As St. Valentine’s Day approaches, Deseronto Archives investigates a love story that began on the Mohawk Reserve (now known as the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory) one hundred years ago.

Tom LongboatOne of the most famous Canadian athletes of 1908 was Tom Longboat, a marathon runner with a string of successful races to his name. He was born in 1887 to Onondaga parents in the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian Reserve.

His first major race victory was at the 1906 Around the Bay Race in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1907 he won the Boston Marathon and the following year he went to London, England, to run in the Olympic Games. Unfortunately he did not manage to complete that marathon, as he collapsed after running 19 miles (30 kilometres) in hot and humid conditions.

Longboat turned professional in November 1908 and it seems to be at about this time that he met Lauretta Maracle, who was described by the New York Times as “an Indian school teacher” at the reserve near Deseronto. The Albuquerque Citizen has an intriguing report about the couple’s courtship (which manages to get Lauretta’s name completely wrong). They planned to marry at Massey Hall in Toronto, after a benefit performance on 28 December 2008. Lauretta was an Anglican and the New York Times noted on 20 December that Tom was to be received into the Anglican Church the next day.

A last-minute snag was reported in the same paper on December 27, under the headline ‘Ban on Longboat Wedding’. The Archbishop of Toronto, Arthur Sweatman, had written to Rev. Alfred H. Creeggan of Deseronto, who was due to conduct the ceremony and told him not to, as he believed that Tom’s conversion was too sudden and therefore unlikely to be sincere. Other Anglican ministers were also prohibited from presiding over the wedding, but the marriage did go ahead, although it is not clear who officiated.

The union between Tom and Lauretta was ill-starred, however, as Tom was reported missing, presumed dead, during the First World War and Lauretta married another man. On Tom’s return she decided to stay with her new husband. Shortly afterwards, Tom also married again, to Martha Silversmith, who was from his own Six Nations reserve.

There are no images of Lauretta available, but this photograph from Library and Archives Canada (C-014095), via the Wikimedia Commons site shows Tom in his prime (although his pose looks far from natural).