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Transformative Moments: the Preston Rivulettes and the Politics of Representation

This is an excerpt from Sport and Recreation in Canadian History by Carly Adams.

By Carly Adams, Russell Field, Michel Vigneault

On December 22, 2017, at a ceremony in Cambridge, Ontario, the Canadian government recognized the Preston Rivulettes as historically significant.44 In front of a crowd of over 150 dignitaries, family members, and hockey supporters, the team’s achievements were praised and commemorated. From 1931 until 1940, the Preston Rivulettes (see figure 9.3) dominated Canadian women’s hockey, claiming 10 Ontario championships and four national titles.45 The Rivulettes played hard, aggressive, skillful hockey, and they are one of the most successful teams in Canadian hockey history.

Figure 9.3 Preston Rivulettes (c. 1934).
Figure 9.3 Preston Rivulettes (c. 1934).

Despite this success, however, the Preston Rivulettes and the players have not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) in Toronto. Hilda Ranscombe, star player of the team throughout the 1930s, was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, but her nomination for consideration in the HHOF has repeatedly been denied.

Many newspaper and secondary source accounts of the Rivulettes suggest the team has already been indicted to the HHOF. This misunderstanding can be traced back to a newspaper article from 1963. Under the headline “Rivulettes to Enter Hockey Hall of Fame,” an article in the Galt Evening Reporter suggested that the HHOF contacted Hilda Ranscombe as they wanted to “recognize the team’s outstanding achievements by placing the championship trophy and pictures within the hall’s confines.”46 Although inclusion in the Hall’s exhibits is an important recognition of the team’s success, this was not equivalent to induction into the HHOF’s list of honoured members.

Institutions such as halls of fame and museums contribute to discourses about how sport is remembered, and through induction ceremonies and exhibits, they signal which teams, athletes, and builders are worthy of being remembered.47 This is especially true of hockey, which, as Gruneau and Whitson note, “has become one of this country’s most significant collective representations—a story that Canadians tell themselves about what it means to be Canadian.”48 When halls of fame focus predominantly on the accomplishments of certain groups and elevate these bodies as the worthy recipients of public recognition, it obscures the involvement of others and erases some experiences from national collective memories.

The historic exclusion of women from hockey halls of fame, for example, diminishes women’s contributions to the sport. Yet these circumstances have slowly begun to change. In 2010, American Cammi Granato and Canadian Angela James were the first two women inducted into the HHOF. Since then the Hall has inducted a handful of women as honoured members including Canadians Geraldine Heaney, Danielle Goyette, Jayna Hefford, and most recently, Hayley Wickenheiser. While these are steps in the right direction, the HHOF as the arbiter of hockey recognition could make a much more significant contribution to shifting national discourses of Canada’s winter game.