Memorable Manitobans: John Armstrong “Army” Howard (1888-1936)
Born in the United States on 6 October 1888, son of Robert and Cornelia Howard, he came to Winnipeg with his father in 1907 and worked as a mechanic at the Crescent Creamery. An outstanding athlete, he played baseball for the creamery’s team and competed in local running races. He qualified for the Canadian track and field team at the 1912 Olympic Games in Sweden but, as Canada’s first black Olympian, faced discrimination from coaches and other athletes. Dropped from the team on charges of insubordination, he was reinstated at the last minute. Hindered by lung and other health issues, he was defeated in 100- and 200-metre sprints but, following his return to Canada, won several races at the 1913 Canadian Outdoor Championships. During the First World War, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and went overseas in late 1917 where he was a sapper with a railway construction unit and later as a stretcher-bearer in English army hospitals. He met Edith Elizabeth Lipscomb (?-?) and returned with her to Winnipeg, where they were married on 16 June 1920. They attempted to settle at Ste. Rose du Lac but, facing hostility there, eventually lived near the Crane River Indian Reserve on the northwest shore of Lake Manitoba. They had three daughters but the marriage eventually ended in divorce. He worked as a railway porter and boxing instructor, and ranched in the Riding Mountains, before dying of pneumonia at Winnipeg on 9 January 1937. He was inducted posthumously into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (2004).
1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
“Howard back in the fold,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 June 1912, page 1.
Attestation papers, Canadian Expeditionary Force, Library and Archives Canada.
Marriage and death registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“‘He burned up the track,’ Winnipegger was Canada’s first black Olympian,” Winnipeg Free Press, 24 July 2012, page 2.
“Manitoban was Canada’s first black Olympian,” Winnipeg Free Press, 24 February 2015, page 7.
“John Armstrong Howard, Canada’s first Black Olympian,” The Discover Blog, 8 February 2018.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 19 February 2018