Pugilist to Member of Parliament

By L. Nadine De Lisle

Boxing and the Canada Games changed his life says MP Dan Vandal

In the living room of the St. Boniface home he shared with seven siblings, young Danny sits transfixed.  It's Saturday afternoon, and Saturday afternoons in the French-Metis Vandal family mean Wide World of Sports on TV.

Flickering from the black and white broadcast, are boxing matches with some of the era's greats - Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.  The shy, young boy sits with his brothers; brothers older, bigger, and tougher than he. Brothers who get into fights but don't use their energy for the sport of boxing. Danny though, riveted in front of the TV set, is dreaming about life as a boxer.  By the time he is a teenager, Dan Vandal is a member of the Canada Winter Games boxing team.  This is only the start of something much bigger.

Vandal, born in 1960, set his sights on finding his way in life through sport and joined Winnipeg's  Pan Am Boxing club at 15. At the gym, he learns to wrap the tape, two inches, nine yards of it, around his hands before putting on the gloves.  It's intense, focused training with a coaching team that included the late Eddie Yaremchuk.  This would be one of Dan Vandal's very first steps towards changing his life.

"At 15, I was not confident, I felt I had no place in the world," says Vandal. "Sport encouraged me and gave me the confidence to take on the world, to speak up for myself, and communities."

That confidence also gave Vandal the courage to pursue his dreams, and just a few years later, he was a member of the 1979 Canada Winter Games boxing team.  Being a part of the Games in Brandon that year was a memorable experience for Vandal.

"Part of my very positive experience with sport with a close-knit team was that we're still friends today,” he says. “One of the enduring benefits of the Canada Games, and sport in general, is that you create bonds with people for a lifetime."

By 1983, Vandal, then nicknamed "Danny, The Kid", was the number one rated middle weight in Canada.  Later, he would go back to school and become a social worker, then a politician, a long-standing Winnipeg City Councillor, and, in  2015,  the Member of Parliament for Saint Boniface-Saint Vital. He credits boxing with giving him the tools to achieve.

"Sports allow young people to focus on setting a goal, breaking it down to achieve, to win," says Vandal. "It taught me to focus and it gave me an increased confidence."

Boxing is violent, he admits, adding that other sports, can be violent and dangerous as well. 

"It's important to have good people around you, coaches and managers thinking of the athletes and looking out for them."

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, 2017 is a significant year for the Games.

"The fact we will also celebrate our Canada 150 is very important and symbolic," says Vandal.  "Whether you're from the Maritimes, Quebec, British Columbia or the Prairies, you're going to be united in sport. It's noble and impactful."

What advice does Vandal have for athletes participating in the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Manitoba? 

"Reflect on the importance of participating, showcasing your talents to the entire Canadian population. You make friends, companions for a lifetime, benefits that will last long after the Canada Games are concluded. That's true of the Canada Games and sport in general.  The Games can turn lives around."

Will former Canada Games and pro-boxer, now Member of the House of Commons Dan Vandal attend the 2017 Canada Summer Games?

"You bet."