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.
Montgomery (Bud) Wilson, figure skater (born 20 August 1909 in Toronto, ON; died 15 November 1964 in Lincoln, Massachusetts). Wilson was the first Canadian to place in the top three in the ISU World Figure Skating Championships when he finished second in 1932. He also won the Olympic bronze medal that year, becoming the first Canadian (and the first North American male) to win an Olympic medal in figure skating.
Milos Raonic, tennis player (born 27 December 1990 in Titograd, Yugoslavia [now Podgorica, Montenegro]). Known for having one of the best serves in the history of tennis, Milos Raonic is the only Canadian male tennis player ever to reach the singles final of a Grand Slam tennis tournament, qualifying for the final of Wimbledon 2016 before losing to Andy Murray of Great Britain. Raonic reached 19 finals on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour between 2011 and 2016, winning eight men’s singles titles. He has more career victories in the history of the ATP tour than all other Canadian men’s singles tennis players combined. He was named ATP World Tour Newcomer of the Year in 2011, and received the Lionel Conacher Award as top Canadian male athlete in 2013 and 2014. In November 2016, he was ranked third in the world, the highest ranking every achieved by a Canadian tennis player, male or female.
Arthur Howey Ross, hockey player, inventor/innovator and NHL team executive (born 13 January 1885 in Naughton [Sudbury], ON; died 5 August 1964 in Medford, Massachusetts). Ross was considered a top defenseman during a playing career that included several years as a professional (with a brief stint in the fledgling National Hockey League). Following his retirement as a player in 1918, Ross worked as an NHL referee and coached the NHL’s Hamilton Tigers in 1922–23. The Boston Bruins hired him when they entered the league in 1924, and Ross served as coach, general manager and vice president (often holding all three titles at once) until 1954. Ross also invented improved versions of the hockey puck and goalie nets that were used for decades in the NHL, and introduced many of the rules that modernized the game.
Aleksandra Wozniak, tennis player (born 7 September 1987 in Montréal, QC). Aleksandra Wozniak is a world-ranked tennis player. In 2008, she captured the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, becoming the first Canadian woman to win a WTA singles world title since Jill Hetherington-Hultquist in 1988, and the first woman from Québec to achieve the honour.
Roseline Filion, diver (born 3 July 1987 in Laval, QC). Three-time Olympian Roseline Filion and partner Meaghan Benfeito won bronze in the 10m synchronized dive at the Olympic Summer Games in 2012 and 2016. A Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games champion, Filion has won medals in both synchro and individual competitions on the FINA Diving Grand Prix circuit and at the FINA Diving World Series, World Cup and World Championships. She has also won multiple Senior National Championships. Filion retired from competition in January 2017.
Hayley Wickenheiser, hockey player, softball player (born 12 August 1978 in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan). A four-time Olympic gold medallist, Wickenheiser is the all-time leader in goals (18), assists (33), and points (51) for women’s ice hockey at the Olympic Winter Games and all-time leader in assists (49) and points (86) at the Women’s World Hockey Championship. She was also the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. Wickenheiser retired from competitive hockey on 13 January 2017, finishing with 379 points (168 goals and 211 assists) in 276 games with Team Canada.
Thomas Laird Paton, athlete, businessman, volunteer (born 30 September 1855 in Montréal, QC; died 10 February 1909 in Montréal). Paton was an accomplished amateur athlete who excelled in lacrosse and hockey. A goaltender with the Montreal Hockey Club, he helped his team to six straight league championships (1888–93). In his final season, the club was awarded the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup — what would later become known as the Stanley Cup.
Stephen "Steve" Gregory Yzerman, hockey player, general manager (born 9 May 1965 in Cranbrook, BC). National Hockey League (NHL) superstar Steve Yzerman, a career Detroit Red Wing known for his exceptional sportsmanship and leadership abilities, is the longest-serving captain in the league's history. Yzerman was captain of the Detroit Red Wings from 1986 to 2006, and led the team to three Stanley Cup victories. In 2002, he won an Olympic gold medal as part of the men’s hockey team. He was also executive director of the men’s hockey teams that won Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. Yzerman became vice president of the Detroit Red Wings following his retirement as a player, and in 2010 became general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Mark Douglas Messier, "Moose," hockey player (born 18 January 1961 in Edmonton, AB). A talented forward who played in the National Hockey League (NHL) for 25 seasons, Messier ranks near the top of many regular-season records: third in points (1887), eighth in goals (694), third in assists (1193) and second in number of games played (1756). Known for his leadership, he captained the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. Messier also won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player with the Oilers in 1990 and with the Rangers in 1992. Messier won six Stanley Cups and received the Conn Smythe Trophy (for most valuable player in the playoffs) in 1984; he is second all-time in playoff goals (109), playoff assists (186) and playoff points (295).
Kay MacBeth (née MacRitchie) was the last player to join the Edmonton Grads, a women’s basketball team James Naismith, inventor of the game, considered “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.” At 95 years old, MacBeth is also the last surviving Grad, a club that played from 1915 to 1940. In those 25 years, the Grads accumulated a record that is quite possibly beyond parallel. Over the course of some 400 official outings, the Grads lost only 20 games. The Grads were both national and world champions who often defeated their opponents by lopsided scores. MacBeth played for the Grads in 1939–40. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Eugenie Bouchard, tennis player (born 25 February 1994 in Montréal, QC). At Wimbledon 2014, Bouchard became the first Canadian singles player to reach the final of a senior Grand Slam singles tennis tournament. Although she lost to Petra Kvitova, the match was watched by over a million Canadians and helped make Bouchard a media sensation. Two years earlier, Bouchard had won the Wimbledon 2012 girls’ tournament, becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title at any level. A two-time winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award (2013 and 2014), she was the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Newcomer of the Year in 2013 and won a WTA title in Nuremberg, Germany, in 2014.
For hundreds of years, very few sports were considered appropriate for women, whether for reasons of supposed physical frailty, or the alleged moral dangers of vigorous exercise. Increasingly, women have claimed their right to participate not only in what were deemed graceful and feminine sports, but also in the sweaty, rough-and-tumble games their brothers played.
Cassie Dawn Campbell-Pascall (née Campbell), CM, hockey player (born 22 November 1973 in Richmond Hill, ON). Three-time Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall won gold medals in women’s hockey at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City and the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin. She is the only hockey player (man or woman) to captain Canada to two Olympic gold medals. She also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano. Campbell-Pascall won gold with Canada at six Women’s World Hockey Championships (1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004) and silver at the 2005 championships. In 157 games for Team Canada, Campbell had 32 goals and 68 assists for 100 points.
Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin, Jr., baseball player (born 15 February 1983 in East York [Toronto], ON). Russell Martin made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut as a catcher in 2006. He played five seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, two with the New York Yankees and two with the Pittsburgh Pirates before signing a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays on 18 November 2014. Known for his intensity, athleticism and intelligence, Martin is regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the majors. A four-time All-Star, he won the Rawlings Gold Glove Award and the Silver Slugger Award in 2007 — only the third catcher in history to receive both awards.