23 February

Tommy Burns (1881-1955)

Burns Wins Boxing Crown

Canada once produced a world heavyweight boxing champion who became an ordained minister in Vancouver. He was Tommy Burns, born Noah Brusso in Hanover, Ontario.

Although Tommy Burns won the world heavyweight title on February 23, 1906 by defeating Marvin Hart in a 20-round fight in Los Angeles, he wasn't a real heavyweight at all. Burns was only five feet seven inches tall, and usually weighed about 170 pounds in the ring. Most of his fights were against men who were from 30 to 60 pounds heavier. However, he had an extraordinary reach of 741/2 inches. Perhaps more important, he was highly intelligent, self-sufficient (he never had a manager) and knew how to get into the best condition. His training methods were copied not only by boxers but other athletes, and he wrote a book about scientific boxing.

When Burns beat Hart in 1906, his claim to the world's championship was disputed by other fighters, and so he took on all the challengers. He defended his title successfully ten times before he lost to huge Jack Johnson in Australia in 1908. The fight was no contest. Johnson was far too big, and Burns could not land a blow. Finally the police stopped the fight during round 14 to save Burns from further punishment. Still, he made $30,000, the biggest purse ever won by a fighter at that time. Altogether, Burns won about $200,000 from the fight game and lifted it into the big-money class.

After Burns lost the championship, he fought in Calgary, Saskatoon, and Prince Rupert, winning every time. He was over forty when he was finally defeated by Joe Beckett in England. Then he retired to Vancouver where he became a church minister. Later, Tommy became an honoured member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.


23 February

-1770    Samuel Hearne began his second search for the Coppermine River, lasting until November 25.

-1879    The first issue of La Patrie was published in Montreal.

-1909    J. A. D. McCurdy made the first airplane flight in the British Commonwealth at Baddeck, Nova Scotia (see September 30).

-1914    A rock slide into the Fraser River nearly destroyed the salmon fishing industry there.