CityNews, in partnership with the Historical Society of Ottawa, brings you this weekly feature by Director James Powell, highlighting a moment in Ottawa's history.
Women’s hockey has a long and distinguished pedigree, dating back to 1889 when Lady Isobel Stanley, the daughter of Lord Stanley of Stanley Cup fame, strapped on some skates, picked up a hockey stick and played shinny with Rideau Hall ladies on the rink at Rideau Hall. Organized women’s hockey games quickly followed.
The first decade of the twentieth century saw many women’s hockey teams in the Ottawa area, including the Rideau Club Ladies, the Union Jacks, the “Readies” and the “Semi-Readies” (for experienced and not so experienced players, respectively), the Cliffside Ladies, a.k.a. the Busy Bees, the Sandy Hill Ladies, the Westboro Pets, and the Vestas of Hull (a fitting name for the Hull team since a vesta was another word for match, and matches were produced in their millions at E.B. Eddy’s match factory). There were also teams throughout the Ottawa Valley, including in Carleton Place, Smith’s Falls, Renfrew and Pembroke, as well as farther afield in Cornwall and Montreal.
It took time, however, for many to accept the idea of women playing hockey. It was seen as unladylike and undignified. It was often hard for women to get ice time at the rinks. Men also came to games to laugh and to mock women hockey players. But they were quickly disabused of such notions.
A 1903 Ottawa Citizen account reported “A ladies hocky team sounds a trifle undignified, but when it’s once seen the idea of it being undignified vanishes.” The ladies were “appropriately dressed” wearing comfortable sweaters, regulation hockey hats, and skirts of a comfortable length. The newspaper also noted that the women of Ottawa don’t play merely for fun but rather play to win. It added that they played a rough game and struck the puck vigorously.
When the First World War began in 1914, many amateur and professional male hockey players enlisted providing more space for women’s hockey. In 1915, a four-team league called the Eastern Ladies Hockey League was formed. Additional teams joined later. In Ontario, while initially there was no formal women’s hockey league, teams from different communities organized to play each other.
One powerful team was the Cornwall Victorias led by their star player Albertine Lapensée who was a major draw wherever the team played including in Ottawa. Lapensée was so good that many thought she was a boy. One opponent went so far as to pull off her toque to see how long her hair was, and in doing so revealed Lapensée’s long braids.
Here in Ottawa, a new women’s hockey team emerged in 1915—the Ottawa Alerts. The date of the team’s formation is a bit fuzzy. The first newspaper reference to the team appeared in The Ottawa Journal in April 1915 when it reported that a birthday party was given to Miss M. Prince by the Alert Hockey Club and other friends. By January 1916, the start of the women’s hockey season, the team was in action on the ice.
In late January 1916, the Alerts journeyed Cornwall to take on the Cornwall Victorias at the Victoria rink. Accompanying the team was their manager Allan Healey and their chaperon, a mother of one of the players, Mrs Frank Ault. Team members included G. Rogers (goal), C. Chambers (point), B. Rogert (cover point and captain), E. Anderson (forward), H. Brown (forward) and M.E. Aula (forward). There were also four substitutes, B. Ault, M. Binns. I. Guppy and Janet McCracken.
Reportedly, the quality of the hockey was “remarkably good,” something that came as a “revelation” to the majority of the spectators. The Ottawa girls were described as strong skaters and beautiful stick-handlers. Tied 1-1 after the first period, the game ended in a 3-1 win for the Victorias. E. Anderson scored for Ottawa while Albertine Lapensée, who came on as a substitute in the second period, scored all three Cornwall goals.
The following month, the Alerts beat the Montreal Champetres 6-2 at Dey’s Arena. They also played a number of local teams. In mid-March 1916, they took on the Westboro Pets with all proceeds going to the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association and the Returned Soldiers’ Home. The referees for the game were none other Frank Nighbor and Horace Merrill of the Ottawa Senators. Nighbor had just joined the Senators from the Vancouver Millionaires, the 1915 Stanley Cup champions.
In 1917, the Alerts, again chaperoned by Mrs Ault, travelled to Pittsburgh where they played three games with the Pittsburgh Polar Maids, winning all three. On the way home, they played the Aura Lee team in Toronto. The game ended in a scoreless draw. The Alerts’ success on this road trip secured them international recognition.
In mid December 1922, women’s amateur hockey in Ontario became more organized with the formation of the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association (L.O.H.A.) at a meeting held in the Temple building in Toronto. Initially eighteen teams from both large and small Ontario communities, including the Ottawa Alerts, joined the Association.
At the time, the Alerts were considered one of the best hockey teams in eastern Ontario. But how the team qualified for the L.O.H.A. playoffs is a bit unclear as the Alerts played only local exhibition games in the weeks prior to the beginning of the L.O.H.A. playoffs. The team was also given a bye in the first round. With less than a day’s warning, the league informed the Alerts that they would take on the Campbellford ladies’ team in a two-game, total goal series in the L.O.H.A. semi-finals with the first game to be played in Campbellford. The Campbellford team had earlier defeated the Lakeside and Peterboro team.
Despite the lack of warning and being hampered by the absence of two key players, one owing to illness and the other to an inability to get away, the Alerts took the first game eight goals to four. Stars of the game included the Alerts goalie, Florence Dawson, who had a “sensational” game, and forward Shirley Moulds. The Alerts also won the second game held two days later in Ottawa’s Dey’s Arena, one goal to nothing.
Having made it into the first league championship series, the Alerts were forced to wait for their western Ontario opponents to be determined—Thornhill, Welland, and North Toronto were still in the running. To keep their form, the team played exhibition games in Finch, Winchester and Chesterville.
The first Ontario Ladies’ hockey championship pitted the Alerts against North Toronto in a two-game, total-goal series, with the first game held in Ottawa at Dey’s Arena. (The two teams had met twice the previous year with the first game ending in a scoreless tie and with Toronto winning the second 1-0 on a disputed goal.)
As expected, the first game was a close, hard-fought contest with the Alerts taking the game 1-0 on a third-period goal by Shirley Moulds assisted by Marion Gilles. According to the Ottawa Journal reporter, the score would have been higher had it not been for the heroics of Toronto player Fannie Rosenfeld, whose play was likened to that of the great Albertine Lapensée. (Fannie Rosenfeld, also known as Bobbie Rosenfeld, was Canada’s premiere female athlete of the 1920s. In addition to hockey, she played numerous other sports and was an Olympic gold medalist.)
The Alerts team, whose colours were yellow and black, was composed of Florence Dawson (goal), Ann O’Connor and Grace Grier (defence), Tena Turner [captain], Marion Giles, and Shirley Moulds (forwards) and Charlotte Forde, Eva Ault, Bee Hagen and Edith Anderson (substitutes).
In the second game held in Toronto on 20 March 1923, Shirley Moulds, the Alert winger, dominated the game scoring four goals in the Alerts’ 5-2 victory. The first period ended tied with Moulds and Toronto’s Rosenfeld each scoring two. Moulds scored the only second period tally and again in the third along with her teammate Marion Gilles. Captain Tena Turner was credited with keeping Rosenfeld largely in check. With the victory, the Alerts won the first Women’s Ontario Ladies Championship and the Dr Lorne Robertson trophy with an overall score of six goals to two.
The Alerts went on to win the league championship for the second time the following year though in a less than satisfactory manner. After two lopsided shut-out victories over Campbellford, the Alerts were again slated to play the North Toronto team in the finals. However, the Toronto team forfeited when the Alerts refused their demand for a guarantee to cover the cost of their travel from Toronto to Ottawa. The Alerts had paid for their own way to Toronto in 1923 and felt it was only right that Toronto covered its own travel expenses.
The Alerts remained a power in Ontario women’s hockey through the rest of the decade, but were weakened by the shift of their star Shirley Moulds to the Ottawa Rowing Club team in 1926. The Rowing Club team dethroned the Alerts as the Ottawa and District champions in 1926 and went on to win the women’s Ontario title in 1927, and lost to Toronto’s Aura Lee team in the 1928 championship. Shirley Moulds subsequently left the Ottawa Rowing Club team to play for Salloway Mills, a team supported by a brokerage firm of the same name that failed in the Great Depression.
In 1930, the Alerts were back on form, taking the Ottawa and District title by trouncing Chalk River, the winner of the Upper Ottawa league, 5-0 in Ottawa’s Auditorium. Expecting to face the Toronto Pattersons in the L.O.H.A. finals, the Alerts were shocked when the L.O.H.A. declared them ineligible. Through an oversight, the team had failed to send in player certificates to the L.O.H.A. by the required date. The far weaker Chalk River team went in their stead, losing to the Toronto Pats in a match that was held at the Montreal Forum owing to a lack of ice in Ontario.
The Alerts subsequently disappeared from the sports pages of Ottawa newspapers, most likely another casualty of the Depression.
The L.O.H.A. continued for another decade before it too collapsed in 1940, a victim of declining interest in women’s hockey. Before that happened, another Ottawa women’s hockey team, the Ottawa Rangers, briefly had some success, making it to the L.O.H.A. finals in 1938 and 1939. The team lost to the incomparable Preston Rivulettes in 1938 who dominated the league through the 1930s. The following year, the Rangers defaulted to the Rivulettes when the team was unable to provide the required $200 financial guarantee demanded by the Rivulettes.