New Brunswick Black History Society

Eldridge Eatman

1880-1960 Saint John, NB
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Eldridge ‘Gus’ Eatman is considered to be one of the greatest sprinters of the early twentieth century, hailing from Saint John, New Brunswick. His first well-known victory came when he defeated world champion and later US Olympic coach, Tom Keen of the United States in 1903 at Moosepath, Saint John, NB. In 1905, Eatman was listed as the fastest Canadian over 120-yards, and in 1906, won the Powderhall Trophy, a contemporary equivalent to the world championship, in Edinburgh Scotland. He won various events across North America and Europe, defeating other athletes from around the world. Following his career in athletics, Eatman served in the First World War as an infantryman. He is also known for working to recruit volunteers and raise funds in the Saint John area to combat Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Eatman was inducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, and the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame in 2019, all posthumously. Maurice Eatman, Eldridge’s cousin who is working hard to revive his legacy, remembers Eatman as “the greatest [athlete] ever produced out of New Brunswick for his era.”

  • Fastest Canadian of 1905 in the 100-yard sprint with a time of 9.8 seconds 
  • One of the most outstanding sprinters of the early 20th century
  • Became a world champion overcoming racism and poverty 
  • Inducted into the Saint John Sports Wall of Fame in 2016

from the Telegraph Journal

Eldridge Eatman Earned his place in Shrine as a World Class Sprint Champion

-Ron Barry, Telegraph Journal

May 31st 2016    

Nickname: Gus

Sport: Sprinter

Place of Birth: Zealand Station, New Brunswick

Important Dates: Born, March 12, 1880. Died Aug. 15, 1960

Family: John L. Eatman and Jane Diamond (parents)

Career Highlights: Won a match race in Saint John against world 120-yard champion Tom Keen in 1903

Won the world 120-yard championship in 1906 at Edinburgh, Scotland.


  • Served in the British Army as a corporal with the Northumberland Fusiliers in the First World War
  • Inducted to the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 2002
  • Champlain Community Award – inducted into the Order of Champlain in 2005
  • Elected to the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Quotable: “Oh, my goodness, it’s great to recognize athletes like Eldridge. You have people who fall through the cracks and all of a sudden. they’re being brought back to the forefront and recognized. This chap had the ability to be a world champion and I think, ‘How come we never heard about that?’ – Ralph “Tiger” Thomas

The year was 1902 and the setting was a picnic at scenic Bay Shore. Food and fun were the pleasures of the day, with a dash of friendly races sprinkled into the mix.

Perhaps, for the first time, really, Eldridge (Elbridge) “Gus” Eatman introduced himself to the world.

History will record that two local men – Hazen Campbell and a Dr. Wheeler – were so impressed with Eatman’s speed that they took the 22-year- old under their wing and enlisted the services of Frank Leslie to train this raw athlete with the rarest of gifts – natural speed.

In no time, Eatman would win his first official match race against John (Tip) O’Neill, and so began a journey that led to a world sprint title, numerous records at various short distances and victory after victory in staged races on both sides of the Atlantic.

When the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame holds its 47th induction ceremony on Saturday at the Congress Centre of the Acadian Peninsula in Shippagan, a long forgotten native son will gain his rightful place among our very best of athletes, teams and builders. Eatman will be joined in the Class of 2016 by Moncton runner Patty Blanchard, hockey referee Bernard DeGrace of Shippagan, soccer player David Foley of Saint John, hockey player Kevin Foran of Dalhousie and golfer Darren Ritchie of Saint John, bringing the shrine’s honour roll to 249 members.

When Eatman passed away in 1960 at 80 years of age, his exploits as a sprinter soon faded among his relatives. As time passed though, Maurice Eatmon felt this itch about his cousin – about whether people truly knew his story.

“I heard stuff about Eldridge… about his races,” said Maurice, “and I remember one time coming out of a concert at Harbour Station. I saw the plaques on the wall for the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame. That’s when it hit me that I should do some digging on Eldridge and find out if he should be honoured.

“I learned that he was a world champion sprinter and that he won many races back in his day. Our family is proud of what he accomplished, but many of them did not know exactly what he achieved until the research was done. To be honest, it wasn’t talked about much when we were kids. I will say this: we are proud as heck that he’s being inducted – proud.”

Eatman was inducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. This latest honour caps a story that began more than 100 years ago. Actually, this year marks the 110th anniversary of his most prestigious triumph – the Power Hill title he won in 1906 for the world 120-yard championship at Edinburgh, Scotland.

It was three years before that – in 1903 when he staked his claim as a world-class sprinter, beating world sprint champion T.F. Kean of the United States in a match race and followed that up with a win over Jimmy Humphrey, reputedly the first Canadian ever to run the 100 yards in 10 seconds, flat.

Other athletes he competed against were famous names of an era long forgotten – world sprint champions Bill Growcott of England and Arthur Benjamin Postle, Australia’s “Crimson Flash”. He also raced against known runners such as Fish Marsh, Ed Hobbs, Bert Day, Major Taylor, and Freddie Davis. Not lost in records and newspaper accounts was this morsel – the young man who was born in 1880 at Zealand Station, New Brunswick to Jane Diamond and John L. Eatman beat all of them.

Nor was it lost that when the First World War broke out, Eatman joined the British Army and served as a corporal with the Northumberland Fusiliers, who were stationed in France. He spent 785 days in frontline trenches and fully understood that he was among the most fortunate of soldiers to survive the Great War.

Ralph “Tiger” Thomas, who was in- ducted into the provincial shrine as a builder in the sport of boxing, is over the moon with Eatman’s impending induction.

“Oh, my goodness, it’s great to recognize athletes like Eldridge,” said Thom- as, a Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame member and founding father of the New Brunswick Amateur Boxing Association. “You have people who fall through the cracks and all of a sudden, they’re being brought back to the forefront and recognized. This chap had the ability to be a world champion and I think, ‘how come we never heard about that?’

“We have this outstanding athlete who represented New Brunswick, and Canada, and was a world champion. Back in that time – the early 1900s – he would have been lucky to have track

shoes… he’d be lucky if he could run in sneakers. It’s incredible some of the times he posted during his day. They used to handicap him in some races… it’s incredible that he still won those races. But he was not only a great athlete, he was a member of the British Army during that timeline. There’s a major story with this gentleman.”

Eatman’s specialty was over a 120-yard distance and when he ventured to the British Isles, one of his first big-ticket races was the All-England Handicap, better known as the Moner’s Derby. The stakes were 200 pounds and Eatman blitzed the field in 11.8 seconds – the first sprinter to eclipse the 12-second barrier in 20 years.

London was the next stop for the Franco Exhibition’s Evening News Race. It was there when he beat a field that included nine other runners from around the globe, including world champions Postle – resplendent in his signature crimson racing gear – and Growcott.

Maurice Eatmon isn’t sure what drew his cousin to running, other than the simple fact that records show Eldridge was fast.

“It was a different time – I mean, we’re talking more than 100 years ago, you know what I’m saying?” said Maurice. “He had a gift and took an interest in it. He was not only the best sprinter to come out of New Brunswick, but one of the best ever to come out of Canada and certainly, the best of his era.”

During his time overseas, Eldridge broke bread with the famous Jack John- son as the athletes toured the British Isles together Eatman racing and Johnson boxing. He helped Johnson raise funds sufficient enough to send the heavyweight to Sydney, Australia, where he won the world title against Tommy Burns on Boxing Day, 1908. He was also acquainted with iconic sports figures later in life, namely heavy-weight boxing champion Joe Louis and track and field’s athlete extraordinaire, Jesse Owens.

Through it all, Eatman’s personality and penchant for a challenge were ever-present in media reports. As recorded in The Citizen newspaper in 1937, Eatman recalled a 130-yard dash in Wales during 1910 as one that gave him an adrenalin rush, but likely was not kind to his blood pressure. That’s because entrants were required to post one British pound for every yard – a 130-pound sum. The New Brunswick native and New Zealand’s Major Tay- lor were the only two athletes daring enough to lay down such a large chunk of money.

In his words, “in posting that sum, I was staking every cent I had in the world, aside from two pounds. At the time I owed a board bill for myself and my trainer of 50 pounds. I realized what a loss would mean and it sure made me nervous. I took one of the two pounds I had left and gave it to my trainer. I told him if I lost to make his way back to London. I would stay and somehow meet my obligations. I can still see him looking at me with tears flowing down his cheeks… to make a long story short, I won out by inches.”

Thomas said the recognition landing at the doorstep of the Eatman – and Eatmon- family tree is a great touch.

“It’s a proud moment for the family,” he said. “It’s fabulous that a relative of theirs is going to be put into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. I’m very, very excited about it, so I can just imagine how the family must feel. It’s going to be fantastic to see Maurice stand in front of everyone and tell Eld- ridge’s story. It’s great that this family’s name is being recognized.”

Maurice is looking forward to the big day.

“I must say, I feel like a part of me has lived his life ever since I got involved in doing this research,” he said. “I most definitely would have loved to have known Eldridge. I feel like his spirit is with me… like I know him, and it was my job to make sure his story was told, and in the right way. We are all here for a purpose and I believe this is mine. I am glad his story did not fall through the cracks… that years from now, our family will know they had an ancestor who was recognized as a great athlete.”