TVO email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-11-18 published
Black pride of Canadian track and field
First Canadian-born black athlete to win an Olympic medal was member of relay team at 1932 Los Angeles Games but could find work only as a railway porter
By James CHRISTIE, Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - Page R9
Ray LEWIS's event in Olympic track and field was officially the 400-metre sprint, a flat race. His enduring place in Canadian sport history, however, was earned for hurdling a barrier.
Mr. LEWIS, who died in his native Hamilton at age 94 on the weekend, was the first Canadian born black athlete to stand upon the Olympic medals podium. He won a bronze medal as a member of the Canadian 4 x 400-metre relay at the Los Angeles Games in 1932.
At a time where racial discrimination was the way of the world, Mr. LEWIS didn't get to live a hero's life. Viewed today as a pathfinder for talented black athletes, in the 1930s Mr. LEWIS had to all but quit his athletics training because of the demands of his job as a railway porter with the Canadian Pacific Railways. He spent 22 years on the trains making 250 trips from Toronto to Vancouver. To try and stay fit, Mr. LEWIS would train by running alongside the rails when the train stopped on the prairies.
"He deserved so much more than he ever received," said Donovan BAILEY, who won two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 100 metres and 4 x 100-metre relay. "I benefited from his going before.
"I had the honour and good fortune of having lunch with Ray LEWIS and talking with him. I couldn't imagine what it was like in his day. It was so different. Ultimately, he's one who inspired me."
Raymond Gray LEWIS was a Hamiltonian, cradle to grave. James WORRALL, honorary member of the International Olympic Committee and Canada's Olympic flag bearer in 1936, recalled the family roots in the area went back to the 1840s when his great grandparents escaped slavery in the United States and settled near Otterville, Ontario
The youngest child of Cornelius LEWIS and Emma GREEN, Ray LEWIS was born October 8, 1910, at 30 Clyde St. He began running races for fun at age 9 when he entered as contest at a local picnic. He began formal training in track and field at Central Collegiate where the autocratic John Richard (Cap) CORNELIUS was his coach. In 1929, he established a Canadian high-school track-and-field record of four championships in one day, taking the dashes at 100, 200, and 440 yards as they were measured then, and anchoring the one-mile relay. In 1928 and 1929, Mr. LEWIS was part of the Central relay team that won the United States national schoolboy title.
He briefly attended Marquette University in Milwaukee but returned to Canada during the Depression and joined the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Besides his Olympic medal performance with teammates Phil EDWARDS, Alex WILSON and Jimmy BALL, Mr. LEWIS was also a Canadian champion several times and competed in the inaugural British Empire Games in 1930 in Hamilton and the 1934 Empire Games in London. where he won a silver medal in the mile relay. Mr. EDWARDS was actually the first black athlete to win an Olympic medal for Canada in 1932, getting the 800-metre honour about a half-hour before the relay with Mr. LEWIS. Mr. EDWARDS, however, was native of British Guyana, while Ray LEWIS was a local.
Mr. LEWIS, who in 2001 was awarded the Order of Canada, had a life-long attachment to the Empire Games, later renamed the Commonwealth Games. He was an adviser to the bidders who recently sought the 2010 Games for Hamilton and vowed that if the Games were coming back, he'd be there to greet them at the official opening at age 100. The Hamilton bid lost out last week to one from New Delhi, India. He lit the torch during the opening ceremonies at the International Children's Games in Hamilton July 1, 2000.
Mr. LEWIS wrote an autobiography entitled Shadow Running in which he detailed his life "as porter and Olympian." He was featured in a 2002 TVOntario documentary series on racism, Journey to Justice. "It [racism] felt worse here, because it wasn't supposed to happen here," he recalled in the video.
Whereas white athletes had an opportunity for coaching jobs after their careers, Mr. LEWIS did not. His position as a porter was one of the few jobs open to men of his race.
"The first time I met him, the Canadian team was on its way to Fort William, Ontario, for the Canadian championships in 1933. They travelled by Pullman and Ray was the porter. He couldn't get the time off to compete. But he did make the 1934 Empire Games team and was presented to the Prince of Wales, something that was a point of honour for him. He felt it was something to rub into all those people who had kept him off teams and out of places because he was black," Mr. WORRALL said.
Mr. LEWIS married Vivienne JONES in 1941, and they adopted two children, sons Larry and Tony.
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