Fran Rider, Executive Director of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association says Canadians are born with an interest in hockey. She came from a sports-minded family and started playing around 1967.
“It has powerful opportunities, many of the girls are teachers, professors, they’re highly educated,” she says. “There are many police officers. The young girls have role models in life, not just in sport.”
When Rider was younger, she says there weren’t many opportunities for women to play hockey. They could watch the sport, but playing was a different story.
“I saw an ad in the Toronto Telegram, I used to go to the Leafs’ games and played in the backyard and always desperately wanted to play and when the opportunity arose I got involved.”
Currently, there is no professional women’s hockey like in basketball, football or hockey for men. The AA league is for recreation. The AAA team is national women’s hockey where the women travel and are in the Olympic Games.
The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association was formed in 1975. When the association first started out they received support from Shoppers Drug Mart and Mississauga Mayor, Hazel McCallion. The International Ice Hockey Federation moved towards a full world championship in 1990 making it possible for Canadians to play in the Olympics.
“The goals of the OWHA have been to grow the interest of the game throughout Ontario, Canada and the world,” says Rider. “It’s a universal game, the bigger objective of hockey is to win the game, but the bigger objective is to get more support for women’s hockey and the sport.”
Rider also says diverse women playing hockey creates role models.
“Angela [James] was one of the superstars by far and way ahead of her time,” Rider says.
Angela James played for the Olympic women’s hockey team. She grew up in Flemingdon Park in Toronto.
“It’s funny because I’m retired from hockey now,” says James. “When I was younger, I played in my neighbourhood with my friends, played in the outdoor arena. It’s pretty much what everybody did in my area.”
James is a Senior Sports Coordinator at Seneca College on York University’s campus.
“I’m biracial,” James says. “My father’s from rural Mississippi and my mother’s from Ontario. My father who probably has never put on a pair of skates in his life – most of his kids play hockey and are [good] at it. I don’t know if it goes back to the faster muscle twitch.”
James, who lives with her partner, has three children. Chatting with her on a traditional hockey night in Canada, she reflected on the highlights of her hockey career.
“The first world championship…the second world championship was another. The provincial championship was always a great highlight. There were so many it’s hard to say which one. The action on the ice, the way the game is played, the skating. It’s a winter sport, I enjoy that. Also friendship, it’s a team sport off the ice.
“I was playing up until last year,” says James. “I officiate; I’m involved in coaching my son’s team. It’s pretty much still a hockey house here.”
James hasn’t decided yet whether she will be returning to hockey this year.
“I’d play out of York University; they do have a league there. I’d probably play the AA, I could play the AAA, but it’s just too much of a time commitment.”
For all of James’s success with hockey, she has recently been inducted in the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame based in Nova Scotia.