________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 16. . . .December 18, 2009


Big Train: The Legendary Ironman of Sport, Lionel Conacher. (Recordbooks).

Richard Brignall.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2009.
163 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55277-450-2 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55277-451-9 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Conacher, Lionel, 1902-1954-Juvenile literature.
Athletes-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Myra Junyk.

**˝ /4



Lionel Conacher did not live a fictional life like Merriwell. Lionel faced great hardship while growing up in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto.

But Lionel would go on to become a great athlete, a real-life Frank Merriwell. Lionel played many different sports and was always the star. Each season had its own sport, and Lionel never seemed to take a season off. It was football in the fall, hockey in the winter, and baseball and lacrosse in the summer. Lionel played all these sports as an amateur and a professional.

As a child, Lionel Conacher attended Jesse Ketchum School in Toronto, ON. Here he came under the influence of William Kirk, the school principal. Kirk wanted all his students to participate in sports activities. Lionel soon became a star athlete. In the fall, he played football, and in the spring and summer, he played baseball and lacrosse. However, he desperately wanted to play hockey, but he could not afford the expensive sport!

     At age 16, Lionel finally saved up enough money to buy skates and hockey equipment. He never looked back! He became a member of the Toronto Canoe Club’s all star junior hockey team which won the Canadian national championship. “By 1920, Lionel Conacher was in demand. He had mastered every sport he played. He was the best all-round athlete in Toronto.” His football achievements earned him the nickname of “Big Train” because “he ran through opposition tacklers like a locomotive steaming down the tracks.”

     For many years, his desire to play amateur sports prevented Lionel from cashing in on his fame as a professional athlete. In 1923, he was offered a chance to play amateur hockey in Pittsburgh. The offer included an insurance business for him and free tuition to university. Since he had recently married, Lionel needed the financial support. Unfortunately, the league folded in 1925. Lionel then signed a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, an NHL team. Although his professional sports career ended in 1937, he had achieved amazing results and was elected to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Hockey Hall of Fame, Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. After his retirement from the sports world, he pursued a business career and later became a provincial and federal Parliamentarian.

     Sports writer Richard Brignall has written an interesting account of the life of one of Canada’s legendary sports heroes. In memory of his accomplishments, each year the Lionel Conacher Trophy is awarded to the Canadian male athlete of the year. Young sports enthusiasts will be interested in this biography of sports star Lionel Conacher. The chapters are short and fast-paced with accessible vocabulary and sentence structure. The photographs and text boxes give readers more information about Lionel’s life and sports history in early 20th century in Canada. Readers will be amazed to learn that one man played for so many different sports teams! They will find it strange to hear that he led his football team to a Grey Cup victory, and then a few years later, led his hockey team to a Stanley Cup victory.

     However, readers will miss reading about Lionel Conacher’s personal life. Although Brignall does reveal Conacher’s struggles with alcohol addiction, readers get little sense of how it impacted his family life. There is also little detail provided about his relationships with his other famous hockey playing brothers – Charlie and Roy Conacher. In 1950, Lionel was selected as the most outstanding Canadian athlete of the first half of the 20th century because of his contributions to many different sports. Milt Dunnell, a famous sports writer commented, “Nobody will ever get a chance to do what Conacher did.”


Myra Junyk, a resident of Toronto, ON, is a literacy advocate and author.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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