Canadian women have participated in every Olympic Winter Games since their inception in 1924. The first Canadian woman to medal at the Games was figure skater Barbara Ann Scott, who won gold in 1948. Her success was followed by gold medals in such sports as alpine skiing (e.g., Anne Heggtveit in 1960 and Nancy Greene in 1968), speed skating (e.g., Catriona Le May Doan in 1998 and 2002 and Cindy Klassen in 2006), biathlon (Myriam Bédard 1994), and hockey (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014). Canadian women have also excelled in Olympic sports such as bobsled, snowboarding, short track speed skating, freestyle skiing, and curling. Since the 1948 Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Canadian women have won 88 Olympic medals, including 33 gold medals.
Angela James, hockey player (born 22 December 1964 in Toronto, ON). Known as "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey," Angela James was a pioneering and dominant force in women's hockey during the 1980s and 1990s. James led the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997). She was also one of the first three women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. When James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (in Toronto) in 2010, she was one of the first two women, the first openly gay player, and the second black athlete to ever be inducted.
Marie-Philip Poulin, hockey player (born 28 March 1991 in Québec City, Québec). Poulin is a three-time Olympian who holds the unique distinction of scoring the gold medal-winning goals for Canada at both the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. She was also captain of the team that won silver at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. The forward has also won a world championship and two Clarkson Cup titles in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League championships. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, Poulin is considered one of the world’s top players and has been compared to fellow Canadian Sidney Crosby.
Kaetlyn Osmond, figure skater (born 5 December 1995 in Marystown, NL). Figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond has competed at two Olympic Winter Games, winning bronze in women’s figure skating (2018) and gold (2018) and silver (2014) in the team event. She has also been Canadian champion (2013, 2014, 2017), and a silver medallist at the World Figure Skating Championships (2017). Osmond has won gold medals at several international events, including Skate Canada International and the Nebelhorn Trophy.
Kaillie Humphries (née Simundson), bobsledder (born 4 September 1985 in Calgary, AB). At the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Humphries won a gold medal for Canada in the two-woman bobsled competition with Heather Moyse of Summerside, PEI, becoming the first Canadian woman to pilot a Canadian bobsled team to victory at an Olympic Winter Games. At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Humphries and Moyse won gold again, becoming the first women’s bobsled team in history to successfully defend an Olympic title. She won bronze at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, this time with Phylicia George as brakeman. Humphries is also the first Canadian female bobsled driver to win the World Championship. She has won two world championships and four World Cup titles in women’s bobsleigh competition. In November 2014, she became one of the first two women to compete in international four-man bobsleigh competition.
Barbara Howard, athlete, educator (born 8 May 1920 in Vancouver, BC; died 26 January 2017 in Vancouver). Barbara Howard is believed to be the first Black female athlete to represent Canada in international competition. At only 17 years old, she broke the British Empire record for the 100-yard dash, qualifying to represent Canada at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia. At the Games, she finished sixth in the 100-yard race but won silver and bronze medals as part of the 440-yard and 660-yard relay teams. Howard never competed in the Olympic Games, which were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 because of the Second World War. In 1941, she became the first member of a visible minority to be hired by the Vancouver School Board. She had a 43-year career in education, including 14 years as a physical education teacher, before retiring in 1984.
Sonja Gaudet (née Melis), Paralympic wheelchair curler (born 22 July 1966 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). A three-time Paralympian, Gaudet won gold for Canada at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Turin, 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver and 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. She was the first wheelchair curler ever to win multiple Paralympic gold medals. Gaudet is also a three-time world champion, having helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Vancouver, 2011 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Prague and 2013 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Sochi.
Anik Bissonnette, OC, CQ, ballerina, arts administrator (born at Montréal 9 Feb 1962). Québec's best-known ballerina, Anik Bissonnette is renowned for her exceptional musicality, purity of line and extraordinary balances, and for using her technical assurance to plumb exciting emotional depths. After garnering wide acclaim in many performances with Louis Robitaille, she was a principal dancer at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (LGBC) from 1989 to 2007 and made annual appearances at Montréal's Gala des Étoiles from 1983 until 2006. She was artistic director of the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur from 2004 to 2014, and has been artistic director of the École supérière de ballet contemporain de Montréal since 2010. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Chevalière of the National Order of Québec, she has received the Prix Denis Pelletier and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Hayley Wickenheiser, hockey player, softball player (born 12 August 1978 in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan). A four-time Olympic gold medallist, Wickenheiser is the all-time leader in goals (18), assists (33), and points (51) for women’s ice hockey at the Olympic Winter Games and all-time leader in assists (49) and points (86) at the Women’s World Hockey Championship. She was also the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. Wickenheiser retired from competitive hockey on 13 January 2017, finishing with 379 points (168 goals and 211 assists) in 276 games with Team Canada.
Kay MacBeth (née MacRitchie) was the last player to join the Edmonton Grads, a women’s basketball team James Naismith, inventor of the game, considered “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.” At 95 years old, MacBeth is also the last surviving Grad, a club that played from 1915 to 1940. In those 25 years, the Grads accumulated a record that is quite possibly beyond parallel. Over the course of some 400 official outings, the Grads lost only 20 games. The Grads were both national and world champions who often defeated their opponents by lopsided scores. MacBeth played for the Grads in 1939–40. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Eugenie Bouchard, tennis player (born 25 February 1994 in Montréal, QC). At Wimbledon 2014, Bouchard became the first Canadian singles player to reach the final of a senior Grand Slam singles tennis tournament. Although she lost to Petra Kvitova, the match was watched by over a million Canadians and helped make Bouchard a media sensation. Two years earlier, Bouchard had won the Wimbledon 2012 girls’ tournament, becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title at any level. A two-time winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award (2013 and 2014), she was the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Newcomer of the Year in 2013 and won a WTA title in Nuremberg, Germany, in 2014.
For hundreds of years, very few sports were considered appropriate for women, whether for reasons of supposed physical frailty, or the alleged moral dangers of vigorous exercise. Increasingly, women have claimed their right to participate not only in what were deemed graceful and feminine sports, but also in the sweaty, rough-and-tumble games their brothers played.
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.
Shirley Firth, cross-country skier (born 31 December 1953 in Aklavik, NWT; died 30 April 2013 in Yellowknife, NWT) and Sharon Anne Firth, cross-country skier (born 31 December 1953 in Aklavik, NWT). Twin sisters Shirley and Sharon Firth, members of the Gwich’in First Nation, were among the first Aboriginal athletes to represent Canada at the Olympics, and were members of the first Canadian women’s cross-country ski team at the Olympics.