An Indigenous hockey star makes his debut at the Canadian Museum of HistoryJune 21, 2022
The Canadian Museum of History is marking National Indigenous Peoples Day with 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.
“Jim Neilson is one of Canada’s great athletes and the Museum of History is pleased to add these materials to the National Collection,” said Chantal Amyot, acting Director General at the Canadian Museum of History. “Considered one of the greatest Rangers players of all time, Mr. Neilson’s accomplishments may not be as well known as some other hockey greats of his time, but he is increasingly recognized for his contributions on and off the ice as an Indigenous hockey player. The Museum is delighted to work with his family to share his remarkable story with all Canadians.”
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.
“Dad’s journey was unparalleled. From his early years in the orphanage, to the NHL, to lending support to Indigenous communities, dad quietly left his mark,” affirmed Neilson’s children. “Since his passing in 2020, we have become increasingly aware of dad’s impact on others. Sharing his life story will hopefully inspire others to believe in themselves and to strive for more, while also relaying important aspects of Canada’s Indigenous history. Working with the Canadian Museum of History to preserve dad’s legacy is an exceptional honour for our entire family.”
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.
“Big River First Nation is extremely proud of the accomplishments of the late Jim Neilson, Big River First Nation band member and former NHL Alumnist,” declared Chief Jack Rayne, Big River First Nation. “We would also like to thank the Canadian Museum of History for honouring Mr. Neilson’s legacy through the exhibition of Neilson’s memorabilia. Mr. Neilson’s lifetime achievements truly are an inspiration for our community and for hockey fans everywhere.”
From June 22 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.
For more information about Jim Neilson, please visit historymuseum.ca/jim-neilson.
Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History welcomes over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum’s principal role is to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped Canada’s history and identity, as well as to enhance Canadians’ awareness of world history and culture. Work of the Canadian Museum of History is made possible in part through financial support of the Government of Canada.
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Senior Media Relations and Communications Officer