JUNE 23, 2022: Canadian Museum of History
Marking National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Canadian Museum of History has made an important acquisition documenting the exceptional hockey career of Jim Neilson (1941–2020, Nehiyaw/Cree).
Born in Big River, Saskatchewan, Neilson played defence in the National Hockey League (NHL) for 17 years. He played for the New York Rangers (1963–1974), the California Golden Seals (1974–1976), and the Cleveland Barons (1976–1978), before wrapping up his career with the Edmonton Oilers (1978–1979). Neilson played in 1,023 regular-season games, amassed 368 points (69 goals, 299 assists), and played in 65 Stanley Cup Playoff games, where he contributed 18 points (one goal, 17 assists). He was named to four All-Star Teams in his illustrious career and was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Jim Neilson Collection includes approximately 30 archival items and three objects documenting his hockey career from elementary school to the NHL. Hockey gloves, shoulder pads, and skates worn by Neilson while playing for the NHL are now part of the National Collection and will help the Museum share his story as part of the country’s sporting history. The collection was generously donated to the Museum by Neilson’s three children — Dana, Darcy and David — following his death in 2020. The son of a Nehiyaw/Cree mother, Rosie Rediron, and a Danish-Canadian father, Olaf Neilson, Jim was taken in at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage when he was five years old. He was shaped by all the years he spent there, and it was during his time there that he learned to play hockey.
Neilson was a local star before being drafted into the Kitchener Rangers, and then into the NHL with the New York Rangers. Overcoming difficult odds, and in an era where there were only six NHL teams, Neilson was an outstanding player at a time when there were very few Indigenous players in the league. From June 21 to October 1, 2022, the public will have the opportunity to explore some of the items in The Jim Neilson Collection, as they will be on display in the Museum’s lobby, which they can access for free. After that, the artifacts will be preserved in the Museum’s collections for the benefit of current and future generations.
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Article and Video by: The Canadian Museum of History