Canada’s First World Heavyweight Boxing Champion

by Mar 13, 2020Turner Tales0 comments

Noah Brusso Tommy BurnsNoah Brusso was born on June 17, 1881 on the outskirts of Hanover, Ontario. Raised in a small log cabin on a farm, he was the twelfth of Fredrick and Sofia Brusso’s thirteen children.

The Methodist family was of German ancestry used to the hard toil of farm life. While not tall, Noah was stocky and well-muscled. He engaged in many school yard scraps and by the age of 10, was the school champ after besting the school bully, two years older.

His abusive and penniless father, a cabinetmaker, passed away in1896 when Noah was still a young boy.  A troublesome youth, he left school at a young age and to help support the family went to work in his uncle’s factory piling lumber for a dollar a day. He lasted a week in that job and spent much of his teenage years and young adulthood drifting between menial labor jobs. The widowed mother sold the farm and the family moved to Hespeler where she bought and ran a boarding house on Queen Street West (this may have been where the Hespeler Physiotherapy is located today).

Noah went to work at the Brodie Woollen Mills (soon to become Riverside Condo units beside the Speed). A natural athlete, he excelled in hockey, baseball, lacrosse and skating (he twice raced against J.K. McCullough who later became a world champion).

Tommy BurnsIn Hespeler Noah learned the game of soccer, playing with a Hespeler team. During a game in Drumbo, a confrontation started and ended with a left hook and a right to the jaw that dropped their local blacksmith, a much larger player, he reputation as the village strongman ruined.

Christian M. Schultz was a shoemaker on the corner of Queen and Adam Streets as well as being Hespeler’s Postmaster. Mr. Schultz ran a boxing club across the river on Milling Road and invited the fearless scrapper to join his club and learn to box.

In his later memoirs, Noah credited this as the period he learned the “scientific” approach to boxing. During the same time, he was recruited to join the amateur (?) Galt Lacrosse Team earning $25 a week and a $50 bonus for every playoff game he didn’t get thrown out for fighting. In 1898, the team won the Ontario Intermediate Championship. He then signed with a Woodstock team and earned the reputation as the roughest, toughest fighting player of the day. He knocked out the largest, toughest player of the Bright, Ontario team in a 10-minute brawl after first being floored by a tremendous right to the jaw.

Soon after, he decided to pursue a career in boxing and took a job on a Great Lakes passenger ship to Detroit. He joined the Detroit Athletic Club and changed his name to Tommy Burns, so as not to embarrass his mother and make it easier to secure matches in the Irish dominated sport.

Tommy Burns

In 1906, at only 5”7” and 170 pounds he won the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World”. Noah Brusso/Tommy Burns held the title until December 26, 1908 when he was defeated by “Big” Jack Johnson. During this time, he fought and defeated all comers, setting a record for consecutive knockouts that still stands today. Not to shabby for a lad that learned the sport in a small club on the Speed River!

Film highlights – Jack Johnson vs Tommy Burns

He retired in 1910 and started a successful career as a fight promoter. In later life he turned to preaching. He died in 1955, at Vancouver, almost penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave.

*addendum – Mark Montgomery (RCINET)

Although he had made and kept lots of money, the crash in 29 wiped out his savings and investments.

He became a salesman, and by 1948 an evangelist minister in California.

At age 73 he was visiting a friend in Vancouver when he suffered a heart attack and died. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Burnaby BC, in a funeral attended by only four people.

In 1961 a sports writer raised funds for a plaque for his grave.


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