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Sports developed in Western Canada, as in many other areas, as a male domain. The qualities that supposedly made up a good athlete, such as strength, endurance, discipline and mental agility were typically considered male. Becoming involved in sports teams was encouraged for boys and men as it taught them lessons of fair play, provided an outlet for their aggressive energies and was essential to the health of the male physique and mind. Girls and women, on the other hand, were discouraged from playing many sports; in particular, contact sports were considered dangerous to femininity and reproductive health. If women did participate in sports, it was believed they should only do so through gender-segregated teams. For instance, in 1914, the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada, the major governing body of sports in Canada, ruled that women could only compete in amateur sports against each other. Also, it was believed that women should limit themselves to respectable, non-contact sports, such as tennis and curling.

For the most part, these attitudes did not bother the majority of Albertan women prior to WWI. Until this time, most women could not afford the time or money needed to be involved on a sports team. Sports were a leisure activity mostly reserved for members of the upper classes who were not burdened by constant labour. However, after WWI, the situation quickly began to change as more and more women, especially of the middle class, began entering sports. Urbanization and new technologies freed many women from the all-consuming nature of farm and housework, and gave them much more leisure time. Also, schools, which more women began entering and attending regularly, organized sports teams for both men and women. Increasingly, educators began to believe that sports were just as important for women and for men. Churches also sponsored sports teams and leagues for women. After all, Alberta was seen as place in which the outdoor environment created both hardy and healthy men and women. Farm women, in particular, disapproved of any theories that women should be excluded from activities on account of a supposed lack of strength and stamina.

Certain sports began to become particularly popular with women. For example, many women picked up on softball, played with a larger ball and at a slower pace then baseball. Softball required a smaller diamond than baseball and relatively straightforward equipment; and as a result many local communities, schools and sections of the YWCA organized women's teams. Women's curling also gained rapid popularity, the first women's bonspiel occurring just before WWI. It was one of the first sports in Alberta, also among tennis and golfing, to allow mixed gender teams. 

Women also began entering sports traditionally dominated by men, such as basketball and hockey. For instance, the Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, a women's team from Edmonton, won the world championship in the 1924 Olympics. The players were praised for bringing "to many thousands of people the fact that Alberta, and particularly the Edmonton district, produces the finest type of Canadian womanhood." 1  As communities built ice rinks, women also formed hockey teams. The Red Deer women's hockey team, the Amazons, became a source of pride for the community as they won two provincial championships.

Sports still remain today an area heavily dominated by men. Male athletes and sport teams generally receive more funding and press coverage. Also, mixed teams are still not allowed in many sports, the belief being that women cannot compete on par with men. However, Albertan women have bulldozed over many of the perceptions that women cannot participate in sports. Once freed from the constraints of their work, women have entered sports in great numbers, forming teams which compete on a national and international level. 

 

Source:

  • Wetherell, Donald and Irene Kmet. Useful Pleasures: The Shaping of Leisure in Alberta 1896-1945. Edmonton and Regina: Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism/Canadian Plains Research Center, 1990.

 

  
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