A native Victorian, Michael loved to fly kites as a youngster and, as a result, earned the nickname of “Benj” - short for Benjamin Franklin. That nickname has stayed with him his whole life and he is still called “Benj” today by his close friends.
Michael got his start in rugby at age 20 while attending University of Victoria. In 2011, he was inducted into the University of Victoria Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 1970-71 men's rugby team that won the Vikes first Rounsefell Cup in team history, their fourth consecutive Barnard Cup and the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate conference title in the same season.
He went on to play for UBC while attending Law School and finished his rugby career at James Bay Athletic Association (JBAA) where, at the age of 37, he finally hung up his cleats. He began an illustrious career in sport administration in 1979 as Director and then President of the JBAA, the oldest athletic association in western Canada and perennial BC Rugby Union First Division Champions.
During the 1980s, he was President of the Vancouver Island Rugby Union and BC Rugby Union and was responsible for the development of rugby throughout BC. In 1987, he became Vice-President of Canada’s World Cup rugby team working towards Canada’s participation in the first Rugby World Cup slated for Australia/ New Zealand.
From 1990 to 1995, Michael was Vice Chair, Board of Governors, 1994 Commonwealth Games – the largest sporting event ever staged in Victoria. In 1991, he brought his passion for sport to the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame (GVSHOF) and, as Chair, was responsible for implementing the first home of the GVSHOF at Saanich Commonwealth Place. In 2009, he was recognized as an Honourary Life Member for his contribution to the organization.
In early 2000, Michael became Director, Canadian Rugby Union – Rugby Canada and in 2001, he was elected Vice-President responsible for implementing a business plan for Rugby Canada to enable Canadian rugby teams to compete internationally on a sustained basis.
In addition to Michael’s many sporting achievements, he has served his community with distinction in many capacities including Honourary Chair, Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Greater Victoria 2009; President, BC Government House Foundation 2010 to present; and, Chair, Greater Victoria Hospital Foundation’s Capital Campaign 2001-2004 and Chair, GVHF Board of Directors 1997 -2001.
Michael has been recognized many times for his outstanding leadership, commitment to sport, and his exemplary citizenship and public service in support of the community. His numerous awards include 1997 Victoria Sports Person of the Year and 1999 Victoria Citizen of the Year. In 2002 and 2012 he received Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Medals and, in 2012, the Vice-Regal Commendation from the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
Michael “Benj” O’Connor is truly a deserving individual to be inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.
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Born in 1946, Alex is a proud member of the Musgamagwx Dzawada’enuwx First Nations in Kincome Inlet. At age seven, he was taken away from family and community and became a seven-year product and survivor of St. Michaels Residential School in Alert Bay. Today, he maintains a strong family foundation with his wife Nella of 45 years, daughter Natasha, grandsons Gigalis and Braden and great-grandson Marcus. His strong cultural background has been reinforced through his father Henry Nelson’s Chieftainship and by the Nelsons’ past four Potlatches. Alex is also a Hamatcha Cedar Man Dancer.
Alex holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Leisure Studies from the University of Victoria. He is an Elder and Senior Advisor to the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council, and helped create the then-Aboriginal Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity Strategy for BC (the first strategy of its kind in Canada).
Past Executive Director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, Alex is a founder of the Aboriginal Sports & Recreation Association of BC - at that time the only “recognized” Aboriginal sport organization in Canada. He is also a founder of the National Aboriginal Sports Circle and was the first Chair and three-time President of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) Council. He has served as Aboriginal Team BC Chef de Mission for the 1993 and 1995 North American Indigenous Games, Board Member of the Native Participation Committee for the 1994 Commonwealth Games and member of the Minister's Sport & Recreation Advisory Council of BC.
One of his greatest and proudest achievements was helping organize the 1997 NAIG in Victoria which drew over 5,000 athletes, 3,000 cultural performers and 2,500 volunteers on a budget of only $2.5 million!
Alex is also a Level 1 Soccer Coach with 40+ years’ experience coaching youth and adult Aboriginal soccer teams. He helped expand the Victoria T-Bird Soccer Club to include women and five youth age groups. As an athlete, he has received many All-Star awards including gold medals in Soccer at the 2009 and 2016 BC Senior Games and he currently plays on a "65 & Over" team in the Vancouver Island Soccer League.
Alex knows that connection, ceremony and a sense of belonging are important to children so he has dedicated his life to helping youth as a founder of the Kwaguilth Urban Suicide Prevention & Intervention Group, where he has conducted community and self-help suicide prevention workshops for 18 years. He also lectures on Aboriginal issues to universities, high schools, communities and at conferences.
Other awards Alex has received include the Queen's 125th Commemorative Medal for Community Services, the 1998 C-FAX Runner-up Sports Person Community Award, the 1998 Victoria Sports Leader of the Year Award and City of Victoria 2002 Honourary Citizen. He also was a 2010 Olympic Torch Relay carrier.
Sport has always been a vehicle for freedom and healing for Alex: "My responsibility is to give to the next generation what sport has given to me.”
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