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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

LIONEL CONACHER

Inducted in 1955

Member Details

Date of Birth: May 24, 1900
Place of Birth: Toronto, Ontario
Date of Passing: May 26, 1954
Sport: Multisport
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1920
National light-heavyweight boxing champion
1921

Grey Cup - Toronto Argonauts

1933-34

Stanley Cup - Chicago Blackhawks

1934-35

Stanley Cup - Montreal Maroons

1937
Voted into Ontario legislature
1949
Voted into House of Commons
1950

Named Canada's athlete of the half-century

1963
Inducted into Canadian Football Hall of Fame
1965
Inducted into Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame
1994
Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame
Honoured Member LIONEL CONACHER
Inspire

Story

From the beginning of his life to its end, Lionel "Big Train" Conacher went full steam ahead in just about everything he did. His was an amazing twenty-five year career of athletic success in football, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, boxing, and baseball. Conacher was one of ten children in a family growing up in Toronto. His father's teamster salary was stretched thin and the boys in the family had to go to work after Grade 8 to help support the household. That didn't bode for much of a future for Conacher. He determined early on to "make good" in sports as a means of making good in life. And make good he did. At age 12, he was playing middle wing with the Toronto Capitals rugby team. As a teenager, he played on 14 different teams and won eleven championships. At 16, he won the Ontario Amateur Lightweight wrestling title and at 20 he was the Canadian Light Heavyweight boxing champion. Virtually every football team he played for became champion, and in 1921 he joined the Toronto Argonauts. On the football field, he displayed the world-class speed and devastating power that earned him his moniker "Big Train." In the first east-west Grey Cup championship, he scored 17 points in the Argonauts' 23-0 victory over Edmonton. Football was Conacher's best sport, so fans and players alike were shocked when he switched the focus of his career to hockey. But, in those days, hockey was the better paying sport, so Conacher went for pucks instead of pigskin. His National Hockey League career began in 1925. Conacher had first put on skates at age 16, when most Canadian boys had already been skating for ten years or more. But as with everything else, he had a winning combination of natural gift and pride which propelled him to play 12 great years in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, Montreal Maroons, and Chicago Black Hawks. He was an NHL all-star three times and captained Stanley Cup winning teams in 1933-34 with the Black Hawks and in 1934-35 with the Maroons. Conacher was equally brilliant on the baseball diamond.  He played organized baseball for the first time in 1917 and continued until 1926 when he played for the Toronto Maple Leaf AAA team that won its league championship.  In fact, the team went on to win the Little World Series that year. In lacrosse, he was considered one of the greatest amateur players of all time, often dominating games by charging the field and overpowering the opposition. Part of the Conacher lacrosse legend is his participation in two championship games on the same day for two different sports. In June of 1921, while playing baseball for the Toronto Hillcrests, he hit a game-winning double in the last inning of the game with the bases loaded and Hillcrests trailing by a run. He then hopped into a taxi and raced to Scarborough Beach, arriving in time to join his lacrosse team, the Maitlands. Down 2-1 when he got into the game, the Maitlands rallied to win, 3-2. Conacher himself scored the tying and winning goals in the fourth quarter. In 1937, he retired from sport and entered politics.   He served in Ontario's Legislative Assembly for 12 years and in the House of Commons from 1949 until 1954. His sister, Nora, ran his constituency office, which was located right around the corner from where he grew up. He was as revered and loved a political figure as he was a sports hero. In 1954, at the age of 54, while playing the annual softball game pitting MPs against the Press Gallery in Ottawa, Conacher stretched a single into a triple and upon arriving at third base collapsed and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Lionel Conacher was named Canada's outstanding athlete of the half-century and football player of the half-century (1900-1950).  He is enshrined in three halls of fame: Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and Hockey Hall of Fame. Conacher's legacy isn't upheld by just his brilliant playing. It endures also in his unquenchable drive to be the best, to never accept anything less than the highest level of success, and to accomplish this through hard work, determination, and sportsmanship.


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