Every time I walk through its doors on the outskirts of the Olympic city of Calgary, I am struck by the kaleidoscope of sport that greets me.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame is a cacophony of athletic prowess. It amounts to a remarkable, but too-infrequently visited museum which pays tribute to a significant chapter of the national narrative.
There is a life-sized bronze of the great thoroughbred Northern Dancer as well as Crazy Canuck Steve Podborksi’s bright red ski boots. Tony Esposito’s goalie mask from hockey’s magnificent Summit Series of 1972 is there; so too are the oars of rowing legend Silken Laumann.
There are Olympic medals and track shoes and basketballs that the famed Edmonton Grads once delivered through so many hoops around the world. A baseball jersey from Chicago Cubs great Ferguson Jenkins is pristine in an elaborate showcase as is the webbed stick of the indigenous magician of the national game of lacrosse, Gaylord Powless.
There is so much gathered here under one roof, in this one place, and the sights and sounds speak to the mosaic of a country which embraces not just a single sport but every sport under the sun. There are men and women and animals and machines.
Boxers and bobsleighs.
Footballs and figure skates.
It is the most inclusive place one could imagine.
And as the Class of 2019 is announced I think to myself this place is not only eclectic but vastly impressive.
That’s because the men and women who enter the hall this year represent a uniquely Canadian approach to sport which puts a premium not only on performance but also on contribution to the wider landscape.
“Ours is an emotional connection to a sense of purpose for sport,” beamed the President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, Cheryl Bernard, who is marking exactly one year on the job.
A high-performance curler who won a silver medal for Canada at the home Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, Bernard is committed to raising the profile of the hall while exalting the impact of its diverse membership on every level of Canadian society from the grassroots to international podiums.
“These hall of famers have a value which goes far beyond the wins they have each recorded on various fields of play,” Bernard reckoned. “Our focus goes well beyond goals scored or races won. It’s about the competitive spirit being transformed into community spirit.”
This year the eight inductees bear her out.
Showcasing the contributions of Canadian women
In a year where a new and elaborate exhibit which showcases the contributions Canadian women have made to sport is being unveiled, five of the eight inductees are female.
Included is one of the great marathon swimmers in history in Vicki Keith who owns 18 world records and managed to navigate all five of the Great Lakes in one season. Now she coaches a highly successful swim club at the YMCA in Kingston, Ont., which provides opportunity for aspiring athletes with a disability.
Guylaine Bernier is an Olympic rower from the 1976 Games in Montreal who goes in as a builder because she paved the way for women in her sport through her efforts as an athlete, an official, a volunteer, and an administrator.
Colette Bourgonje a Metis athlete from the prairie won medals in the summer and winter Paralympics on the track and as a cross-country skier, not to mention being the first physical education graduate at the University of Saskatchewan in a wheelchair. She continues to coach and teach in her home province.
The great patron of university sport in Canada, Doug Mitchell enters as a builder. He also served as commissioner of the CFL in the 1980’s and went a long way towards saving the league in financially difficult times.
Also inducted is Alexandre Bilodeau, the mogul skier who won back-to-back Olympic titles in 2010 and 2014 not to mention being the first Canadian to win a gold medal on home soil in Vancouver.
One of hockey’s greatest goalie’s Martin Brodeur gets the nod because of his remarkable record of achievement which includes three Stanley Cup championships and two Olympic gold medals.
And so does Jayna Hefford one of the most prolific women’s hockey players of all-time who claimed four Olympic gold medals, seven world championships and who scored more than 400 goals in her career.
‘Highest sporting honour in this country’
At a time when hockey for women is striving mightily for gender equity Hefford’s inclusion is significant.
“This is the highest sporting honour there is in this county. It exceeds the discipline you are in,” she explained.
“Women’s hockey is in a good place and it can only get better. We need all the momentum we can get and this recognition is a welcome piece to that.”
Finally there is Waneek Horn-Miller, a pioneer in every sense of the word. She is the first water polo player to be inducted to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
A Pan American Games champion in 1999 at Winnipeg, Horn-Miller also captained the Canadian team to a breakthrough world championship medal in Japan in 2001. In addition she is the first Mohawk woman to compete at the Olympic Games and remains a strong and vocal advocate for indigenous sport in Canada and internationally.
In a few words, Horn-Miller crystallized the universal appeal of sport and the importance of her ascension to the Hall of Fame.
“Sport breaks us down to our fundamental human elements and allows all of us to have the same kind of dreams,” she reasoned. “It is all of those moments that set so many of our hearts on fire and gives all of us, regardless of where we come from, a destination.”
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, is by any measure a national treasure. It is striking that so few of us have, as yet, discovered it.
Not only is it a reflection of remarkable Canadian achievement in so many sporting realms. It is, perhaps more importantly, a testament to the values that sport lives by in this country and the wide variety of exemplary citizens who practice it.