First Name: Simon
Last Name: Gillis
Sport: Track & Field
Inductee Type: Athlete
Year Inducted: 2016
Home Town: Gillisdale
County: Inverness County

Simon Peter Gillis, of Gillisdale, a world-class athlete and three-time Olympic hammer thrower, put his Cape Breton community on the map. Born in the Margaree Valley in 1875, Gillis has instilled a sense of pride and admiration amongst those who know his story that endures over a century later.

Gillis, the fifth of thirteen children, left home of necessity in his late teens to find work in the United States so he could help the family. A powerful young man, he went to New York where he could find professional coaching to develop his explosive release of the hammer. Standing six feet four inches tall and weighing 240 lbs., Gillis had all of the attributes of a champion.

Soon after settling in New York, and while working in his civil engineering trade, Gillis joined the New York Athletic Club. Even though a Canadian, he quickly became an Olympic Games qualifier for the United States team, at a time when the modern Olympics were still in their infancy. In fact, Gillis became a three-time Olympian in the sport of hammer throw: in St. Louis in 1904; London, England in 1908; and, Stockholm, Sweden in 1912. Though he qualified for the American team in 1912, a foot injury prior to the Games prevented him from competing.

Gillis returned to Nova Scotia throughout his career, performing exhibition throws, competing in the Highland Games and visiting his mother and extended family. At the Antigonish Highland Games in 1905, he threw the 12-lb hammer 160 feet. He then broke a world record, throwing it 193 feet, 3 inches. Later that summer, he threw it 210 feet to win the competition by more than 20 feet.

In his remarkable throwing career, Gillis won the Nova Scotia, Maritime and Canadian championships as well as the National Junior championship of the USA. He later won the English championship in London, as well as the championships of Scotland and Sweden, and other titles throughout the USA and in Brazil and Spain.

During the lengthy 1908 trip that was required to reach the London Olympics, the American hammer throwers travelled across the Atlantic by boat. One of the chefs on board dubbed them “the Whales” because of their massive appetites. For breakfast, Gillis was known to eat a dozen eggs raw, in their shells, adding a dab of mustard for taste. Gillis called them “eggs with fur.”

Shortly after the London Games, Gillis continued his exciting pursuits, serving first as a New York City traffic policeman before leaving the States to work and compete in Spain. During a competition there, he challenged six normal size men to compete against him in a tug of war. He beat them by three inches!

Gillis was certainly well known for a zest for life, with his other occupations including telegram deliveries, ballpoint pen sales and even acting in silent films. He finally moved to and lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where, at the age of 53, he threw the hammer a distance of 173 feet, 3 inches, farther than the Olympic record in 1928.

Simon lived well with his “whale” diet and his healthy, athletic life. He lived to the age of 88, passing away in 1964 after leaving a hammer throwing legacy around the world during his brilliant career.

*This biography is excerpted from the induction program article by Bill Kiely*


• 1905 and 1908 World Record Holder for 12-lb hammer
• 1904 and 1908 Olympian in hammer throw
• Placed seventh at the London Olympics in 1908
• Qualified for 1912 Olympics
• National Junior Champion of USA, 1906
• Won against a team of 6 men in tug-of-war, 1913
• Out-distanced the 1928 Olympic record at age 53