Ef­forts con­tinue to raise pro­file of New Brunswick sprint cham­pion from 1900s

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Keith DOUCETTE

HAL­I­FAX — A New Brunswick sprinter who achieved world-class success in the early 1900s but re­mains lit­tle known in Canada is slowly at­tract­ing recog­ni­tion due to the ef­forts of a dis­tant rel­a­tive.

Born near Fred­er­ic­ton in 1880, Eldridge (Gus) Eat­man lived most of his life in Saint John, N.B., and went on to be­come world pro­fes­sional sprint cham­pion from 1904 to 1907.

“He de­serves recog­ni­tion,” said Mau­rice Eat­man, a third cousin who has worked tire­lessly over the last two decades to re­vive his rel­a­tive’s legacy.

“He was a for­got­ten na­tive son,” Eat­man said.

“He’s the great­est (ath­lete) ever pro­duced out of New Brunswick for his era.”

On Wed­nes­day, Gus Eat­man, who died in 1960, is sched­uled to be in­ducted into the Mar­itime Sport Hall of Fame in Bed­ford, N.S.

Eat­man ran at a time when blacks were not ac­cepted in the ranks of am­a­teur track and field, and few ran pro­fes­sion­ally. He kicked off his stel­lar ca­reer in 1903 when he beat world cham­pion 120-yard sprinter Tom Keen at Moosepath in Saint John.

He went on to clock the fastest Canadian sprint time at the Mar­itime cham­pi­onships in 1905 and also beat Jimmy Humphrey – said to be the first Canadian to run 100 yards in 10 sec­onds flat – in a match race.

Eat­man con­tin­ued his string of suc­cesses in North Amer­i­can and in Europe, win­ning the Pow­der­hall Tro­phy, em­blem­atic of the world cham­pi­onship, in Ed­in­burgh, Scotland in 1906.

Mau­rice Eat­man said he knew lit­tle about his cousin’s prow­ess while grow­ing up.

“I heard about him off and on go­ing through school, but it didn’t re­ally sink in un­til I did a lit­tle bit of re­search,” he said.

“We didn’t know ex­actly how good he was un­til I started look­ing around in the ar­chives.”

As a re­sult, Eat­man mounted cam­paigns that saw Gus in­ducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Aside from the ath­letic ac­com­plish­ments, Eat­man said his fam­ily is just as proud of other facets of Gus’s life, in­clud­ing his ser­vice in the First World War where he fought on the front lines with a Bri­tish reg­i­ment, the Royal Northum­ber­land Fusiliers. He joined in 1915 and sur­vived 785 days in the trenches.

In 1935, he also led a Canadian ef­fort to re­cruit vol­un­teers and raise funds to fight against Ital­ian dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini’s in­va­sion of Ethiopia. Eat­man died in Saint John in 1960 at the age of 80.

Frank Mitchell, pres­i­dent of the Mar­itime Sport Hall of Fame, said it’s part of the hall’s man­date to high­light ath­letes who have died with­out nec­es­sar­ily re­ceiv­ing the plau­dits they de­serve.

Mitchell said Gus Eat­man fits the bill in ev­ery re­spect, al­though in his case he came to the hall’s at­ten­tion through a nor­mal ap­pli­ca­tion sub­mit­ted by Mau­rice Eat­man.

“We are al­ways search­ing for at least one his­toric char­ac­ter who might have been over­looked,” said Mitchell. “He is an in­ter­est­ing guy.”

Mitchell said this year’s his­toric in­ductee is Wil­liam John Paul, a dis­tance run­ner from Prince Ed­ward Is­land who made his mark in road races dur­ing the 1930s.

Other 2019 ath­lete in­ductees in­clude Nova Scotia boxer Lenny Sparks and John Kurty, an Amer­i­can base­ball player who played in the Hal­i­fax and Dis­trict semi-pro league in the 1950s.

They are joined by broad­caster Peter Ma­her of Camp­bell­ton, N.B., and the Hal­i­fax Cap­i­tals base­ball team.

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