Keeper, Joe (Joseph) Benjamin

Joseph Benjamin Keeper, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation, was born at Walker Lake, Manitoba on Jan. 17, 1886. At the age of 13, he, like many First Nation children at the time, was sent for schooling to the Brandon Indian Residential School. It was while there, that Keeper showed an enthusiasm and a talent for long distance running.

In 1910, after moving to Winnipeg, Keeper joined the North End Amateur Athletic Club. The next year, he set a Canadian record of 54:50 for the ten-mile run and he was chosen to be a member of the 1912 Canadian Olympic Team. At the Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he ran in the 5000 and 10,000 metre runs. In the later race, he finished fourth, the best ever result for a Canadian runner in that event.

Keeper continued to run after the Olympics, but he gave up any hopes of participating in the 1916 Olympics, when in May of that year, he volunteered to join the military. Keeper spent two years serving in France. Keeper served as a despatch carrier for the 107th Pioneer Battalion, alongside other First Nation athletes, such as Arthur Jamieson. In 1919, he received the Military Medal for his brave actions at Cambrai during the war.

After the war, Keeper returned to Manitoba and worked as a carpenter and later, for the Hudson Bay Company until his retirement in 1951. He and his wife Christina McLeod had 7 children. He died on Sept 21, 1971. To this day, the Norway House Cree Nation and the Manitoba Runner’s Association each host memorial races in his honour. He has been inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

Further reading

  • Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. “Joe Benjamin Keeper”. Retrieved Feb. 25, 2016
  • Wikipedia. “Joe Keeper”. Retrieved Feb. 25, 2016
Biographical Record
Full Name Keeper, Joe (Joseph) Benjamin
Heritage Cree
Band Location Norway House, MB
Birth Date 1886-01-21
Birthplace Walker Lake, MB
Date of Death 1971-09-21
Next of Kin Mother: Matilda Keeper
Occupation before Enlistment Carptenter, Athlete
Religion Methodist
Conflict WWI
Service Number 235021
Service Files http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=490151
Rank Sapper
Date of Enlistment 1916-05-01
Location of Enlistment Norway House, MB
Age at Enlistment 27
Service History Olympian runner 1912
Medals http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/military-medals-1812-1969/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=71168&
Medal awarded (MM)
Date Medal is awarded 1919-02-11
Identifier 5151