How Kenneth Moore became the 1st Indigenous person in Canada to win Olympic gold

Kenneth Moore, in his 1932 Winter Olympics portrait. (Submitted by Jennifer Moore Rattray - image credit)
Kenneth Moore, in his 1932 Winter Olympics portrait. (Submitted by Jennifer Moore Rattray - image credit)

June is National Indigenous History Month. To celebrate our accomplishments, CBC Indigenous is highlighting First Nations, Inuit and Métis trailblazers in law, medicine, science, sports — and beyond.

If you won one of the highest honours in athletics, you'd likely display it for the world to see but that's just not who Kenneth (Ken) Strath Moore was, according to his granddaughter.

"When my grandfather passed, I was 15 years old … I remember going through some cupboards and some drawers and pulling out a hockey sweater," said Jennifer Moore Rattray.

That's when she found her grandfather's Olympic gold medal.

Moore was the first Indigenous person to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics, and the first Indigenous person in Canada to win an Olympic gold medal, in the 1932 Games at Lake Placid, N.Y.

The first Indigenous person to win a gold medal at the Olympics was Jim Thorpe, from the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma, in Stockholm in 1912. The first Indigenous person to represent Canada at the Olympics, in St. Louis, Mo., in 1904, was Peter Deer from Kahnawà:ke.

Jennifer Rattray holds her grandfather, Kenneth Moore's, Olympic gold medal and portrait.
Jennifer Rattray holds her grandfather, Kenneth Moore's, Olympic gold medal and portrait.

Jennifer Moore Rattray holds her grandfather's Olympic gold medal and portrait. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Moore Rattray said it wasn't a secret that her grandfather was an incredible hockey player and had gone to the Olympics, but he was humble and it wasn't spoken about much when she was growing up.

"It's the kind of person he was that he wouldn't have talked about this a lot," said Moore Rattray, who is a current member of the CBC's board of directors.

Moore was born in 1910 on the Peepeekisis Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and was the third of eight siblings.

His two older brothers were sent to residential school — one died in the care of Brandon Residential School and the other became sick at the residential school and died in a sanatorium.

Kenneth Moore's gold medal in men's hockey from the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Kenneth Moore's gold medal in men's hockey from the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

Kenneth Moore's gold medal in men's hockey from the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

"Our family decided to leave the First Nation in order to be able to basically save my grandfather," said Moore Rattray.

The family moved to Regina to avoid their other children being sent to residential school, and that's where Moore's sports career started.

Moore excelled in baseball, lacrosse, rugby, basketball, and speedskating, but was most passionate about hockey, according to his family.

He played for the Regina Junior Hockey Association as a right-wing and was awarded a medal for sportsmanship. He earned a scholarship to Regina College (now the University of Regina) and played for the varsity team. He then joined the Regina Pats and scored the goal that won the team the 1930 Memorial Cup.

Moore is pictured during his time with the Native Sons of Canada rugby team in 1930.
Moore is pictured during his time with the Native Sons of Canada rugby team in 1930.

Moore is pictured during his time with the Native Sons of Canada rugby team in 1930. (Submitted by Jennifer Moore Rattray)

Moore was playing with the Winnipeg Hockey Club in 1931 when they won the national championship and took home the Allan Cup. The win gave them the opportunity to represent Canada at the 1932 Winter Olympics.

Moore scored a goal in the gold medal game against Poland, won by Canada in a 10-0 shutout.

Moore continued playing hockey after the Olympics for the Kimberley Dynamiters in B.C., where he won a second Allan Cup. But eventually he had to give up hockey due to a badly broken arm, his family said.

After he retired as a player, he coached teams in Manitoba and became a fire alarm operator in Winnipeg.

"He was an incredible athlete, an incredible person and I'm just so, so very proud of him," said Moore Rattray.

Moore was inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this year and his Regina, Winnipeg and Kimberley teams are in the Saskatchewan, Manitoba and B.C. sports halls of fame, respectively.

Moore Rattray has nominated her grandfather several times for Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, unsuccessfully.

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Cross-country ski athlete Jesse Cockney, who is Inuvialuit, competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and again in 2018 at PyeongChang, South Korea.

He said he has always looked up to Thorpe as an athlete and that he was "a guy you wanted to cheer for."

Jesse Cockney, born in the Northwest Territories, is one of four Northerners named to Canada's 2018 Olympic cross-country ski team.
Jesse Cockney, born in the Northwest Territories, is one of four Northerners named to Canada's 2018 Olympic cross-country ski team.

Jesse Cockney, Inuvialuit Olympic cross-country ski athlete. (Aryn Toombs)

He added there is a lot of untapped potential among Indigenous athletes in Canada.

"These athletes, pointed in the right direction, would be some of our national stars if they had an opportunity," said Cockney, who was born in Yellowknife but raised in Canmore, Alta.

Cockney said he often sees organizations introduce Indigenous kids to sports but there is a gap when it comes to supporting them into high level athletics.

"[What] I would really want to see is some stronger avenues for Indigenous youth, to see themselves making it to the NHL, making it to the NBA, making it to the Olympics," said Cockney.