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John 'Army' Howard, Canada's first black Olympian : a nation building paradox / Ornella Nzindukiyimana

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Nzindukiyimana, Ornella

The early 1910s marked a turning point in Canadian immigration policy history. With the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1911, the Canadian state effectively declared black people, Asians, and most other people of colour to be unfit and unsuitable immigrants. Nation-building efforts encouraged a white Canada; as such, the Canadian Amateur Athletic administration approached the 1912 Games as an opportunity to attract 'suitable' white European immigrants. Amidst sustained anti-black immigrant discourse in policies and the press, Canada's 1912 Olympic team included, for the first time, a black athlete: John Armstrong 'Army' Howard, an emerging sprinting talent from Winnipeg (Manitoba) who had done well in national meets. Howard's racial identity was not only the antithesis of a white Canada, he was also a recent American immigrant. Yet, his potential made him one of most prominent medal hopefuls for a nation looking to secure its position on the world stage. In this way, Howard's tenure on the national team underscores the fragile and conditional space which ideas of race and nation have largely occupied in Canada, and the role of sport and the Olympics in shaping them.

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