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March 26, 2010

Women’s Hockey Comes of Age

I am not much of a hockey fan but like the record breaking millions of Canadians I enjoyed Team Canada’s men’s victory at the Olympics and the women’s victory. My brother’s son played 15 years in the International Hockey League and played about 100 games in the NHL. He lives in Chicago where he coaches and his twin sons are active young players there. They were in B.C. for the Olympic opening ceremony and a couple of hockey games before the kids had to be back in school. I wrote about men’s hockey here recently and decided to look at women’s and girl’s hockey history.

I picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated's Team Canada Commemorative Issue and found some good information on the women’s team – 8 pages and 1 on Hayley Wickenheiser out of 80 pages??? I checked the Ken & Brian Craigs great book Blades on the Bay on early hockey in North Bay and there was nothing there. Their second book was never published where I am sure there would have been something.

The internet, much to my surprise, had lots of information on women’s hockey including a listing of several books. I borrowed Brian McFarlane’s 1994 Proud Past, Bright Future- One Hundred Years of Canadian Women’s Hockey from the North Bay Public Library. As mentioned in the men’s hockey article I wrote I was not surprised that men’s hockey had a long history but I doubted there was much history on Women’s hockey. McFarlane’s book was a surprise. The scale of women’s hockey was not as great as men’s but there clearly has been a lot of women’s hockey and McFarlane’s book only went to 1994. (Wayne Horton’s book Women on Ice 2010 is hot off the press.)

Cover of Brian McFarlane’s book on Women’s Hockey.

One of the photos in the McFarlane book shows a group of ladies playing with long skirts and short sticks on the ice at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. One of the players is Lord Stanley’s daughter and the photo is dated 1890. Lord Stanley later made the donation of his famous Stanley Cup. Former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson created the Clarkson Cup for Canadian Women’s Hockey.

The book is full of many great stories including one when McFarlane coached a team of girls at his high school in the 1940s and had to cut his sister. McFarlane went on to a remarkable writing career including the women’s book. More about him in a minute.

By the 1920s 7 1930s there were various leagues & outstanding teams and players.

Long skirts and figure skates were abandoned and the game began to look more like men’s hockey. The book shows the changes in many fascinating photos. Team uniforms (often pink) appeared. There is a photo of a Cobalt team in the Temiscaming League in 1910. Northern Ontario was a “hotbed” of women’s hockey in the 1920s. There is a photo of a 1922 Sudbury team with full uniform and bobbed hair.

There was a period when competitive hockey waned. McFarlane remembers that no one could topple the famous Newfoundland Rivulettes with their 348-2 record over 10 years.

By the 1960s hockey took off again and there were college leagues and various other leagues. By 1987 there was the first women’s World Hockey Tournament which was a big success. The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association was formed and many girls leagues were formed. The Abby Hoffman Cup competition was well received.

My son took art lessons from Abby Hoffman’s mother and met Abby several times. McFarlane tells how Abby called herself Ab & played boys hockey. She went on to win 8 Canadian Track Championships and represented Canada in 4 Olympics in Track. In 1984 Megan Follows played Abby in the movie Hockey Night and went on to become Anne of Green Gables and one of Canada’s finest actors and directors.

By the 1990s women’s hockey was in the Olympics and there were world championships. Body checking became an issue. A couple of women including Wickenheiser played Men’s professional hockey.

I have only touched on McFarlane’s story and it only went to 1994. The later story is better known and no one that watched those women’s games doubts that women’s hockey is here to stay.

Brian McFarlane

I wrote about Brian McFarlane’s father (Feb 3, 2007) the author of famous Hardy Boys books and a film director and script writer for CBC. Brian put his father’s archival material in the McMaster University Archives for posterity. Brian was an excellent college hockey player and scored a record 101 career goals. He was on Hockey Night in Canada for 25 years and has written 65 books.

And speaking of writing – I will be away for 4 weeks. Congratulations to Community Voices for 10 years of publication as of this month. I have had the pleasure of writing some 400 articles over those 10 years and many other writers have had the opportunity to see themselves in print. Thanks to the Nugget for the opportunity and to Dawn Clarke who has edited most of the issues.

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