his name.

In an article from 2014 in the Regina Leader-Post, Cote described what motivated him to create the first Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games.

Tony Cote

Tony Cote

“There wasn’t too much sports and recreation on any given reserve (when he started the provincial Games). I thought if we initiated some kind of Summer Games we would get the interest of the young people to participate with the other bands across Saskatchewan. The response was very, very good. I think the first year we attracted 500 athletes. The last one we had in Prince Albert (in 2013) I think we had 3,500 athletes. The participation of our young people has really grown tremendously.

“As a result, we always develop some very good athletes.

“One of these days we’re going to have a number of our own athletes participate in the Olympics. That was my vision to begin with. It’s slowly coming.”

Even for those athletes who don’t end up on the world’s stage, taking part in the Tony Cote Games or the North American Indigenous Games can have a lifelong impact.

“It opens (people’s) eyes. The atmosphere is terrific. You can tell they’re proud and they want to compete. As a result, a lot of the former athletes that participated 10, 12 or even 20 years ago, those are our recreation leaders now. Not only recreation leaders but some of them have become leaders of their communities in the capacity of chief and councillors.

“When I first came home to start sports and recreation (in Saskatchewan) there was absolutely nothing. All our kids were just getting into trouble. When we started training them (the outlook improved).

“We’ve come a long ways.”

Ken Moore

Ken Moore was the first Indigenous person to win a gold medal for Canada when he was part of the 1932 men’s hockey team that won gold in Lake Placid in the United States. Moore has been inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 1930 Memorial Cup champion Regina Pats team.

Before those great feats though, Moore and his family escaped their home in the Peepeekeesis Cree Nation and avoided the Indian agent to start a new life and keep any more of their children from being forced to attend Residential School. The Moores’ two oldest sons both died at the Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

Moore’s granddaughter, Jennifer Moore Rattray, helps tell his incredible story here.

Alex Decoteau died during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 during the First World War. Though his life was cut tragically short, the distance runner from Red Pheasant First Nation achieved so much. He was the first athlete born in what is now Saskatchewan to compete at the Olympics. He is also the first Indigenous person to be a police officer in Canada.

Independent Indigenous publication in Edmonton shared Alex’s story here.

Jim Neilson moved to an orphanage in Prince Albert at the age of five and he become one of the best defencemen in the National Hockey League in the 1970s and played more than 1,000 games in the league. You can read more about his inspiring story here.

Fred Sasakamoose, left, shakes hands with Chicago Blackhawks captain Alexei Zhamnov.

Fred Sasakamoose was taken from his family on the Ahtahkakoop Cree First Nation and sent to St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake. There Sasakamoose suffered terrible abuse that he detailed in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and later in his autobiography.

He returned home at 15 and never wanted to leave. His hockey talents led him to Moose Jaw – where two weeks into his stay he tried to walk the 400 km home – where he became the Most Valuable Player in the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League in 1953-54. Immediately at the end of the season, the 20-year-old reported to the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks where he would play 11 games. Despite his talent and early success, the pull of coming home never left.

“I wanted to go home all the time,” Sasakamoose said in this article from 2018. “You’re no longer 500 miles away — you are 5,000 miles away. It didn’t matter about money, glory… It didn’t matter. I didn’t want that. I wanted home.”

Paul Acoose was Nakawē (Saulteaux) from the Zagime Anishinabek (previously known as the Sakimay First Nation) and was born in 1885. In his first professional race, Acoose ran 15 miles in a world-record time of one hour, 22 minutes and 22 seconds and beat famed English runner Fred Appleby, a former world record holder and 1908 Olympic marathon runner. Acoose’s record-breaking time earned him the title of world champion.

Acoose’s rapid rise to success was met with adversity almost immediately. Appleby and Acoose met in a rematch in Winnipeg where gamblers who had bet on Appleby were suspected of throwing thumbtacks on the indoor track. The tacks did not affect Appleby in his thick rubber-soled shoes, but easily penetrated Acoose’s moccasins and into his feet. Acoose had a half-lap lead when the tacks were thrown onto the track. He pulled a tack out of his foot and carried on – running two more miles in bare feet – before stepping on more tacks and was unable to finish the race.

Acoose went on to beat famed Onondaga runner Tom Longboat in 1910. Despite only being 24 years old, Acoose retired from competitive racing and settled in Zagime Anishinabek with his wife Madeline where they raised nine children and farmed. He never drove a car and continued to job into his 60s. Even in his late 70s would walk up to 10 kilometers to visit family and friends.

Bryan Trottier won six Stanley Cups and was a cornerstone of the New York Islanders dynasty. The Hockey Hall of Famer wrote on the NHL website about his youth in Val Marie.

“I don’t know how big an inspiration I am for indigenous children, but I want to wear it with all my might. There’s a certain pride I think we all have in where and how we grow up and our heritage. There’s a lot of variety in First Nation; it’s a very diverse group. Some of them feel self-conscious about the blend they have, that maybe they’re not 100 percent First Nation. But they have the bloodlines, and they’re very creative and they’re very athletic and talented. They all have the ability to make a difference, and I tell them it’s OK to be homesick but to remember it takes courage to live your dreams.”


SSHF inductees have a rich history of service

There have always been strong ties between the sporting world and military service. Amongst the inductees of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (SSHF), that is no different.

To date, the SSHF has found 124 inductees who have served in branches of the Armed Forces. While they all share the commonality of sporting excellence and service, each of their stories is unique.

Alex Decoteau (image courtesy of the Edmonton Police Service)

Alex Decoteau was the first Saskatchewan-born athlete to compete in the Olympics. After competing in the 5,000-metre run at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games, Decoteau — who was also Canada’s first Indigenous police officer — enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War in 1916. He was killed in action in the Second Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium on October 30, 1917, when he was shot by a sniper. Pvt. Decoteau put his athletic prowess to use during the war, serving as a communications trench runner.

In addition to Decoteau, SSHF inductees Edward Lyman “Hick” Abbott, Ernest “Ossie” Herlen, and Harry McKenzie from the 1915 Melville Millionaires were all Killed in Action. SSHF inductees Claude Warwick and James Bladon from the 1941 Regina Rangers were Killed in Service.

Some SSHF inductees saw their military service mix with their athletic pursuits. Julien Audette served in the Royal Canadian Air Force before being inducted in the sport of soaring (the sport of non-powered flight). Shooting inductees Joseph Austman, Jim Girgulis, Peter Jmaeff, and Ron Woolgar all served in the military.

Stanley “Cap” Harrison came from England and began Stockwell Stud Farm in Fort Qu’Appelle. When the First World War broke out, he was tasked with selecting and shipping western horses suitably for cavalry purposes. Harrison was well-suited to the task but sending stock to face almost certain death while he was safe at home. In 1916, Harrison left his brother to run the farm and enlisted in the Winnipeg Light Infantry Battalion. He was wounded three times and was once buried in rubble and feared dead. Harrison would survive the war and become a key figure in the growth of horse racing in the prairies. During the war, Harrison also wrote poetry which was later compiled by Grant MacEwan entitled, The Rhyming Horseman of the Qu’Appelle.

Phyllis Dewar

It wasn’t just our male inductees who answered the call to serve. Moose Jaw’s Phyllis Dewar won four gold medals swimming at the 1934 British Empire Games (the forerunner to the Commonwealth Games). She competed at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games and won another gold medal at the 1938 British Empire Games. Dewar enlisted with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) where she was stationed in Halifax. The WRCNS was formed in 1942 and featured more than 7,000 enlisted members during the Second World War. Their duties included wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians, air mechanics, clerks, and cooks.

While the list of inductees with military service covers a broad range of sports, hockey has the most representation with 48 SSHF hockey inductees having served in the military.

Included amongst those were five players — Sid Abel, Max Bentley, Johnny Bower, Chuck Rayner, and Harry Watson — who would go on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as well earning their place amongst the game’s all-time greats. Abel, Bentley, Rayner and Watson had all begun their National Hockey League careers when they enlisted during the Second World War. As a teenager in Prince Albert, Bower was part of the local army reserve unit. At 15 he lied about his age to enlist and spent two years in Vernon, B.C. completing his training before being deployed as a gunner with the 2nd Canadian Division with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Days before the Dieppe Raid in 1942, Bower and eight other members of his unit came down with a respiratory infection that cause them to miss the raid and may have saved their lives.

While the majority of the SSHF inductees who served did so during the First and Second World Wars or the Korean War, Ed Staniowski is a more recent example of an athlete who served in the Canadian Forces.

Lt.-Col Ed Staniowski, a Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductee looks at some of the items on display at Play Hard, Fight Hard: Sport and the Canadian Military.

Staniowski starred in goal on the Regina Pats 1974 Memorial Cup-winning team and went on to play 10 seasons in the National Hockey League with St. Louis, Winnipeg and Hartford. After retiring from the NHL, Staniowski served in the Canadian Forces and reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the primary reserves. Staniowski was deployed in eight overseas operations during his 29 years in the Forces.

Below is a list of the 124 SSHF inductees that served their country in the Canadian Forces. Their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten:

Edward Abbot

Sid Abel

Robert Adams

Jack Adams

Dennis Adkins

Sandy Archer

Murray Armstrong

Bob Arn

Julien Audette

Joseph Victor Austman

Harry Bailey

Leonard Bath

Max Bentley

James Stanley Bladon

Garth Boesch

Johnny Bower

Calvin Bricker

Doug Bruce

Angus “Scotty” Cameron

Glen Campbell

Clarence Campbell

Ken Charlton

Harold Clayton

George Coops

Tony Cote

Aurthur Austin Creswell

Gordon Currie

David Dean

Alex Decoteau

Phyllis Dewar

Paul Dojack

Arthur “Art” Dowie

William “Bill” Ebbels

Gaston Eichel

Eldon Elliot

William Forsyth

Norman “Heck” Fowler

Emile Francis

Frank Germann

James “Jim” Girgulis

Anton Glasser

Gordon “Greg” Grassick

Ernest Albert Greenley

David Greyeyes

Ernest Wynne “Joe” Griffiths

William “Bill” Griston

Stanley “Hub” Gutheridge

Dr. Walter Hader

Stanley “Cap” Harrison

Henry “Hank” Hartenberger

James “Sugar Jim” Henry

Ernest “Ossie” Herlen

Alfred Hill

Lou Hough

Rollin Henry “Roly” Howes

William “Bill” Hunter

Dick Irvin Sr.

Peter Jmaeff

Gordon Juckes

Mike Kartusch

J.B. “Kirk” Kirkpatrick

Arthur Knutson

Elmer Knutson

Sam Landa

Jack Leddy

John Leicester

R.C. “Scotty” Livingstone

Victor Lynn

Harry Stuart MacKenzie

Jack Maddia

Frank Mario

Charles McCool

Frederick McCulloch

Robert McCutcheon

Ernie McNab

Tom “Scotty” Melville

Anthony Merle

Don Metz

Nick Metz

Harold Mitchelmore

Alex Motter

Donald Sinclair “Speed” Moynes

Victor Myles

Stan Obodiac

William “Bill” Orban

Charles Otton

David Pearce

Bert Penfold

Claude Petit

Gordon Pettinger

Allan Wilfrid Pickard

Peter Prediger

Kenneth Preston

David Pyle

William Beatty Ramsay

Chuck Rayner

Robert “Bobby” Reid

Robert Reid

Ernest Richardson

Walt Riddell

Alvin Horace “Al” Ritchie

Tom Ross

Alex Sandalack

Lloyd Saunders

Arthur Sihvon

D’Arcy Smith

Ed Staniowski

John “Jack” Stewart

Edgar Wallace “Wally” Stinson

Neil “Piffles” Taylor

Earl “Tommy” Thomson

Robert Van Impe

Peter Vyvyan

H.J. “Johnny” Walker

Clinton Ward

George Ward

Claude Warwick

Harold “Harry” Watson

Ab Welsh

Alfred Stiffles Whittleton

H.J. “Pete” Wilken

Frederick Cornelius Wilson

Eddie Wiseman

Ronald Woolgar

Indigenous inductees continue to inspire

June 21 is National Indigenous People’s Day. As we come to terms with the uncovering of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School on what is now Cowessess First Nation in addition to the remains of 215 children found at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School at Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation, it is clear that there is much to learn and to be reconciled within our history. Given the racist abuse Saskatchewan hockey player Ethan Bear faced online recently, it is evident that even the most accomplished and prominent Indigenous athletes are not spared from overt and public racism.

In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 87th Call to Action, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame wishes to mark National Indigenous People’s Day and National Indigenous History Month by recalling and celebrating Indigenous excellence and achievement in sport in our province while also sharing some of the hardships and challenges those athletes and builders faced.

Many of our Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductees overcame different setbacks, hardships and challenges on their journeys to greatness. However, many of the challenges our Indigenous inductees faced were very specific.

Jacqueline Lavallee and Fred Sasakamoose at the opening of the SSHF’s Indigenous sport exhibit at the University of Saskatchewan.
David Stobbe/

Fred Sasakamoose overcame horrible abuse in an Indian Residential School to be the most valuable player in the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League and crack a National Hockey League roster when he was 19 with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953. His career in the NHL lacked in length, it more than made up for in influence. His remarkable journey from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation to the NHL inspired generations of players.

Jim Neilson was born in Big River and he also overcame challenges as a child, growing up in the St. Patrick’s Orphanage in Prince Albert from the age of five. Despite those humble beginnings, Neilson played more than 1,000 games in the NHL as he blossomed into one of the best defencemen of his era while playing with the New York Rangers. He finished his career playing with a young Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton in the World Hockey Association.

Both Sasakamoose and Neilson passed away this past year, a great loss for their communities and all who knew them.

In the early days of the province, some of Saskatchewan’s top athletes were distance runners and Paul Acoose and Alex Decoteau were amongst the best in the world.

Paul Acoose

Acoose was Nakawē (Saulteaux) from the Zagime Anishinabek (previously known as the Sakimay First Nation). In his first professional race, Acoose ran 15 miles in a world-record time of one hour, 22 minutes and 22 seconds and beat famed English runner Fred Appleby, a former world record holder and 1908 Olympic marathon runner. Acoose’s record-breaking time earned him the title of world champion.

Acoose’s rapid rise to success was met with adversity almost immediately. Appleby and Acoose met in a rematch in Winnipeg where gamblers who had bet on Appleby were suspected of throwing thumbtacks on the indoor track. The tacks did not affect Appleby in his thick rubber-soled shoes, but easily penetrated Acoose’s moccasins and into his feet. Acoose had a half-lap lead when the tacks were thrown onto the track. He pulled a tack out of his foot and carried on – running two more miles in bare feet – before stepping on more tacks and was unable to finish the race.

Acoose went on to beat famed Onondaga runner Tom Longboat in 1910 before retiring from professional racing and returning home to farm and raise a family.

Decoteau was the first Saskatchewan athlete to compete at the Olympic Games when he ran the 5,000-metres and finished sixth in 1912. Decoteau was born in the Red Pheasant Cree Nation and was of Cree and Métis descent. His father was murdered when Decoteau was four years old and he was sent to the Battlefords Industrial School.

Decoteau would become the first Indigenous police officer in Canada and has a park in Edmonton named in his honour. He served in the 202nd Infantry Battalion and the 49th Battalion during the First World War and was killed during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

Tony Cote, David Greyeyes, Jacqueline Lavallee, Claude Petit and Bryan Trottier are also SSHF Indigenous inductees. There are also several Indigenous inductees who were enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a member of a championship team.

Each of our Indigenous inductees has their own unique story, but so many share the common themes of success, service and beating the odds to achieve greatness.

We look to continue to share and celebrate their legacies as part of the rich history of Saskatchewan sport. Our exhibit dedicated to our Indigenous inductees and their accomplishments is on permanent display in the Physical Activity Complex at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Kinesiology.

At the same time, there is always more sport history to discover. If you believe you know of someone deserving of being inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete, builder or as a team; the nomination process is open to the public.

SSHF Honours Inductees Who Served Our Country


While it is difficult to put this type of gratitude into words, each year on this date, our country does what we can to show our sincere appreciation to those who have given their lives in service of our Nation’s freedom. Here at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, we are well aware of what words like dedication, sacrifice and commitment stand for, as it is our mission to recognize those people in sport, who best exemplify what these phrases mean.

On November 11 however, that focus shifts and we pay our respects to those who have committed, dedicated and certainly sacrificed everything, in order to keep Canada among the greatest Nations in the world. In sport, similarities are often drawn to a battle, or fight which exists between two sides. Those conflicts though, pale in comparison to what a select few have experienced, beyond the field of play.

With this piece, we aim to thank these people for everything they have done to serve and better the places we live, work and play. Saskatchewan along with the rest Canada is forever grateful to the service men and women of this country. Everything they do on a daily basis ensures Canada remains, well and truly the north, strong and free.

Robert Adams – Athletics
Calvin Bricker – Athletics
Alex Decoteau – Athletics
William Forsyth – Athletics
Stanley Glover – Athletics
Joe Griffiths – Athletics
Harold Mitchelmore – Athletics
Peter Prediger – Baseball
Stanley ‘Hub’ Gutheridge – Basketball
Anton Glasser – Bowling
Gaston Eichel – Boxing
Ernest ‘Ossie’ Herlen – Boxing
Claude Petit – Boxing
Claude Warwick – Boxing
Eldon Elliot – Broadcasting
Alfred Hill – Curling
H.J. “Pete” Wilken – Curling
Captain Stanley Harrison – Equestrian
Sandy Archer – Football
Dr. Bob Arn – Football
Ken Charlton – Football
Paul Dojack – Football
R.C. ‘Scotty’ Livingston – Football
Neil ‘Piffles’ Taylor – Football
Fred Wilson – Football
Leonard Bath – General
Rollin Henry “Roly” Howes – General
Tom ‘Scotty’ Melville – General
Robert ‘Bobby’ Reid – General
John ‘Jack’ Stewart – General
Edgar ‘Wally’ Stinson – General
George Ward – General
Dr. Jack Leddy – Golf
Dr. Robert Reid – Golf
Tom Ross – Golf
Edward Abbott – Hockey
Garth Boesch – Hockey
Johnny Bower – Hockey
Austin Creswell – Hockey
Frank Foster – Hockey
Norman “Heck” Fowler – Hockey
Frank Germann – Hockey
William ‘Bill’ Griston – Hockey
William ‘Bill’ Hunter – Hockey
Dick Irvin Sr. – Hockey
Gordon Juckes – Hockey
Mike Kartusch – Hockey
Victor Lynn – Hockey
Jack Maddia – Hockey
Charles McCool – Hockey
Frederick McCulloch – Hockey
Ernie McNab – Hockey
Don Metz – Hockey
Nick Metz – Hockey
Stan Obodiac – Hockey
William Beatty Ramsay – Hockey
Chuck Rayner – Hockey
Ed Staniowski – Hockey
Harold ‘Harry’ Watson – Hockey
Al Ritchie – Hockey/Football
Tony Cote – Multi Sport
Joseph Austman – Rifle Shooting
James Harry Girgulis – Shooting
Julien Audette – Soaring
David Greyeyes – Soccer
Robert Van Impe – Softball
Dr. Sam Landa – Sport Medicine
William ‘Bill’ Orban – Sport Medicine
Harry Bailey – Swimming
Bill Ebbels – Tennis
J.B. ‘Kirk’ Kirkpatrick – Tennis
Dr. John Leicester – Tennis
David Ironside Pyle – Wrestling

Lest we forget.