Home | Women in Sport | Women in Canadian Sport 1867-Present
Mini Documentary - Women in Sport 1867 - 1947
[Narrator - Danielle Goyette]
[Images of school children, families and women in the 1880's, images of women rowing, tobogganing, playing croquet, horseback riding, and skating in the 1880's to 1910's, image of a safety bicycle, images of women rowing, running, speed skating and ski jumping]
Restricted by discriminatory social attitudes that labeled them "the weaker sex", women were largely excluded from the Canadian sport until the late nineteenth century. Defined by their domestic roles as wives and mothers, it was believed women lacked sufficient strength and stamina to participate in sport without risking their health, and medical authorities frequently made false claims that vigorous physical activity could actually harm female reproductive abilities. Although women participated in social activities such as tobogganing, croquet, horseback riding, and skating, their access to sport remained limited until the invention of a safety bicycle sparked a nation-wide cycling craze in the late 1880's. The spirit of change was carried into the 1920's by women who excelled in physically demanding sports from which they had been excluded, from speed skating to ski jumping.
[Images of Bobbie Rosenfeld with trophies and dressed in athletic uniforms, images of high jumping, Matchless Six team images, Historica footage of 1928 Olympic Games showing parade of athletes and release of birds, women high jumping, relay racing, images of Bobbie Rosenfeld in relay race, holding a baseball bat and various medals she won]
The years between 1920 and 1935 became known as a golden era for women in Canadian sport. The "Matchless Six" captured four Olympic medals for Canada in 1928, the first year women's track and field events were included in the Olympic program. Their outstanding achievements included gold in the women's high jump and 4x100m relay, and silver and bronze in the 100m race. Perhaps the most meaningful illustration of their mutual support for one another occurred in the 800m race. Surging late in the race, Bobbie Rosenfeld could have easily outpaced her teammate Jean Thompson and pushed herself to win a medal. Instead she acted with exceptional compassion, shouting encouragement and slowing down to allow the younger sprinter to finish ahead of her. Later recognized for her outstanding sportsmanship, Bobbie Rosenfeld was named Canada's top female athlete of the half-century in 1949. Her legacy lives on in the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award, presented annually to Canada's top female athlete.
[Images of the Edmonton Grads playing basketball and team photos, images of newspaper articles, Historica footage of the Edmonton Grads playing basketball, footage of team coming off the boat returning from the Olympic Games.]
Like the matchless six, the Edmonton Grads relied on dedicated teamwork on the basketball court to achieve a nearly unbeatable competitive record during the 'golden era' of women's sport in Canada. Guided by their devoted coach Percy Page, between 1915 and 1940 the Grads recorded an outstanding 502 wins and only 20 losses. Often going undefeated for entire seasons, they won the North American championship title seventeen years in a row. The Grads were also crowned world champions after winning every exhibition tournament staged alongside the Olympic Games around the world between 1924 and 1936. Their astonishing record is unparalleled in the history of Canadian sport, and the team disbanded only when their practice facilities were taken over by the military during World War II.
[Images of Winnie Roach Lueszler wearing swimming goggles, swimming in Lakes, being checked by a doctor.]
Many veterans carried momentum for women's sport in Canada into the second half of the twentieth century. One such veteran was endurance swimmer Winnie Roach-Lueszler. After the Second World War, Winnie balanced starting a family with championship performances as a marathon swimmer, and in 1951 she became the first Canadian ever to swim the English Channel. This incredible feat of endurance disproved outmoded assumptions that bearing children made women unsuited for the physical demands of sport. In many ways, Winnie's achievements brought full-circle nearly a century and a half of change in Canadian sport, challenging and slowly transforming the social attitudes that once relegated women to the sidelines.
[Images of Sandra Schmirler's curling rink, Danielle Goyette, Cassie Campbell and Lori Dupuis with Canadian flag after winning gold medal hockey game in 2002, images of women running, rowing, Cassie Campbell holding gold medal, Susan Nattrass loading rifle, tennis team, ski jumping]
In the twenty-first century Canadian women participate in nearly every athletic pursuit open to men, running marathons and setting records in an endless variety of sports, from ice hockey to trap shooting, tennis to ski jumping.
[Danielle Goyette, images behind Danielle Goyette of Diane Jones Konihowski doing hurdles, Chantal Petitclerc wheelchair racing]
Many high performance female athletes are celebrated champions in their own right, thrilling spectators with their courage and dedication, while female physical educators, athletic organizers, coaches and sports journalists empower women to refuse limitation and achieve their dreams.