Origins and Connection to Sport

Origins & Connections to Sport

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.

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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.
Courtesy of Anonymous

When Alex was just three years old, tragedy struck his family with the murder of his father. 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.

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.

Alex competed at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, and received an Olympic diploma and performance medal.
Courtesy of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

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 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.

Marie Decoteau pictured with some of Alex Decoteau’s trophies. Alex Decoteau is recognized as one of the greatest middle-distance runners in Canada.
Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, R-A-17.341

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 the First World War. 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.

Alex Decoteau joined the 202nd Battalion during the First World War; pictured here is his ring. The 202nd Battalion was also known as the “Sportsman’s Battalion.”
Courtesy of the Edmonton Police Service, DSC9420

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.

Sent to France as reinforcement for the 49th Battalion, Alex Decoteau continued to run competitively participating in military races while also using his athletic skill as a dispatch runner.
Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, A15004