Jack Johnson in Vancouver

Posted by Daniel on Mar 13, 2009

Vancouver historian Chuck Davis writes about an episode in the city's boxing history:

March 10 marked the centenary of one of the more notable sports events in Vancouver’s history. The new world heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, visited the city March 10, 1909 for an exhibition bout at the Vancouver Athletic Club against an opponent named Victor McLaglen. This was Johnson’s first fight after winning the title. The Province of the day described Johnson’s opponent as “Vic McLaglan of Tacoma.” The World identified him as “Arthur McLaglen, a local heavyweight.” The Ring Record has it right: Victor McLaglen. He obviously wasn’t well-known at the time!

Jack Johnson certainly was. Johnson, 30, the first black man to win the heavyweight title, got a lot of attention while he was here. He’d defeated Tommy Burns, the Canadian-born title-holder, in Australia the previous December and had returned to North America in triumph. “Great Reception for the Big Black,” read The Province’s headline. (I’ve become inured to the shock of reading how minorities were described in newspapers of the day. This was a mild example.) “Anyone,” the paper continued, “who thinks this same Jack Johnson is an ignorant and unsophisticated negro should have seen the Chesterfieldian grace with which he bade farewell to those ladies in silks and satins on the Makura yesterday.

“Johnson has a pleasing voice, his soft, southern accent sounding almost strange coming from such a huge frame. In fact, from the delicate way in which he expressed himself one could almost close their eyes and imagine it was some ballroom dandy at an afternoon tea.” The champion was accompanied by Mrs. Johnson, “who,” The World enthused, “owing to the fact that she is a white woman, occasioned almost as much attention as her big, colored husband.”

Johnson toyed with McLaglen during the six rounds, and impressed the Vancouver Athletic Club audience of 1,000 with his speed . . . and his “classical English” in a short speech of appreciation to the throng after the fight.

Victor McLaglen, 26 at the time, later became a well-known movie actor. He won an Oscar for The Informer and was a terrific and funny foe of John Wayne in The Quiet Man.

Labels: SPORTS