Born in Halifax, England, he moved with his family to Sydney Mines, Cape Breton Nova Scotia because his father was seeking work in the Cape Breton coal mines. At age 11 he supported his family by working in the coal mines.
Eugene Ramsey, the chair of the Johnny Miles Festival shared a story about Johnny Miles and how he got work in the Florence coal mines at age 11. His father was heading off to war and told young Johnny that he needed to step up and be the man of the house while his father was gone.
His father found out the the mine was hiring boys to work in the pit…Johnny went to the mine office to speak to the man doing the hiring and young Johnny was small for his age but had a determination to carry out his father’s wishes…he told the man that he was there to work in the mines…the man doing the hiring was behind a counter – he could hear Johnny but couldn’t see him…he leaned over and saw the small framed boy who wasn’t very tall…I’m sorry but you are too small to work in the pit….once you grow taller I’ll have a job for you.
Johnny left and with great determination returned the next day and said I am here to apply for a job in the mine…this time the top of his curly hair was just above the counter….the man leaned over to see young Johnny standing taller wearing his mother’s high heels.
I can just imagine the chuckle and smile that must of came over the man doing the hiring – Johnny got his job.
Johnny’s mother wanted him to have an education so Johnny told the man he could work the night shift starting at 4:00 pm and getting home from school at 3:00 pm.
Johnny’s job was to open gates when cars were approaching…pitch dark…I remember a story that he told that he shared with lunches with the rats to keep them from bothering him.
Johnny began his running career in 1922 as a sixteen-year-old.
By 1925, he was the Canadian champion in the 5-mile distance and was considered Nova Scotia’s top distance runner. In 1926, Miles arrived at his first Boston Marathon and was pegged as a “curly-haired, freckled, saucy-nosed, 22-year-old” who had never competed in a race more than ten-miles long.