Lionel Pretoria Conacher, (May 24, 1900 –May 26, 1954), nicknamed “The Big Train”, was a Canadian athlete and politician. Voted the country’s top athlete of the first half of the 20th century, he remains a Canadian icon half a century after his passing.
Conacher has been described by some as the Jim Thorpe of Canada. He won championships in numerous sports. His first passion was football; he was a member of the 1921 Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts. He was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team that won the International League championship in 1926.
In hockey, he won a Memorial Cup in 1920, and the Stanley Cup twice: with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1934 and the Montreal Maroons in 1935.
In addition, he won wrestling, boxing and lacrosse championships during his playing career.
Conacher retired as an athlete in 1937 to enter politics. He won election to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1937, and in 1949 won a seat in the House of Commons. Many of his political positions revolved around sports. He worked to eliminate corruption in boxing while serving as an MPP in Ontario, also serving as the chairman of the Ontario Athletic Commission. Additionally, he served a term as director of recreation and entertainment for the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was also on the sporting pitch that Conacher died: He suffered a heart attack during a softball game in 1954.
This week’s guest Rick Brignall has written of Lionel Conacher. He shares with us the story of his book – (Big Train: The Legendary Ironman of Sport, Lionel Conacher (Lorimer; 2009), and the story of Lionel Conacher