Joseph Benjamin Keeper (Joe) was both a world-class athlete and First World War hero. The Keeper family were members of the Norway House Cree Nation. Joe was born and raised in Walker Lake, Manitoba which was the traditional resource area for the Keeper Family.
From 1898 to 1909, Joe Keeper was forced to attend the Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba. In 1910, Joe moved to Winnipeg and after joining the North End Amateur Athletic Club, he very quickly established himself as the top middle distance runner in Manitoba. In 1911, Joe set a Canadian ten-mile record of 54:50. In 1912, through his athletic record he earned a place on the Canadian Olympic Team in Stockholm, Sweden. Though he did not win a medal at the Olympic Games, his fourth-place finish remains in the record books as the highest a Canadian has ever placed at the Olympic Games in the 10,000m event. Serving overseas during the First World War, Joe competed at a divisional sport meet in France on September 19, 1917, where he placed first in both the one-mile and three-mile races. Ten days later, he repeated this stellar performance for the same distance at the Canadian Corps sports meet where he beat legendary distance runner Tom Longboat, who placed second in each race.
Outside of his incredible athletic abilities, Joe was awarded a Military Medal in 1918 for an Act of Bravery in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. Joseph Benjamin Keeper is buried in the Field of Honour at Brookside Cemetery, one of the largest and oldest military cemeteries in Winnipeg.
After his death, Joe Keeper was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1977, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, the Manitoba Runners’ Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Order of Sport in 2019. Joseph Benjamin Keeper was also inducted into the Indian Hall of Fame which was established on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve in Ontario in the early 1960s.