Joe Keeper - Manitoba's Greatest Runner ?

© 2008, Christian Cassidy

UPDATE: Check out my more detailed Winnipeg Free Press column about Joe Keeper !

Joe Keeper, ca. 1912 and 1959

Joseph Benjamin "Joe" Keeper, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation, was born at Walker Lake, Manitoba in 1886. At the age of 12 he was sent to the Indian Industrial School in Brandon, Manitoba.

He trained to be a carpenter and was a member of the school's soccer team. His coach, Reverend Joseph Jones, noticed that the young man had a great stamina for running and offered to be his coach.

The following year, 1910, he was off to Winnipeg to work and join the North End Amateur Athletic Club to further his training.

in 1911, Keeper set the Canadian ten-mile outdoor record with a time of 54:50 and was selected to be part of the 1912 Canadian Olympic team in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres.

His best finish was fourth in the 10,000 metres. No Canadian runner has equaled that place since.

On a related note, the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm were the games that Native American Jim Thorpe won the decathlon and pentathlon. Another Native American, Louis Tewanima of the Carlisle Indian School won silver in the 10,000 metres in a record time for his country, a time that would take 50 years to beat.

The 1916 Olympic Games were canceled due to the war. Keeper enlisted in 1916 and served as a runner on the battlefields of France. He earned the Military Medal for bravery in 1918.

Keeper also got to run at some military sports days. On July 1, 1918, for instance, he won the mile and three-mile event at the 1918 Dominion Day Canadian Corps Sports Day. (Above image.)

Soon after the war, Keeper returned to his home community of Norway House, raised a family and worked at the Hudson's Bay post for 30 years. He died at Deer Lodge hospital on September 21, 1971 and is burned in the military section of Brookside Cemetery, Winnipeg.

Since his death, he has been inducted in to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Manitoba Runner's Hall of Fame. Each spring, the Manitoba Runner's Association hosts the Joe Keeper Memorial Run.

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