Xul-si-malt was a true pioneer, becoming one of the greatest soccer players of his generation. Xul-si-malt, also known by his English name Harry Manson, was born in 1879 on the Snuneymuxw First Nation. His brief but enduring legacy was that he played on all the premiere Nanaimo soccer teams and captained the Snuneymuxw Indian Wanderers. Local press during his soccer years acknowledges Manson as “one of the best players Nanaimo has produced.”
Robert Janning, author of the 2012 West Coast Reign, a book recalling British Columbia’s soccer past from 1892-1905, became aware of Manson and his place in history while writing his book. “When I consider the bigger pictures of Xul-si-malt, I see a First Nation man breaking segregating barriers at a time when structures such as the Indian Reserves and Residential Schools were being constructed,” Janning said. “Harry Manson just wanted to pursue his passion for soccer, and it did not matter to him whether he was playing with or against players from different backgrounds. It is therefore an undisputed fact that Harry broke the colour barriers in sport long before Jessie Owens and Jackie Robinson had been born.”
Xul-si-malt made his competitive debut on September 2, 1897 at the age of 18 captaining Snuneymuxw Indian Warriors against the Nanaimo Thistles. That game as described in Westcoast Reign was marred by heavy gale and torrents of rain, and ended in a 4-4 draw. The two teams also played each other in two closely contested games during the 1897-98 season, with Xul-si-malt making a huge impression in those matches. The Nanaimo Thistles would compete in the 1898 BC Challenge Cup and BC provincial championships but were compelled by player illness to make line-up changes. They hastily recruited Xul-si-malt, making him the first indigenous player to compete in the BC provincial championship. Xul-si-malt wasted no time by scoring the first goal five minutes into the game against Victoria YMCA.
Victoria went on to win both games and the provincial championships, but this series also marked the first time a First Nations player played on a Nanaimo soccer team. According to West Coast Reign this was during the time when mistreatment and public disrespect towards First Nations people was socially acceptable and common. An article in the Nanaimo Free Press, for example, reported that a Ladysmith fan cried “Kill the savages!” during a match between the two towns in 1907, at which Nanaimo fielded a team comprising both Europeans and Snuneymuxw players. The article went on to praise the hometown indigenous players, stating that “the savages are all masters in football art.” Janning noted that despite such open and prevalent racism, the Snuneymuxw players persisted in the pursuit of soccer glory.
In 1899, the Snuneymuxw players finally convinced the soccer hierarchy they were good enough to play against the best players in British Columbia when the Nanaimo Indian Wanderers AFC were officially recognized. That same year, Snuneymuxw played the Nanaimo Thistles in the provincial semifinals on December 16, 1899 in one of the most bitterly contested series the province had ever seen. In the first game, the Indian Wanderers tied the Thistles in a come-from-behind 3-3 draw at a cold rainy Nanaimo Cricket Grounds. In game 2, on New Years Day 1900, the Thistles took a controversial 3-2 win over the Indian Wanderers, where the Wanderers argued the validity of the winning goal. Even the 500 plus spectators believed the Indian Wanderers were justified in making their claim against the goal ruling, but in the end their protests were denied. In game 3, the Indian Wanderers took a 2-1 victory forcing another match. In game 4, the Indian Wanderers appeared headed for the series victory when the Thistles scored the equalizer, ending the game in a 1-1 draw. Finally on February 3, 1900, the Thistles would go on to win 6-1 and the provincial semifinals, claiming one of the longest and most controversial series seen to that date. In 1902, the Indian Wanderers would lose the Nanaimo City Championships 4-3 to the Nanaimo Athletics.
Nanaimo All-Stars was formed in 1903 to play in the provincials with team members chosen from the four local teams. Xul-si-malt was one of three indigenous players chosen from Snuneymuxw Indian reserve. The All-Stars easily shut out the Cowichan AFC in 2 straight games, with 8-0 goals against to advance into the provincial finals. The All-Stars would defeat the Esquimalt Garrison FC 4-0 to claim the provincials with Xul-si-malt, Louis Martin, and Joe Peters becoming the first indigenous players to become BC provincial champions.
In 1904, the Indian Wanderers proved their superiority defeating the Nanaimo Athletics, 4-0 proving their earlier season 4-3 win against the Athletics was no fluke. The Athletics’ loss was reflected with a mere 4-line sports review in the Nanaimo Free Press, and if that wasn’t bad enough, Xul-si-malt and his teammates had to wait 6 months later two receive their City Championship medals.
Xul-si-malt would go onto win many more soccer games with the Indian Wanderers and become one of the greatest soccer players of his time, even being scouted by European Teams. He developed into a fine baseball player as well, playing with the Nanaimo Reliance Baseball Club in 1906. He married Lucy Sampson, who gave him his only son, Adam. On February 10, 1912 at the age of 32, tragedy struck as he was killed by a train after walking into town getting medicine for his sick baby boy. The respect that was held for Xul-si-malt in the community was evident, as his death was given front page coverage in both the Nanaimo Daily Herald and Nanaimo Free Press.
“I believe the values of diversity and inclusivity that Xul-si-malt Harry Manson embraced set a wonderful example for today’s youth of the success that can be achieved,” Janning said. Adam Manson, Xul-si-malt’s great grandson says the Manson family was overwhelmed when they heard of the induction. “The emotions were high, and he deserves this great honour, and the family is proud of what Harry is bringing to the Manson name.” Adam Manson is an educational assistant at Stzuminus Community School and has kept the soccer legacy alive in the Manson family, as he is part of the soccer coaching school staff.
The 2014 Soccer Hall of Fame inducted Xul-si-malt in a ceremony held on November 9 in Vaughan, Ontario. The Friends of Harry Manson are looking for U-17 teams to compete in the Harry Manson Legacy soccer tournament on June 20, 2015.