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February 10, 2019

How Two Canadian Women Forged Sport in Our Nation

Fanny “Bobbie Rosenfeld” – The Altruistic Athlete  


Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was born in 1904 in Ukraine but she would go on to become one of the most accomplished Canadian athletes of all time. Earning the nickname “Bobbie” because of her haircut, Bobbie would go on to be successful both as an athlete, teammate, and sports writer. Video courtesy of Historica Canada.



Breaking Olympic records

An excellent overall athlete, Bobbie excelled in many sports, training and competing in ice hockey, basketball, softball, and she even won Toronto’s 1924 grass-court tennis championship for women. After dominating in any sport she seemed to play in Toronto, Bobbie would eventually go on to represent Canada at the Olympics. Not only did the athletic superstar qualify for the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, but she would also earn Canada our first Olympic medal in a track and field event: a silver in the 100 Meter race. But Bobbie wasn’t done there: she and her teammates also earned the gold in the 4 x 100m Relay.


Leadership that inspires

Without a doubt Bobbie Rosenfeld’s athletic prowess was incredible but it is the stories of courage and sportsmanship that best depict her leadership.


According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Bobbie also entered the 800 Meter event although she hadn’t trained for it. Why? Because a teammate of Bobbie’s, Jean Thompson, was scheduled to participate but had injured her leg and was nervous about the competition. Sensing the support Bobbie could provide, Team Canada’s Women’s Manager, Alexandrine Gibb, asked Bobbie to support her teammate by running the race. Thompson was in the lead for a bit during the event but eventually was passed by 3 other runners. Bobbie, catching up to her teammate, allowed Thompson to finish fourth while Bobbie came in fifth. The sportsmanship Bobbie demonstrated brought Gibb to declare that “in the annals of women’s athletics, there is no finer deed than this.”


Bobbie demonstrated her courage and tenacity off the field as well. In September 1929 Bobbie battled arthritis which left the Olympian bed-ridden for eight months and spending another year on crutches. But Bobbie wouldn’t let arthritis hold her back because by 1931 she was once again playing softball and was even voted the top women’s hockey player in Ontario in 1932. Talk about a swift recovery.


Promoting women’s sports

Although Bobbie was active and participating in sports once again, her athletic career was unfortunately ended by arthritis in 1933. So what did Bobbie do? She began a new career in sports journalism. Never giving up on her love of athletics, Bobbie wrote a column called “Sports Reel” in the Globe and Mail from 1937 to 1957. Bobbie used this new platform and her voice to promote and defend women’s sports. With her characteristic humour, Bobbie would stand up for female athletes and refute the critics’ claims that sports make women “unfeminine.”


After her column was published for 20 years, Bobbie ran the promotion department of the Globe and Mail until 1966 when illness forced her to retire. Bobbie Rosenfeld died in 1968 in Toronto and has since been honoured with numerous accolades including induction in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and being featured on a Canada Post-issued stamp in 1996.



Ev “Billie” Mitchell - The Innovator


EV “Billie” Mitchell may not be a household name but any avid figure skating fan will have heard about her most famous contribution to the sport: the “Parade of Champions.”



From local beginnings…

Inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 as a “Builder” of her sport, Billie’s journey began much earlier in 1961. During that year Billie was elected chair of the British Columbia Section of the Canadian Figure Skating Association (or CFSA). Not only was Billie now in a prominent position allowing her to implement the innovative ideas she was known for, but her election to the position made Billie the first woman on the National Board of Directors – an amazing step forward for women in the sport.


…To leadership at the national level

Billie continued her upward trajectory in sport by being elected the first woman on the executive level of the CFSA. Three years after obtaining the executive level, Billie became the association’s first female president.


During her active years at the CFSA, Billie introduced various ideas and concepts on how to better convene the sport, particularly in her home province of British Columbia. One of her ideas was to divide the large province into five smaller and more manageable regions – a system that is still in effect today.


Perhaps her most notable and recognizable contribution to the sport of figure skating in Canada came about in 1973 when Billie introduced the “Parade of Champions,” also known as the Gala, at the Canadian Championships. To this day, the Parade is a fun moment in figure skating when the medallists from each category get to perform a ‘for fun’ routine and celebrate their hard work. These routines are moments that provide fans with a glimpse of the skaters’ personality along with their skills.


Contributing from behind the scenes 

During major figure skating competitions, Billie worked as CTV’s unofficial accountant, helping the network keep score (it would still be a while before computer accounting would be used in the sport). Billie described one of her most memorable experiences as when she calculated that Vancouver-based skater Karen Magnussen won the World Championships in 1973.


EV “Billie” Mitchell is a perfect example of how anyone can make a difference in her sport without being a participating athlete. Billie’s contributions to her sport helped shape the way that the figure skating is still operated in British Columbia and the “Parade of Champions” has become a tradition that is embraced by figure skaters from all over the world. Her career and volunteering in the sport have set a remarkable foundation that skaters, coaches, and volunteers can still benefit from.


You can do it too


While both of these incredible women demonstrate leadership, perseverance, and an innovative spirit, Bobbie Rosenfeld contributed to her field in a way that was very different from EV “Billie” Mitchell’s. Neither contribution is superior to the other and in fact, it’s the ability to bring about change and improve regardless of one’s position that is the key takeaway from their stories. Bobbie Rosenfeld battled arthritis which may have ended her athletic career but it didn’t stop her from being a strong voice for female athletes. EV “Billie” Mitchell was not a competitive figure skater herself but she didn’t let this stop her from progressing in the sport.


This article only shares two stories of trailblazers, such as Billie Mitchell and Bobbie Rosenfeld but there are countless other examples of inspiring and feisty women - just like yourself. Who are some incredible leading women you can think of? Share their story in the comments, we’d love to hear about them.


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