Born on the Red Pheasant Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1887, Alexander DeCoteau stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of indigenous Canadians.
A member of the Cree nation, DeCoteau’s life journey took him from the humble beginnings on a reserve to the global stage of the Olympics. As an accomplished athlete, a dedicated police officer in Edmonton with the Edmonton Police department, and a brave soldier who served in WWI, DeCoteau’s multifaceted legacy is a compelling tale of resilience, talent, and dedication.
His story not only highlights his personal achievements but also offers a glimpse into the challenges and triumphs of indigenous individuals in the early 20th century.
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Other Indigenous Heroes
- Alex Decoteau Origins
- Family Tragedy
- Alex DeCoteau: From Blacksmith to Record-Breaking Runner and Canada’s First Indigenous Police Officer
- From Stockholm to Edmonton: Alex DeCoteau’s Olympic Journey and Triumphant Return
- Athlete, Soldier, and Hero of the First World War
- Alex Decoteau FAQ
Alex Decoteau Origins
Although Alex Decoteau’s beginnings in life were defined by extreme challenges and difficult circumstances, his extraordinary life of achievement is an inspiration over 100 years after his passing.
Born on November 19, 1887, on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Alex was the second youngest of six children born to his parents, Peter and Marie Decoteau. In defence of their Indigenous heritage, Alex’s father, Peter, fought alongside Plains Cree Chief Pihtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) at the Battle of Cut Knife in 1885 as part of the North-West Resistance. Alex’s family had a distinguished history of fighting injustices against Indigenous Peoples and fighting for things they believed in.
The Calgary Herald Road Race Cup, won by Alex Decoteau in record time in 1910. He continued to win this race every time he entered it, and the trophy was given to his mother in recognition of his selfless community and military service following his death in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.
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When Alex was just three years old, tragedy struck his family with the murder of his father (Peter Decoteau). Alex and his siblings were forced to attend the Battleford Residential School. Soon, Alex distinguished himself as a bright and dedicated student and started to show signs of his exceptional athletic ability. He excelled at endurance sports like boxing, cricket, and soccer. He also developed a love for the sport of running and excelled in competitions.
Alex DeCoteau: From Blacksmith to Record-Breaking Runner and Canada’s First Indigenous Police Officer
In 1908, Alex moved to Edmonton, where a job awaited him in a blacksmith shop owned by his brother-in-law. Despite long hours at work Alex continued to run, making a name for himself by winning races across Alberta and smashing records along the way. In 1911, Alex broke another barrier by joining the City of Edmonton’s police force, becoming Canada’s first Indigenous police officer. He excelled at his job as a motorcycle police officer while at the same time representing the Edmonton Police Force (EPS) at various competitions and setting new records. In 1910, Alex entered the Alberta Provincial Championships where he competed in four races on the same day, the half-mile, one-mile, two-mile, and five-mile, and finished first in each of the races. After winning the Calgary Herald’s annual race for three years, he was presented with the winner’s cup and told to keep it permanently.
From Stockholm to Edmonton: Alex DeCoteau’s Olympic Journey and Triumphant Return
Alex tried out for the Canadian Olympic Team and became the only Albertan to represent Canada at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
He placed second for Canada’s Olympic Team in the qualifying heat in the 5000m race and placed sixth in the final. Despite not winning one of the coveted Olympic medals, Alex received an Olympic diploma and a performance medal for his efforts. When Alex returned to Edmonton, he received a hero’s welcome with a parade down Jasper Avenue. After the Olympic Games, Alex returned to policing and was promoted to police sergeant and given his own police station. He continued to run, winning almost every race he entered.
Athlete, Soldier, and Hero of the First World War
Influenced by his father’s involvement in the North-West Resistance, Alex Decoteau took a leave from the Edmonton Police Service in 1916 and enlisted with the 202nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Forces.
He later transferred to the 49th Battalion.
Alex would use his athletic abilities in aid of King and country, serving as a dispatch runner in the trenches during WW1. While stationed in England, he continued to compete when possible. At an event in Aldershot, King George V awarded his gold pocket watch to Alex for winning a five-mile race.
On May 27, 1917, Alex was sent to France with other members of the 49th Battalion. Once deployed to the trenches Alex put his athletic skills to use performing the dangerous task of communications trench runner.
Sadly, almost five months to the day of his deployment, Alex’s career and future were cut short by a sniper’s bullet in the early morning hours on the fields of Passchendaele. He was just 29 years of age. Though his life may have been all too brief, Alex Decoteau, a proud Cree warrior, made an incredible and lasting impression, leaving behind the gifts of his achievements, his many acts of service, and in the end, making the ultimate sacrifice.
Alex Decoteau FAQ
What Park is Named After Alex?
The park named after Alex Decoteau is “Alex Decoteau Park,” located at 105th Street and 102nd Avenue in downtown Edmonton. This park was built in honor of Alex Decoteau’s remarkable contributions as an Olympic athlete, a war hero, and Canada’s first Indigenous police officer.
What Sports Hall Of Fame is Alex Decoteau In?
Alex Decoteau has been inducted into the following sports hall of fames the Saskatchewan sports hall of fame and the Canadian Sports Hall.
These recognitions celebrate his exceptional achievements in athletics and his significant contributions to Canadian sports history.
Who Was Alex Decoteau?
Alexander Wuttunee Decoteau, a Cree Canadian, was a remarkable figure in Canadian history, known for his achievements in athletics, policing, and military service. Born on the Red Pheasant Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan, Decoteau showcased his athletic prowess early on, particularly in running. In 1909, he made a significant mark by placing second in the one-mile race at Fort Saskatchewan. His athletic feats continued as he competed in various events, notably at the Edmonton Exhibition. By 1912, Decoteau’s running ability earned him a spot on Canada’s Olympic team, and he represented the nation in the 5,000 meters event at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm.
In addition to his athletic career, Decoteau was a trailblazer in law enforcement. In 1911, he joined the Edmonton Police, becoming Canada’s first Indigenous police officer. His dedication to service was evident as he rose through the ranks, and the Edmonton Police Museum and Archives now house many of his personal and military trophies and awards.
Decoteau’s sense of duty extended beyond the police force. Influenced by his father’s involvement with the North-West Rebellion, Decoteau enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in April 1916. Initially serving with the 202nd Infantry Battalion, he later transferred to the 49th Battalion. His athletic skills were put to use during World War I, especially as a communications trench runner. Tragically, Decoteau’s life was cut short during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. His legacy, however, lives on, with various recognitions, including an entry in the Canadian biography and honors from Veterans Affairs Canada.