Ringette in Nova Scotia (1973 written 2007) – Herm Wills, 1st President and founding member.
Ringette in Nova Scotia has its beginning in an ironic way with the funding of the first Sackville Community Arena. How’s that you might ask? It was during the canvassing for funds going door to door that some neighbors stated they would not donate for a hockey rink. Hockey enthusiasts were pushing the whole idea of a community arena. These neighbors too argued that figure skating would be re-allocated to non-attractive and few hours. Wow, that stung for all I had at that time were sons who were playing hockey. At that time travel for games was to the North End Arena and Windsor, N.S., which made for supporters of a rink in Sackville very dedicated.
Fast forward to business trip to Montreal for one week, when a friend had invited me to supper in Pierrefond and we had enough time to take in his daughter’s Ringette game before the train left for the city. First question, what is Ringette? His explanation was intriguing to say the least. More importantly, the game was itself was a marvelous expression of the abilities that girls have for skating on skates normally associated with boys, this was in 1973. The enthusiasm and the skills, the team play, it was great. This was exactly what was needed in Sackville, NS struggling to make their new arena a Community Center. To see girls skating every bit as good if not better than boys was a sight to behold.
Big question, how? My friend offered me a rulebook, which had a one-page history and an Ontario contact. I was to learn that the Ontario Ministry of Culture had a 16mm film that was amateurishly shot that could be used to introduce the sport. The film was available from their library for a period of time. It so happened that I was a member of the Kinsmen Club of Sackville and on Saturday mornings, I was involved in showing movies for the kids of Sackville in our community hall. Which meant we had access to a 16mm projector. (unlike today’s technology)
First attempt was to engage the Kinsmen in a community project for girls, with loan of their projector. At that time there were a group of girls from Waverley, Bedford and Sackville made up of different ages involved in weekly games of hockey. No fanfare just girls out to have fun at a team sport on ice.
Second step was to try a high school, Don Mc Vicar, Sackville High School physical education department, he was very obliging to hear me out about this new sport on the scene with his wife Ann. Don and Ann MacVicar both physical education teachers at Sackville High. We viewed the film and Ann suggested that maybe Glenn Kerr who was coaching a girls hockey team in Bedford would be interested. Ann contacted Glen and spoke to him about Ringette and a meeting was set up. Glen viewed the film and said he would talk to the girls about it and hence made the beginning of Ringette in NS. The next step was to show Glen and his assistant coach Sharon Clancy the sport. They agreed to learn the rules and take the game to the ice only if the girls would agree. Glenn introduces me to his team, and I promised to ask for free ice time for the sport if they would agree to try it out for the remainder of the season. This then required for us to train referees and to muster some ice time. The time came to demonstrate the first game of Ringette in NS at the Bedford LeBrun Center, a new arena. We called the press and they were having a dull day and found this news different and with a twist, a game sport for girls on ice. We made front page on sport section by Richard Russell, who now is doing the Auto section of the Herald. (2007). (paragraph re-visited 2011 for correction and more detail)
This paved the way for meeting with the Bedford Recreation Commission, but first we needed a sales pitch to get ice time for the girls to hone their skills, along with the adults. Sign maker, friend and designer Don Jeffrey’s my neighbor provided the tool for the presentation that could be used to encourage the Commission to help out. Here was the deal we presented to them, if they were to provide two hours a week for the girls to hone their skills, we would promote and make Bedford the home of Ringette in Nova Scotia. Complemented with a banner that could be raised in the center to announce to community that this is the home of Ringette in NS. The meeting took place with one of the mothers on the commission who had a daughter playing and who tried the sport, she gave candid comment on her daughter’s enthusiasm and that of her two nieces. There could have been other influences not known to me. They did agree in a closed meeting to our proposal with a counter offer, one hour a week and we were to sponsor a March break program for girls of the area. That was the first big break for Ringette in NS. This began the big task of promotion and organizing. Having never ever being involved in anything like this, it was to be a challenge of a lifetime. It was time to shed my fear of meeting people and GET OVER being an introvert. It was at this time I introduced a friend’s wife, to the sport to help out with the team, Sharon Selig of Hammond Plains.
A note has to be added at this time, had it not been the willingness of Glen Kerr, Sharon Clancy and the girls of Bedford the sport would have likely taken another year or so before it would have been started. Glen has been an unsung hero and community builder, for the sport not only in Bedford but Nova Scotia. Through the sport of Ringette our friendship has endured.
The March break program was headed up with Bedford volunteers headed up by Ann MacVicar a constant supporter for the game and its potential. (Ann later introduced ladies in Bedford to Ringette, and became the first president of the Central Region Ringette Association and Chairperson of the 1982 National Championships held in Nova Scotia.) We then enlisted some skill sets needed to head up a new organization to be named, NS Ringette Association later to be named Ringette NS. From my neighbors, enlisted were Violet Smith (Actual Secretary), Secretary, Grant Redding (Accountant), Treasurer, Herm Wills, (Computer Technician) President, Len Kincaid (Surveyor and Mathematician), Vice President and Don Jeffrey’s (Designer). We then enlisted Danny MacNeil, the son of my son’s hockey coach to learn the game and to become a referee, along with Buddy Kerr the son of Glenn, Mike Kirby, Bob Crosbie and my son Carl at a later date. Once the sport hit the news, Bob Nicholson joined the refereeing team from Halifax. Bob N. once refereed in Oshawa, ON. We too, enlisted players from Sackville to be members of this first Ringette team in Nova Scotia.
This first year of Ringette we had two teams made up of players from Bedford and Sackville. We had enthusiasm and zeal to get a sport on ice for girls that would be supportive from their parents and the community.
This first year was a tumultuous one; our next point of organization came from players in Sackville after a meeting with Pauline Stanick who was coaching the Sackville girl’s hockey team and Shirley McGovern. They were a bit reluctant I thought, but however became very enthusiastic and Pauline became a Ringette icon in Sackville. This was the year that Sackville opened its new (Community arena). Attendance at the meeting was Roger Neate, President of Sackville Minor Hockey Association. They came on board and supported the development of Ringette for the girls.
The sport was a go for both Bedford and Sackville, following those two prime locations the sport took us to Musquodoboit, Dartmouth and Halifax, fertile soil was found in Musquodoboit and an organization came into being the following year. That spring the newly formed provincial Department of Recreation invited me to meeting with Kathy Logan who was doing a project on women in sports, after chairing the provincial program of “International Year of the Woman”. . Her advice and mentoring was of excellent quality and gratefully received. The department was studying sports facilities and having Ringette in their programs would be a plus. We organized a game and invited 130 people by personal invitation at which only 5 or 6 bothered to attend. Ken Bellemaire, Joyce Myers, Marlene Mullenger attended. Joyce was known for her involvement in Provincial Curling, Mullenger was involved in City of Halifax Recreation, and Ken was the Executive director of the provincial Dept of Recreation. After the game, Ken asked the two ladies if this sport should be a program supported by the department, their answers were positive and supportive.
The department was holding a symposium that May at SMU at which time the opportunity presented itself for me to explain the sport. The then Minister of Recreation, A. G. Brown, offered to help this budding sport for girls to get a foothold in NS. We then went forward with a proposal to the department and with the help of Ken Mantin, and Sport NS, we were able to form Ringette NS and become part of Sport NS. That summer we hosted a summer clinic at SMU for leaders, we were able to bring in key trainers from Ontario, Bob Sugden, Hamilton, Howard Pierce from Kingston and Barry Mattern from Winnipeg. We had many NS adults in attendance to put through their paces.
One notable from another new community arena was Dora Silver from Canning with her skates from days gone by; Dora became a local hero in support Ringette and the Community arena in Canning, NS. Dora at this time was a Senior Citizen deeply interested in Hockey, Ringette and anything to make their arena a success. Dora introduced a schoolteacher, Susan Ueffing to the sport along with Sheryl Scott.
The following season, we saw new players, adults getting involved more and more. This too brought out volunteers who moved to the area from Ontario and Quebec familiar with the game. The first was Don Nicholson, who refereed in Oshawa, ONT a hotbed for Ringette. He helped out during the first initial games. The Pirie family hailed from Beaconsfield, Quebec. The mother Molly was an excellent coach and brought with her skills on and off the ice. Her two daughters were first-rate players with much experience. Molly later became President of Ringette NS and achieved recognition from Ringette Canada as Sports Executive of the Year. The White family (Sackville) recent newcomers to Sackville from Montreal and the MacEachern family from Ottawa, next from the outside was Bernie Cockburn a member of the Armed forces who was instrumental in getting Ringette going in the town of St. Bruno in Quebec. His two daughters were experienced players, and he was successful in bringing Shannon Park into the Ringette family. Bernie excelled at focusing on the girls, although not a skater, he was indeed a promoter. He was a registered referee for the sport of basketball and understood the rules and various applications thereof. He compiled the first Ringette casebook in Canada
Sackville had its first registration and was able to field many teams and three divisions in addition to a ladies team.
That year it was possible to have inter-community competitions and the first provincial clinic, which was held at the Sackville Arena with Keith Parker from Pierrefond, Quebec. The vision was unfolding as should, a vision shared by all those involved. This vision had to have a world view which was to get Ringette played nationally and into the Canada games. This would not happen without a National association. This vision was held by various provincial leaders and began the formation of Ringette Canada, with June Tiessen, President of Ringette ON as the first president, and Herm Wills as one of the founding members and the first meeting was held at TUNS in Halifax that following summer. A long way in just two short years. Because of the political turmoil that was present in the country, which spilled over into sports, it was decided that NS should chair the meeting. The animosity between Ontario and Quebec was overwhelming to say the least.
At the end of year two, we had formed a Provincial Ringette association with much, much help from Sport NS. Became part of and promoter of Ringette Canada. We were able to have intercommunity competitions along with the thrill of billeting, which was very popular with many girls. We had Ringette in Cape Breton, Bay St. Mary, the Valley and Metro. Bob and Maxine Galvin began the sport in Pictou, for they too had moved into the area from Montreal and had daughters who wanted to play Ringette. In fact, it was said of this family and the Pirie family that if Ringette were not being played they would have started it, somehow. We too, had another ally from Ottawa, a minister of the provincial cabinet, his two daughters refereed and his youngest daughter Rebecca played in Bedford. This was the year and perhaps the only one in which the premier declared Ringette week in Nova Scotia.
Then there was Dan MacKay, a high school teacher in Antigonish who introduced the sport to his High School in Antigonish County. One notable incident was that he had one girl who could shoot the ring with a rise, a wrist shot in fact. This was a first that we knew, so myself, Glenn, Molly Pirie, Bernie Cockburn went to Antigonish to see this action. And lo and behold a new twist a new technique came to the game.
My friends, whom I introduce the sport who made major contributions I am grateful, Al and Zella Broomhead our first referee in chief in Sackville and Central Region of Ringette who were responsible for developing a better rule book and clinics. Bernie Cockburn who introduced the first casebook for referees, Molly Pirie and Glenn Kerr who did the first player development and coaching.
Were all the attempts successful, definitely not. Many calls to service clubs, communities, recreation departments, media and many hours compiling correspondence with little or no success but the need was there and that prevailed and Ringette took hold.
There are many names; people and friends who have helped the sport along in Nova Scotia and my sincere gratitude and thanks to all of them, for they unselfishly gave of their time, talent and interest in the lives of young girls. The sport I am sure helped young girls to become young women who take life seriously and are able to cope because of their peers in Ringette and the beauty of playing a team sport where they could excel. They too learned to be assertive and take a rightful place within society as equal peers.
Note: Many events and stories could be told about the beginning of Ringette here in Nova Scotia, I’ve tried to highlight how it came to be. Stories about the counter offer from the Bedford Service Commission, that we would hold a two-week program for girls during the March break for exchange of ice time. Or the encounters with aggressive hockey parents or near panic with radio and television interviews. The sport did deliver and thrives today in some locales where the parents are supportive in spite of the many set backs.
The timing could not have been better, since the Department of recreation (Provincial) had just been formed and was seeking ways to involve the community in more active life styles. Ringette came at a time when most ice surfaces were dominated by hockey (men and boys) and perhaps the reason for the existence of many arenas. The province was prepared to help local people to develop plans and finance arenas but with a broader appeal to the community for programs that involved them had a much wider appeal, hence Ringette became a natural.
It was the enthusiasm of the girls with their own sport on ice, the parents, the supporters, the officials, the coaches and the administrators that made the sport the success it is today. Often the catalyst is given credit but really it is the girls and those who care.
To Follow: Article by Hugh Townsend, The Chronicle Herald.
Picture Glen Kerr, Agnes Jacks, Herm Wills taken at Canadian Ringette Championships.2002