Women and Sport

Despite early successes, women have had to fight to be involved in sports, and to be recognized for their athletic achievement. While female participation in sports has boomed over the last three decades, many girls and women still face barriers and discrimination in the sports world.

Edmonton Grads
First winners of the Underwood International Trophy, 1923 (courtesy PAC/A11413).
Rosenfeld, Bobbie
Rosenfeld was Canada's female athlete of the first half-century (courtesy Canada's Sports Hall of Fame).
Fanny Rosenfeld
Ethel Smith (left) and Fanny Rosenfeld (second from left) of Canada, perhaps at semi-final in the women's 100 meters at the Summer Olympic Games, 1928. Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/PA-151007.
Barbara Ann Scott, 1947.
Image: Frank Royal / National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives Canada / PA-112691.\r\n
Marilyn Bell, swimmer
Swimmer Marilyn Bell, c. 1950s (photo by Jack Marshall, courtesy Canada's Sports Hall of Fame/X981.32.1.50).
Mary Spencer, boxer
Wilson, Emma-Jayne
Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson celebrates her Queen's Plate victory, the first-ever by a Canadian female (photo by Cindy Dulay, courtesy Horse-Races.net).
Carol Huynh
Shirley Firth
Shirley Firth, 15years old at the time, on her way to winning the US Junior National Cross Country Skiing Championships in Girdwood, Alaska, 1969. Image courtesy of Tim Kelley/Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project.
Cindy Klassen
Speed skater Cindy Klassen competes at the 2006 Torino Olympics, ultimately winning a gold medal, two silvers and two bronzes. She is the first Canadian to win 5 medals in a single Olympics (courtesy CP Archives).
Kaillie Humphries, right, and Chelsea Valois during the World Cup race in Innsbruck, Au.tria,
Friday, January 18th, 2013. Image: \u00a9 Charlie Booker.
Aerialist Jennifer Heil during her gold medal performance at the 2006 Torino Olympics. \r\n Image: CP Archives.

If you asked the average Canadian to name a famous female Canadian athlete, they might mention Christine Sinclair, Kaillie Humphries, Clara Hughes, or perhaps the women’s Olympic hockey team. But did you know that some Canadian women cycled competitively in the Victorian period, or that a women’s basketball team from Edmonton dominated the sport in the 1920s?

Despite these early successes, women have had to fight to be involved in sports, and to be recognized for their athletic achievement. While female participation in sports has boomed over the last three decades, many girls and women still face barriers and discrimination in the sports world. As historian M. Ann Hall states at the beginning of The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada (2002), “when women actively participate in the symbols, practices, and institutions of sport, what they do there is often not considered ‘real’ sport, nor in some cases are they viewed as real women.” Yet the sports world has definitely changed throughout history. According to an article printed in the Toronto Globe in 1890, women were not naturally equipped to participate in any sports that required “violent” running: “She can swim, she can dance, she can ride: all these she can do admirably and with ease herself. But to run, nature most surely did not construct her.” The writer would certainly have been astounded by the athletic feats of Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien, and by the number and nature of sports now open to women. In addition to sports traditionally considered ‘feminine’ (including swimming, golf, and tennis), girls and women now play hockey, rugby, and soccer; they wrestle and they box – not only at amateur levels, but also at the Olympics.


Interested in sports?

External Links