First Nation Soccer Star in Hall of Fame 100 Years After Death

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Harry Xulsimalt Mason, Snuneymuxw First Nation, one of the first indigenous soccer stars to break down racial barriers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is being inducted into the National Soccer Hall of fame in Vaughan, Ontario, the Nanaimo Daily News said.

"He represents the building of soccer in Canada," Soccer Hall of Fame board chairman John Knox told the Nanaimo news. "There is no doubt in my mind, from all the information that I have, that he is a very worthy recipient."

On November 8, Mason was inducted, and his grandson, Gary Mason, accepted the award on his behalf. Family members said that they were honored. "For the longest time, I wondered who our heroes were, and why we didn't have them," Dean Manson, one of Xul-si-malt's many grandchildren, told CBC News. "Now, I have a grandfather who's a hero. He's always been there, but it was never spoken of how great he was in soccer."

Mason captained the Nanaimo Wanderers, which became the first aboriginal soccer team to compete in a championship in British Columbia, and in 1903, he was named to the provincial all-star team. Mason’s athleticism thrived in a time when crowds would call him “savage” as he prepared to take the field.

"I try to imagine what it’s like being on a field in Ladysmith with a couple thousand people on the sidelines. They're all white, it’s a very intimidating atmosphere, and they're all hurling abuse at these indigenous players," Robert Janning, a researcher and historian who uncovered Mason’s story, said to CBC News.

With help from the members of the Mason family, Janning, pushed for his induction. He learned about Mason as he was researching the history of soccer’s roots for his book Westcoast Reign: The British Columbia Soccer Championships 1892-1905.

Mason died in 1912 at 30-years-old after a tragic accident. He was heading to town to get medicine for his six-month-old son when he was hit by a train. At the time, the coroner’s report labeled him a “drunken Indian” because it said he looked intoxicated when trying to leap on to the rail car.

But despite his tragic death, and much of his story being lost to history, his Snuneymuxw First Nation community will not forget him.

"Soccer is in our blood," said Gary Manson. "It's what we do."