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About Canford Sports and it's founder
 John Robertson
in short story form!

      John playing with grand child #8, Seth Robertson! 
stands for...

-offer casual sport programs and facilities
- the community and we are
D    ..
determined to establish Winnipeg as the 
                                 ...and CITY OF CARE!

The Global TV network produced and broadcast a documentary titled "The Richest Man in Town", inspired by the Jimmy Stewart Christmas Classic "It's A Wonderful Life!" The documentary was to hi lite the history, appeal, and success of Canford's grassroot sports programs since the 70's, but as filming progressed, Marble Island Productions Ritchard Findlay (acclaimed & award winning producer--J.J. Harper Story), soon shifted his focus to the man behind Canford, his passion for those within the community, the amateurs, especially the families & youths that could not afford to participate in the more organized and structured sports.  His commitment to the 'simplicity of play', to sportsmanship,  to honor, and inspiring all others to 'just play'...for the 'love of the game, was his mission. And as well, his vision for this city, one that would establish Winnipeg as the City of Play, and City of Care is coming full circle.

Being the 2nd coldest city in the world within category of populations over 600,000, Winnipeg also has the availability of outdoor ice for a good three months of the winter! John Robertson's winter sports programs have inspired thousands to venture outdoors on a regular basis no matter how cold it was/is. Herein is a profile of the man behind Canford Sports, John Robertson. The thoughts of others that knew John in his earlier years--are also included.

John comes from a family of 10 boys & 6 girls. He was the fifth born and proudly named after his Uncle John Robertson, one of the finest sportswriters and media personalities in Canada, and a founding father of the Manitoba Marathon and of special note, also founder of RIDER PRIDE  (CFL Riders). Sadly, his Uncle passed away on January 25th, 2014. Of note, John's first exposure to building facilities & providing sports programs came at the age of 14 when he represented St.Ignatius School in the annual Catholic Youth Parliament Session in the 60's~ Over 2000 voters elected 49 delegates for that 29th annual parliament. John was elected Premier of Manitoba from all of Winnipeg's Catholic K thru grade 8 schools, and from Duff Roblin's seat at the legislature, John's first task was the passing of a bill to build facilities for sports programs. His second bill was public funding for private chools! How prophetic!

John considers his biggest break in life to be fortunate enough to attend St. Paul's High School, arguably one of the top 10 Jesuit schools in North America! His academic proficiency and athletic ability earned him a 'free ride' for the full four years, something he believes that he will never be able to repay. It was at St Pauls where John seemingly came to appreciate what he calls 'his triple F' philosophy! One of dedication to his FAITH, FAMILY, and FRIENDS (community)!

Father Barry Connolly, whom the Crusader Football field is proudly named after at St. Paul's stated the following ... "John was one of those rare individuals that did so much for his school, and left a mark on everything he did. Besides being president of his class in grades 9, 10 & 11, John was then elected President of the School Student Body. He was an honor student, and a good example of how academic & athletic ability can be combined in a pleasing personality. The same drive and determination that made him a great football player , was there to help along any cause that needed a leader, and always providing the spark to make things succeed. John earned an unheralded two consecutive nominations for the Harry Hood Award--the top football award in the Winnipeg High School Football League. Firstly.. in grade 11 year, and winning it after being nominated.. again in his senior year!"  

Upon graduating from St. Paul's, John had scholarship offers but with a child on the way, John married at age 18,  just three weeks after graduating from St Pauls. John went to work for CN RAIL.  John then became a single father at age 20, raising two diapered boys ages 22 months & 10 months. He also had to withdraw from his part time university  courses.  John then met Colleen Suzanne Stanton.  John & Colleen married and two more children were welcomed! After several years on the night shift at CN, John accepted a job in 1974 as  Recreation Director at an inner city community centre. It was at Broadway Optimist Community Centre that John gave birth to his Canford dream. In an effort to keep the centre from closing and his brothers active,  John's ability to get people involved succeeded even beyond his expectations. To attract & provide for the inner city youth, John set up programs for the older youths, young adults & parents, knowing that the younger kids would watch, then would soon follow. John was right! John concentrated on casual sports, sports that did not need much equipment and could be played by all ages, for the fun of it.

Remembering his roots, that of playing foot hockey with his brothers with a simple red, white, and blue sponge ball whenever they could sneak onto a Fort Rouge rink, John now shared that within the inner city centre. After the older youths and adults kept coming out to participate, the younger kids soon followed. John persuaded centre board members to waive registration fees for many of the area youths, citing it better to have them playing on the rinks in prime time, then on the streets after midnight. Many of John's casual sports tournaments were worthy of media coverage, having drawn out the likes of the WHA's Jets, the NHL's Canucks, Blue Bombers, politicians, nurses, doctors, fire & policemen, and students; people from ALL walks of life to either play outdoor volleyball amidst the rock bands (Original Harlequin) or spongee! Many still claim to have been at those first tournaments that attracted thousands and thousands, with streets and lanes jammed with parked cars!

Early Years of Canford, 1977, John & 3 sons!

After copyrighting his rules & regulations for sponge hockey, to protect Winnipeg as the birthplace and World Capitol of the sport, it grew to involve thousands, prompting John to petition the City for facilities after several years at various community centres, years during which John took on summer landscaping contracts (to subsidize his winter sports programs). He was allocated an old boarded up clubhouse on Lagimodiere in North Kildonan (Rosewell C.C.), that he would turn into Winnipeg's #1 Multi-Sport Centre for casual sports and also become the subject of national attention through may media outlets, amongst them, TSN, CBC, CTV and the Wall Street Journal. In building 8 rinks at its Lagimodiere site, in mid 80's, John hauled in over 30 semi loads of sand for the winter hocky rinks to be used under the summer sun for beach volleyball. And John's unique rules for touch football, heavily emphasizing honor and sportsmanship also flourished. Responding to national interest, John organized the Sports Tour Program in an effort to promote Sponge Hockey on the national level. It was John's intention to hold regional and national playdowns, in Winnipeg, on an annual basis each season, for each casual sport. To John it just made sense.

          Four Man beach volleyball on the Canford Rinks!

With Winnipeg being in the middle of Canada, and having weather suitable for all season participation, not withstanding, Winnipeg being the World Sponge Hockey Capital, John's vision was to establish Winnipeg as thee amateur casual sports city! During the 80's & early 90's, up to eight teams boarded planes each spring, going east, booking hotel rooms, eager to play & promote their sport. Casual sport tourism was well on it's way. All seemed right for Canford!

However, in 1986, right at the peak of popularity and after just building eight new rinks, Canford was informed that their existing site was to be sold for an incoming housing development. Looking for a larger site was a saga unto itself. Although Canford was proclaimed amongst the finest of grass root sports organizations in all of Canada, it would be tough to find an area within the city limits that would welcome 1000's of participants, playing sports 7 days a week. It took almost five years of site searches and rejections before Canford was allocated a 42 acre tract of land at the south end of St.Boniface Industrial Park, with an option on an additional 77 acres! Oddly enough, the site was located adjacent to Symington Yards, the location of John's entry into the work force in 69', where as an elected union representative, he organized sporting events for the employees. John had come full circle.

There is no doubt whatsoever, that Canford Sports would never have survived without the vision, dedication, leadership and perseverance of John Robertson. Several friends that knew John in his earlier years believe that he could have been a pro football player or anything else he wanted to be. But John put family and community first and the rest became the story of Canford Sports. Although John never got a chance to set any professional records, many of his amateur ones are still standing! John's record of seven (7) interceptions in one touch football game, 32 in that same 16 game season are still NOT broken! Records set at the age of 40! John intends to play spongee longer than his hockey hero, 'Gordie Howe' played ice hockey! He has now done so! John still plays spongee, sand volleyball, and touch football with his brothers, sons and now grand kids---on a casual basis! And along with his three sons & brother Ken, they are former 4 man sand volleyball champions in the Canford Sand V-ball Leagues!

Nick Laping, John's mentor, former coach and teacher at St.Paul's and one of several former Canford relocation advisors, offered the following ... 'No one work's harder than John. He leads by example and raises the expectation of all who know him. He was and is a caring and trustworthy individual with all the traits of a successful person, enthusiasm, optimism, confidence, determination, persistence, commitment, and an intense desire to be the best. John has simply continued this enthusiastic approach to life as, is evident in his family life and his life's dream ... Canford Sports. It has been my pleasure to serve as an advisor during Canford's relocation saga. Although his personal sacrifices have been on-going, John finds comfort in knowing that he's providing a necessary, service to his community. John can be proud of his efforts. John is a remarkable person and I'm honoured to be his friend'.

John, the St Pauls community, and Winnipeg, lost Nick--class of '61, in February of 2009, after a very short illness. Nick was a true Crusader, " a man for others!" and left a legacy that will never be forgotten, nor surpassed! Fellow alumni and friends of John's----Steve Chipman '68, Geoff Chipman '71, and Mark Chipman '78, along with their Father Bob Chipman '45---honored Nick with the naming of the entrance road into their Portage and Perimeter auto mall: NICK LAPING WAY! Nick was also a special mentor, teacher and coach to the Chipman boys and the right man for Bob Chipman at the right time! See John's touching tribute to Nick at the bottom of this page.

John (#38) with coach, teacher & mentor,Nick Laping

Gregg Hanson, retired President of Wawanesa and father of Marian Award recipient and Olympian, Janine Hanson.. offered this; 'John's abilities were such that all who knew him felt that he could achieve anything he put his mind to. Instead of pursuing a career that offered maximum material wealth, John chose to match his love and talent for athletics with his sincere interest in helping others. Establishing Canford was the culmination of a dream for John, that captures the essence a the type of man John is "a man for others". I consider it an honour and a privilege not only to be the godfather of John's oldest son, John Jr., but to call John Robertson a dear friend'.

   Gifted Petro Canada building with rooftop flag!(painted by volunteers!)

John's wife, Colleen, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) in 1990. Her father had died from coronary complications unexpectedly in his early 50's, and Colleen's brother , David (heart), had died at age 24, while playing touch football with John and the family team. After 8 years of coping, and out of province assessments, and two stays in intensive care--- in March 98', Colleen with John were air ambulanced to University Hospital in London, where after a 5 week recuperative & assessment period, she was placed on the transplant list for a donor heart. Colleen and John then returned home to Winnipeg, to await a donor. Colleen's condition improved allowing her to pass on a late night call, after a seemingly matching heart had arrived. Colleen stood down in favour of another. AS it turned out, Colleen had made the right decision because THAT heart proved to NOT be the proper match for her, based upon her follow up assessment just months later in another trip to London!

Meanwhile, after considerable improvements at the allocated Mazenod Road site in St Boniface Industrial Park (installation of all rink rink posts for 4 olympic size rinks, grading & stockpiling of soil for football fields & ball diamonds, upgrading access road and installation of wells), in January of 99', Canford was asked to stand down facing several development issues relative to the city's aqueduct and the possible compromising of the city's water supply. John, along with the volunteers and supporting companies were dismayed about this set back but remained committed, as before, to the continued efforts of developing the best possible casual sports facilities that CAN be, towards that of making Winnipeg..known across North America.. as The City Of Play! 

To this end, John established http://www.cityofplay.ca/
  This new web initiative will involve  other individuals & companies  that also believe in the future of this city. And it's ambitious capabilities in the promotion of not only Health & Well Being, but it's intention to set the standards by which others may choose to follow the road less traveled.  And for those that have come to know John, and his vision...his dream, those many others now believe  that  "IT'S TIME!"

And on an additional note: John has been mentoring high school students, many of whom are intent upon continuing their athletic pursuits after school.  A young man that John is particularly proud of is Andrew Harris of the BC Lions, following his record setting career in the Canadian Junior ranks! Andrew had played at Grant Park and Oak Park as well as playing in Canford Touch at age 15! Andrew was named the top Canadian in upon winning the 2011 Grey Cup. Andrew is the proud father of Hazel!
John always told Andrew he looked best in blue!! LOL! And now he is playing for his home team Bombers and John has challenged Andrew to bring the GREY CUP HOME...in 2017!!

Andrew Harris living his DREAM!

Kelvin Wins 2012 AA Championship

John was honoured to help out and be there for the Kelvin High team in their drive to capture the AA Championship over a talented and determined undefeated Grant Park team! Of note, John's year older brother Peter was on the Kelvin High team that John faced in three consecutive seasons in the late 60's! And John's remaining brothers wore the colors of many other schools; Grant Park, St Johns, Daniel Mac, Tec Voc! And special congrats to offensive co-ordinator of the Kelvin High team, Ryan Karhut, a Canford touch football and sponge hockey player, and good friend of John's. Ryan was selected as coach for the Winnipeg Rifles then chosen as as the new coack of the York University Lions in the CIS.
John has also began to form another 'caring' group of men, aptly called  Brothers of The Hood.  He was the first Harry Hood Memorial Award winner from St Pauls High School. Brothers of The Hood will look into additional 'ways & means' through which they can 'serve others'. Harry Hood attended Kelvin High School, then entered the second World War. Upon returning he played with the Blue Bombers in both 1946 & 47, before heading to Calgary--along with Les Lear (his former Kelvin Coach)---and Harry made history---being part of the only undefeated CFL team to win the cup, the Stampeders 1st...in 48'! While still playing with Calgary, Harry would race after pro practice...to coach high school football at Central High! After retiring from pro ball at the young age of 29, Harry died from cancer just two short years later, in 1954.  His high school team mates in Winnipeg immediately established the Harry Hood Award in his honor, to be awarded each football season to the player who meets several criteria, amongst which are athletic ability, scholastic acheivement, leadership, and involvement in the community.  When John was doing his research on Harry Hood, he was pleased to discover that The Hood Award was also being awarded in Calgary too since 1956, just two years after Winnipeg.  And awarded in Calgary under the same basic criteria! 

In establishing this new fraternity, Brothers of The Hood, inclusive of all award winners from both Calgary and Winnipeg, it is the intent of the fraternity to not only welcome in each city's annual recipient but to challenge all recipients, past, present, and future to continue to live up to the ideals of the award by continuous involvment within their community.  And in keeping with the continuing tradition of the ideals of the award, the fraternity will hopefully do all that it possibly can to not only further the education opportunities of others, but to also make  a difference within all communities in which it's members work and choose to live. 

Over a decade has passed since  Colleen Susanne Robertson passed away in her sleep just before her & John's 33rd anniversary!  Colleen was born on November 1st, ALL SAINTS DAY! An additional eight grand children have arrived since the loss of Colleen, with four  more girls  in a row to put them in front 7-5!! 

Colleen (50) and John's last pic together!
       Passed away just days prior to 33rd Annny!

Mila ('Miracle girl') Robertson (18) 1st grand girl!

Grandma (Colleen) with Mila at the zoo~

Ella Colleen  (Grand Child #7) Mila's sister, at 2!

Ella Colleen at 7~

Natalie May, #10 grand child..2015!


Emma Taylor  (ET!!)..2014!

Grand child #11!

John Robertson believes he has much more to do and has discovered that there are many, many, others that now share in his vision for this city, it's youth, and it's families. John is proud of also sharing the same birth date as Benjamin Franklin, and one of his heroes, Muhamud Ali--on January 17th!  He is passionate about history and believes strongly about honoring our heritage. John has been heading into the classrooms and auditoriums of our schools, and at banquets, to speak on a wide range of topics ranging from the 'Simplicity of Play' to 'Staying in School', 'Young Parenting' & 'Pursuit of Your Passion'. And in an era whereby far to many are choosing to leave this world, be it by suicide or misadventure, John is challenging ALL that will listen, that "LIFE IS WORTH LIVING!"

Of note, John has registered several 'timely' domains, whose web sites that will be launched over the next year with the help of many many of our young ones, a full 40 years after John has sown the 'seeds' for Canford Sports at an inner city community centre~~~ Broadway Optimist~~~!

In February of 2015, John was honored with the unveiling of a special plaque at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre (old Broadway CC) citing his etsablishing Winnipeg as the Sponge Hockey Capital of the world by virtue of his copyrighting of ther rules & regulations of sponge hockey as first played within the inner city~

Ward Councillor Jenny Gerbasi dedicating plaque citing Winnipeg as World Capital of Spongee~

And to firmly establish Winnipeg as THEE birthplace & World Capital of Sponge Hockey, John staged the World Championships at the old Winnipeg Arena back on April 17th, 1982 in an 11 hour event that was also featured on CBC's national sports saturday live feed across the nation. Well known CBC sports desk commentator Ernie Afaghanis, when showing the live feed...simply said ' Look what's happening in Winnipeg! Isn't that simply amazing!"

           Staged at old Wpg Arena 33 years ago!

As John has often cited within his talks, he attributes his formation to having 'special' role models within his life, role models that provided him with 'hope and encouragement'! Towards his continued mission in doing the very same for others,
John was particularly proud to have been invited out to NOTRE DAME in Wilcox, Sask "Home of the Hounds" and was truly impressed with how the school forms young students into leaders.  And no better motto could he find than that of ND of Wilcox, Sask! LUCTOR ET EMERGO!  " STRUGGLE AND EMERGE!" Is that not applicable to every school, every community, every family? And on January 14th, 2009 John was given the honor of speaking (witness talk) to almost 700 (students & staff) at his alma mater, St Pauls High during the celebration of mass in honor of the 2000th anniversary of St Paul! Of note, it would be the last time that John would see Nick Laping (his coach and mentor), who passed away the very next month. Nick laping was truly a 'Man for others', especially for John.

At an age when most would consider retirement, and after 40 years of providing his programs within the community, John believes that his greatest challenges (work) still lie ahead of him. Two special goals are still within his sights. One is to affect measurable change within the families of our city, a city that still leads the nation in teen pregnancies and 'walk away' Dads! John, once being a young single father, has been mentoring and encouraging many young Dads, to remain within the life of their children. John tries to share his experiences, in the hope that these fathers can come to accept and appreciate that they can experience nothing greater within their life, than that of giving 'life' to another within the womb of the mother. These fathers can become empowered, not by LEAVING but by STAYING! 

John also continues to provide programming for families and youths in need, especially for the many new immigrant families arriving annually in Manitoba. Be it free drop in casual sports programs where not only the youths may play, but whole families as well, slightly used & sometimes new...sports equipment is distributed to those involved! John was amazed to discover during his free weekly drop in soccer programs at Harrow School in Fort Rouge in spring of 2015, that over 40 countries make up the overall cultural diversity within the 160+ students attending Harrow (K thru 6)!

And the area youths within lower Fort Rouge have enjoyd playing spongee since 2014 in both a youth drop in format several times weekly as well as a mix of families within league play without any registration fees. Simply let them PLAY~ Pic below of the hearts displayed upon the rink sideboards for every youth that participated in our spongee program! Many were also embedded into the ice! To see them searching for their hearts in the ice...was simply PRICELESS~ LOL~ The program, which John called "JUST PLAY!" is being expanded to other locations~

  Hearts for the youths in the free Youth spongee programs..in ice & on boards~

 May 2015 "JUST PLAY!" program at Harrow School

And the other goal? Is to achieve a permanent home that will allow EVERYONE to PLAY, especially those that are disadvantaged, like the ' young Robbies' of the 50's and 60's, a site that stresses equally the values of education, formation, and FAMILY...within the cityofplay.ca  And he is committed to continue to live his Paulinian formation, following in the footsteps of many former 'Crusaders', that of also being  "a man for others...in the service of others!" When John usually ends his 'in school' talks....he stresses that everyone of us should be PASSIONATE about what we choose to do and in LIVING OUR PASSION, each of us should  " Do all the good we CAN.....as often as we CAN....for ALL that we CAN!"  In short, thats the CAN-ford WAY!

John encourages any and all, to make a difference within their community! And if you don't know where to start, look no further than within your own family and John believes that if you begin there, only GOD knows where it will take you! If you wish to contact John, he would love to hear from you!

John can be reached via

   Grand child #1! Jake Robertson, 17...scoring winning TD
vs Saskatchewan in Canada Cup Under 18's

John with Andrew Harris BC Lions, Top Cdn 2011 Grey Cup

All in the family....pick up game!!!


John playing with kids in Texas, 2006
 Grand child #12 arrived December 9th 2015~

Cameron May Robertson
( grand girl #7!) 

Major Announcement:

The 1st World Spongee Championships were held in 1982 to proclaim Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada as thee Spongee Capital of the World! Mission accomplished! And 40 winters hence, the Worlds will return! Enjoy the following web site!



May also tag any of following for additional info:

ABOUT Colleen Susanne Robertson

 A Special Tribute to Nick Laping!

Winnipeg Free Press Article 1975!

The Roots of Canford Sports

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