He was the greatest distance runner Prince Edward Island ever had and one of the finest in Canada.
Michael “Mick” Thomas of Lennox Island was born in 1885, and was already in his mid- twenties before Father John A. MacDonald encouraged him to take up running competitively. This slightly built Mi’Kmaq Indian would eventually be compared to the legendary Hall of Famer from Ontario, Tom Longboat.
The winner of the Charlottetown Patriot 10 mile race in 1909, 1910 and 1911, Michael Thomas was Prince Edward Island’s first outstanding distance and Marathon runner. It was an age when crowds gathered by the thousands on summer evenings, lining Grafton, Prince, and Kent among other Charlottetown streets, to cheer on the oldest athletic contest of all – the long distance race. Toby MacMillan [inducted 1981] would fire the starting pistol, the regimental band would play, the ladies would wave their handkerchiefs and the young boys would throw their caps into the air at the excitement. The competition was strong – the best of the Island and the Maritimes – but it would be Michael Thomas who won the day.
In Halifax, it was the Halifax Herald-Mail 10 Mile Road Race, which was generally considered the most prestigious contest in Eastern Canada. For three consecutive years – 1910, 1911 and 1912 – “The Great” Michael Thomas, as the Halifax newspapers called him, would be champion over large entries of the top North American distance runners. The crowds for these races were estimated at 25 000 people. The reception which greeted Michael Thomas after his 1910 Halifax Herald-Mail Trophy victory was at the time the most rousing in Charlottetown’s history, taking him from the city wharf to the Arena Rink, covered for the occasion in the colors of the Abegweit Track Team of which he was a member.
Michael Thomas was the first Islander to take part in the great event of the long distance runner, the 1911 Boston Marathon, which covered a distance of a little over 26 miles. He would finish 26th in this race, with an excellent time, better than that of the winner from two years previous. This feat was especially amazing because Thomas ran without benefit of liquid refreshments for most of the race, unlike the other competitors. This was the result of an accident involving his accompanying cyclist.
Micheal Thomas was forced to quit running after becoming afflicted with arthritis. He moved to Charlottetown with his family in 1928, and passed away in 1954. He was the first of the great Mi’Kmaq runners – later runners would include Barney Francis [inducted 1982] and John Paul [inducted 2008]. His induction brings a special dimension to the Prince Edward Island Sports Hall of Fame, a testimony to the legacy of our native people, for whom running with the wind was a way of life.
Updated: July 2009