James Duffy: Canadian Scottish Distance Runner

Around the Bay Road Race, Hamilton, Ontario 1912. James Duffy on the Burlington Canal Bridge. (Hamilton Public Library).

James “Jimmy” Duffy on the Burlington Canal Bridge during the Around the Bay Road Race, Hamilton, Ontario, 1912.  (Hamilton Public Library).

Days of Champions

Amidst the clattering of today’s world events we have some respite as the Olympics fill the ranks and files of media. Not without their “discussion” too, the Olympics celebrate achievement and highlight angst. There are stories each day of overcoming adversity, of participation and winning, sometimes even without receiving awards. The games should remind us that leadership goes beyond days of champions but also to those who take part, whose struggle is the journey and not always how they finish.

With that in mind I dig into the pictures file to pull from my many snaps the resting place of a champion and soldier, James Duffy of the 16th Battalion C.E.F. (The Canadian Scottish). Duffy’s marker at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium records, “IN MEMORY / DIED FIGHTING FOR LIBERTY / EX LONG DISTANCE / CHAMPION RUNNER OF SCOTLAND”.

Champion Runner James Duffy memorial at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Mr. and Mrs. James Duffy, of 12, St. Mary Street, Edinburgh.

Champion Runner James Duffy’s headstone at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Mr. and Mrs. James Duffy, of 12, St. Mary Street, Edinburgh. (Ferguson 2010)

Duffy grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland having moved their as a child from his native Ireland. It was in Scotland that Duffy developed his interest in long distance running winning several events before immigrating to Canada in 1911. Working in Canada as a tinsmith and stone-cutter he continued to pursue the long path, qualifying for the 1912 Summer Olympics, Stockholm, Sweden where he finished fifth. Afterwards Duffy competed in several marathons and in April 1914 won the Boston Marathon ahead of fellow Canadian Édouard Fabre. A little over a year later Duffy was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres four days after the 1915 running of the Boston Marathon in which Fabre was to be victor. (James Duffy CEF service record).

As a onetime runner who enjoyed distance over the short track Duffy reminds me of my time, my apparent loping stride around the ring, along the road, up and down Tolmie or Cadboro still with more distance ahead. I was coach and student preferring solitude thinking of the road to come…the journey ahead. And at Vlamertinghe an inscription has allowed me to reflect upon one person’s life and what it can mean to family, friend or visitor.

Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery is located 5 Kms west of Ieper (Yores) town centre, on the Hospitaalstraat. (Ferguson 2010)

Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery is located 5 kilometres west of Ieper (Ypres) town centre, on the Hospitaalstraat. (Ferguson 2010)

So too I recall the fictional runners from Peter Weir’s 1981 film, Gallipoli. Coach and student in ritual preparation for the race ahead. A reoccurring theme throughout the film…side by side…strength in their steps.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


2 Responses to “James Duffy: Canadian Scottish Distance Runner”

  1. Doug Duffy says:

    James Duffy: Canadian Scottish Distance Runner

    James Duffy is the older brother of my grandfather Thomas Duffy.

    I just start making a family tree and your article came up when I googled the families address from the manifest of the ship that my grandfather came to Canada on in 1924.
    Your story has answered some of my question’s about my grandfather family of who I knew very little of.

    Thanks you very much for for bringing part of my family alive again.

    Doug Duffy

  2. pferguson pferguson says:

    Hello Doug,
    Great to hear from you. I have added a direct link into the blog. His service record is available for viewing online. Just click on the link shown re: digitized service file. Hope to hear from you again. All the best,

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