Undoubtedly, the best known middle distance runner in Manitoba was Joe Keeper. A member of the Norway House Cree First Nation, Keeper was born at Walker Lake in Northern Manitoba. In 1889, Keeper was sent to the Brandon Indian Residential School and later in high school, he showed his first interest in middle long distance running.
In his first race in 1909, Keeper placed second at the Indoor Mile event in Brandon and then moved to Winnipeg in 1910 where he joined the North End Amateur Athletic Club. On May 7, 1910, Keeper ran in his first serious event and defeated forty competitors en route to victory in a seven mile road race. Keeper won the same event in 1911 and also set a new Canadian ten mile record of 54 minutes and 50 seconds in Fort William, Ontario. Keeper’s very successful season led to his selection as Manitoba’s representative at the Dominion championship held in Montreal, Quebec where he was the best among Canadians in the three mile event but finished second to an American from New York.
In 1912, Keeper reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to the Canadian Olympic team. At the Games in Stockholm, Sweden, Keeper took part in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre events and placed fourth in the 10,000 metre final. With over seventy participating nations, Keeper was extremely proud of his achievement, which was the best result to date by a Canadian in the 10,000 metre race.
Keeper joined the army in 1916 and served for two years in France where he won the Military Medal for Bravery. Upon his return to Winnipeg, Keeper worked as a carpenter and later returned to northern Manitoba. Married in 1926, Keeper and his spouse raised four boys and three girls and he was employed by the Hudson Bay Company until his retirement in 1951. He is honoured by the Joe Keeper Memorial Run held each spring by the Manitoba Runners’ Association.
b. January 17, 1886
d. September 29, 1971