W. Sly and current Gaels hockey player Shelby Sly (right).
W. Sly (circled in the photo on the left) and current Gaels hockey player Shelby Sly (right).

Surprise! 1913-14 hockey photo reveals unexpected connection

A Gaels women’s hockey team meeting led to an amazing discovery. 

Head Coach Matt Holmberg was discussing the history of the Queen’s women’s hockey program with the team and showed a photo of the Arts 1915 Ladies’ Hockey Champions from 1913-14. 

One player in the photo, a woman identified simply as W. Sly, caught the attention of current Gaels hockey team forward Shelby Sly, Artsci’23.

“Matt pulled it up on the PowerPoint and he was talking about the team and said, ‘I just noticed this, but her last name Sly.’” Shelby recalls. “I laughed out loud. I was thinking, ‘Could you imagine if I was related to her?’”

Shelby reached out to her grandmother, Linda Sly, who keeps track of family history, and was able to confirm the pleasant surprise – W. Sly and Shelby Sly are related.

W. Sly’s full name is Mary Elizabeth Wilhelmina Sly (1892–1985) and her grandfather is Shelby’s great-great-great uncle.

"It is kind of crazy. My dad loved hearing the news. He is a huge family guy and hockey guy,” says Shelby, who now has a copy of the photo hanging in her home. “My grandmother is into ancestry and family history, so it was fun connecting with her over this.”

Her grandmother, Linda Sly, was excited when Shelby asked about the family connection. Linda already had a family tree on Ancestry.com and was able to quickly find the connection. 

“I was so excited when she asked to look into the possible connection, so I went right to the website and discovered they are related. It was easy to find,” says Linda.

Mary Elizabeth Wilhelmina went on to marry Robert Mills in 1917 and had two children before passing away in Eganville, Ont., in 1985 at the age of 92.

Sports run in the family. Linda did a little more digging and discovered that Wilhelmina’s great-grandson, George Bovell, swam for Trinidad and Tobago and won a bronze medal in the men’s 200-metre individual medley at the 2004 Olympic Games.

The connection, and knowing her family is part of Queen’s hockey history, is meaningful to Shelby because this is her final season. She joined the Gaels in 2018-19, serving as assistant captain in the last two. 

“It being my last season, it’s super emotional for me,” Shelby says. “The one thing we really stressed this season, especially when we talked about our history, is belonging. I tied my ‘why’ into this season – why am I doing this, why do I show up every day? I think it’s knowing that this is something so much bigger than myself.”