Name: Joseph Etienne DESMARTEAU
Given Name: Joseph Etienne
Birth: 4 Feb 1873
Death: 29 Oct 1905 in Montreal, Quebec
DESMARTEAU, ÉTIENNE (baptized Joseph-Étienne Birtz), labourer, policeman, and athlete; b. 4 F eb. 1873 in Boucherville, Que., son of Étienne Birtz, a farmer, and Caroline Dubuc; d. unmarr ied 29 Oct. 1905 in Montreal, and was buried on 31 October in Boucherville.
Change Date: 7 Dec 2007 at 07:23:22
The first member of the Birtz family to come to New France arrived around 1750 with the Régim ent de Béarn. After the conquest of the colony by Great Britain, this Étienne Birtz resumed h is trade as a blacksmith. Since his shop was marked by a sign bearing two crossed hammers, h e was given the name Desmarteaux. In place of the plural form, his descendants preferred th e singular, Desmarteau.
After Étienne Desmarteau, the second of seven children, was born, the family left Bouchervill e and moved to Montreal. Étienne does not seem to have been fond of attending school when h e was young. Later he was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a metal-caster and the n in 1901 he became a policeman in Montreal. Six feet tall and weighing 208 pounds, he distin guished himself by two known acts of bravery. The first occurred in 1902, when he arrested so meone preparing to set fire to a store in which there were four young children and their pare nts. The second came in 1905, when he arrested a thief presumed to be dangerous. Desmarteau w as considered a model policeman, always on good terms with his colleagues. He was sometimes s harp-tongued, however, as can be seen by the complaint brought against him in 1905 after a de monstration during which he reportedly hurled abuse at one of his superiors.
Desmarteau went down in history because of his physical strength. In 1902 he ranked first i n the world junior and heavyweight hammer-throwing championships. But he is remembered for hi s victory at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, Mo., when he managed a throw of 34 feet 4 inche s in the 56-pound weight contest. He was long regarded as the first Canadian to have earne d a gold medal, although not all experts agree. Some claim the honour belongs to George Orton , who had won the 2,500-metre steeplechase in Paris four years earlier. Orton, a Canadian b y birth, was, however, wearing the colours of the United States, where he was studying. Other s maintain that Desmarteau should be considered the first since George Seymour Lyon?s victor y in the golf competition at St Louis in 1904 ought to be disregarded, golf having been inclu ded in the Olympic Games only that one time. In any case Étienne Desmarteau certainly was th e first French Canadian to receive an Olympic gold medal.
Desmarteau nearly missed his date with fame, when permission to participate in the St Louis g ames was refused him by the Montreal police. Although his superiors would not grant him an un paid leave of absence, he went to St Louis anyway under the banner of the Montreal Amateur At hletic Association, and on returning covered with glory, he was immediately rehired. He won h is fame in the midst of what was then considered a ?big circus,? during which various groups , Sioux, Patagonians, Pygmies, and Moros among others, held their own games, dubbed Anthropol ogical Day.
At St Louis, as at Paris in 1900, the Olympic Games lost the esteem of their supporters and o f the general public. The 1900 games had suffered from being linked with the universal exposi tion being held in the French capital; the same mistake was made in 1904, since the games wer e held in conjunction with the Louisiana Purchase exposition in St Louis. Moreover national a nd international events took the headlines in the summer of 1904. What with the presidentia l election campaign in the United States and interest in the Russo-Japanese War, which was a t its height, the Olympic Games attracted little attention.
Athletes from eight countries, or, according to some sources, eleven, took part in the St Lou is games, including contestants from the United States and Canada. With more than 1,500 athle tes (nearly half the total number), the Americans carried off 20 of the 21 medals awarded i n track and field. Desmarteau alone succeeded in breaking this monopoly. Although not triumph al, his arrival back in Montreal was greeted with demonstrations of joy. La Presse describe d him as the ?champion of the universe, whose comrades at Station 5, on Rue Chenneville, wer e getting ready for a great show . . . to celebrate his victorious return.? The following yea r he achieved another success in the Montreal police field events; on 26 July 1905 he set a n ew world record for the 56-pound high-throw, reaching 15 feet 9 inches.
A few months later, at the age of 32, Étienne Desmarteau died in Montreal, where he was train ing for a competition. He was probably a victim of typhoid fever. In the period leading up t o the 1976 Olympic Games, which were held there, the city honoured him by giving the name o f Étienne Desmarteau to an athletic centre and to a park in Rosemont previously known as Drum mond Park. He had already been elected to Canada?s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955.
Father: Etienne DESMARTEAU
Mother: Caroline DUBUC