In its inaugural year, Powell River’s Sports Hall of Fame will induct one team and eight athletes who have had a lasting legacy. In the weeks leading up to the gala, taking place June 15 at Hap Parker Arena, the Peak has been profiling the inductees, giving more insight into their accomplishments and contributions to the fabric of the community.
Tlesla Leslie Adams was born in 1936 in Tla’amin Nation. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was a year old, and he was raised by his grandmother, Sara Adams. It was her guidance and teachings, he said, that led him to a life of such high achievement as a sportsman, community leader and family man.
“I have to thank my granny,” he said. “She taught me that when you do something you don’t just do it; you want to be your best.”
As a young man this involved learning traditional disciplines passed down through generations.
“My grandmother’s father was a great warrior and hunter, so she learned from that,” said Leslie. “When I was a little boy she used to rub squirrel feet on my feet asking our creator to pass the swiftness of the squirrels to me. She used to rub bear feet on my feet so when I walked I’ll be as strong as the bear. So I started to believe it. She even taught me to run on rocks when the tide was low. It was really hard at first.”
His grandmother helped him build physical and mental strength, said Leslie’s son Evan.
“He grew up in the bush in our way as First Nations people so he was strong and fit and pretty fierce,” said Evan.
Athleticism and sporting skill was a byproduct of this learning, though not the main purpose, he added.
“From a First Nations perspective, we have our teaching about how a young man should be strong and be able to perform a number of duties and he did that,” said Evan. “It meant that he was good at recreational sport and he loved that and did it with all his heart, but more importantly he was very much a product of our people at that time.”
Beginning in the 1940s, soccer became a passion in the Sliammon community, according to Leslie’s daughter, Grace.
“The community produced a lot of incredible athletes,” she said. “The men would put in a full day of work logging and come home and get off the crummies and play soccer until dark. The fitness was high level.”
Leslie used to watch the Sliammon Braves and his early soccer role models included Charlie Wilson, Alec Louie, Joe Paul and Pete Galligos. He began practising with the senior men’s team when he was 10.
“I broke my right ankle, but I didn’t stop; I had a walking cast so I just started kicking with my left foot,” said Leslie. “By the time my right was healed my left was just as good if not better.”
At 15, he was taken away from his grandmother and community.
“I was sent to a residential school,” said Leslie. “I was supposed to attend Brooks [Secondary School] but the priest down here found out and threatened my grandmother. So she had to sign a paper to send me to school in Sechelt. When we got there we had to repeat grade eight because they had no grade nine teacher.”
At this point, sports became a kind of outlet, said Grace.
“It opened a lot of doors for him and was a very healthy, positive lifestyle,” she added.
In addition to soccer, Leslie excelled in boxing, track and field, gymnastics and baseball. He made it to the Bronze Gloves competition in boxing, and in 1955, Leslie was named soccer’s Golden Boy at the Tournament of Champions.
“He did both at a time when there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for First Nations people or athletes,” said Evan.
The Powell River News of that year described the scene: “Leslie Adams, playing for Powell River’s division 1 team boys under 18 was selected as the outstanding player of the entire tournament of over 200 players. He was awarded the [Vancouver] Sun’s Rose Bowl trophy and on his return to Powell River was carried shoulder high by his teammates as hundreds of spectators cheered him through the streets.”
Leslie played for Powell River’s U21 for the next two years and both years made the finals. He was named to the BC All Stars for 1955 and 1956.
“I had offers to go professional,” said Leslie. “All I had to do was show up and I’d have a job, but I didn’t want to move away.”
Not long after, Leslie married his wife Jane and the couple started a family, which today includes five children, 15 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
At the age of 27 he was elected chief for eight years and served his community as a council member for more than 30 years. He worked for MacMillan Bloedel for 37 years and earned his tugboat captain’s ticket. He played soccer into his mid-50s and coached teams and players of all levels.
Leslie and Jane instilled in their children the importance of an education, he said, and all five of them went on to attend university.
“They really absolutely loved their kids and did anything they could to help us set goals,” said Grace. “He’s been consistent with that message to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Today Leslie continues to be an active volunteer in his community and with Knights of Columbus.
Looking back on a lifetime of achievement, he recalls his best times were spent close to home.
“I’ve heard so many people say ‘if I had to relive my life again I’d do it differently’; I would never ever say that,” said Leslie. “I think the best time was when I married my wife and started a family. We’ve been married 60 years now. Anything I did, it came from my heart, to do the best I could for my kids, my job and helping people.”