Red Deer’s women’s hockey team in 1912. (Red Deer Archives photo)

Red Deer’s women’s hockey team in 1912. (Red Deer Archives photo)

Michael Dawe: Looking back at Red Deer’s women’s hockey roots

The Beijing Olympics are now over. Canada turned in a commendable showing, with 26 medals, including 4 golds. One real highlight was the gold medal won by the Canadian Women’s Hockey team in a closely fought game over the Americans. The whole country swelled with pride on the accomplishment.

Women’s hockey has exploded in popularity in the last couple of decades. However, what is often forgotten is that women’s hockey was also a major sport in Canada in the early part of the last century.

The first recorded women’s hockey in Alberta took place in Medicine Hat in 1897. A few years later, in the winter of 1904-1905, the first women’s hockey was organized in Red Deer.

Initially, there were two teams – the “Stars” and the “Skookems.” Most of the women hockey players were also members of the Alexandra Club, the young women’s charitable organization for the newly-opened Red Deer Memorial Hospital.

Before long, women’s hockey became a serious and systematically organized sport in Alberta. In 1908, a Ladies Hockey League was formed in Calgary. Soon, a somewhat informal Alberta inter-city league was created.

One particularly memorable game took place in Calgary in 1913 when a revitalized Red Deer team defeated the Calgary Crescents by a score of 1 to 0 before a crowd of more than eight hundred fans.

Red Deer became tremendously proud of its women’s hockey. In 1909, Mr. H.H. Humber, a Red Deer jeweler, had a commemorative plate produced with a picture of the local women’s hockey team on it.

The outbreak of the First World War brought a marked lull in organized women’s hockey in Alberta, as well as many other team sports. However, by the mid-1920s, women’s hockey began to re-emerge. Teams were formed in Calgary, Edmonton, Wetaskiwin, Lethbridge, Drumheller and Red Deer.

Women’s hockey was re-organized in Red Deer in December 1926. Twenty-two women joined the club, enough to form two teams. Training practices were held on Gaetz Lake or at the new Red Deer Arena. Games were played either at the Arena on Ross Street, or in the surrounding communities of Lacombe and Innisfail.

Women’s hockey soon became a thriving sport in Central Alberta again. The Red Deer team, the Amazons, was particularly strong. In the 1929-30 season, they became the Central and Northern Alberta Intermediate champions. They were also strong contenders at the annual Banff Winter Carnival, often considered to be either the Alberta or Western Canada women’s hockey championships.

In 1933, the Dominion Women’s Hockey Association was formed with every province but Saskatchewan as a member. Women’s hockey now had an organized presence across the entire country.

On March 18, 1933, the Red Deer Amazons won the Coffey Memorial Trophy. They consequently became the Alberta Ladies Intermediate Hockey champions. It was only the second time in history that a Red Deer hockey team had won a provincial championship. This accomplishment provided women’s hockey with a tremendous boost in prestige and popularity, particularly as the local men’s hockey was languishing at the time.

By the end of the 1934 season, the Red Deer team held three titles as the possessors of the Twin City (Northern Alberta), Alpine Club (Banff Winter Carnival) and Coffey (Alberta Intermediate championship) trophies.

In March 1935, the Amazons became a third-time provincial championship team. The squad was so strong that in three seasons, they only lost one game. In an exhibition match held in Red Deer, the Amazons were able to beat the Winnipeg Eaton’s team, the Western Canadian senior women’s hockey champions.

The on-going financial hardships of the Great Depression, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, led to the demise of organized women’s hockey in Central Alberta and across the province as a whole.

It is wonderful that now, in the 21 century, Canada is again the preeminent nation in international women’s hockey.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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