Growing up in Kingston, in the winters Rhonda Leeman would play shinny with her older brothers at the outdoor rink in Victoria Park.
“We wouldn’t take our skates off when we came in for lunch. Instead, Mum would lay sheets of cardboard across the linoleum floor so we could come inside with our blades on, eat our soup and sandwich, and then head right back out again to play until dark.”
In 1969, Leeman saw an ad in the Kingston Whig-Standard looking for women to form a community hockey team. “I knew I had found my calling.” She was 15.
“I think the word that best describes what I was feeling when I stepped onto that rink was glory. If you’ve ever played hockey, or another sport you truly love, I’m sure you know what I’m
talking about. It’s a power trip mixed with a wave of joy and self-fulfillment that wells up from the bottom of your gut and makes sparks fly through your head. I had never in my life wanted to be part of something so badly as I wanted to play this game, and to play it the real way with referees and a scoreboard and regular line mates. Little did I know how profoundly that decision to play hockey with the Red Barons would affect my life to come.”
From the Red Barons, she went on to play with the Queen’s women’s hockey team – then known as the Golden Gals – from 1973 to 1976. The women’s team often had to battle with the men’s team for ice time. They also had to endure belittling behaviour from some of the male athletes. Their femininity was questioned.Their prowess as athletes was minimized. But, as Leeman Taylor writes, “In the end, as female athletes, we learned to fend for ourselves, with or without the encouragement of our peers and parents. I found support in my fellow teammates, and together, we managed to win the OWIAA title in the 1974–75 season, my second year of university. I discovered early that we didn’t need any feedback or positive reinforcement from others to succeed. We could move forward on our own.”
It was a good lesson to learn, and one that Rhonda Leeman Taylor would go on to practise throughout her career in hockey, first as a player and then as an advocate for other female players. In 1976, encouraged by her friend and former coach Cookie Cartwright (Arts’62, Law’65), she took on a volunteer position with the newly formed Ontario Women’s Hockey Association The OWHA sanctioned tournaments, tracked league and player stats, and promoted coach, trainer, and referee certification programs. It also helped players and parents across Ontario push for equal ice time for girls’ and women’s teams and helped increase both local media coverage and public awareness of women’s teams.
In 1980, Leeman Taylor became the first salaried female employee of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association. (The man to whom the position was first offered turned it down because the pay was too low.) She went on to chair the inaugural Women’s National Hockey Championships in 1982.
“We had about 1,600 fans come out to watch the final match played between Ontario and Alberta…Often, in the hallways during the tournament, teams would go out to talk to other teams to learn more about each other’s experiences playing the game. The girls knew that nothing like this had ever occurred before. It was beautiful to see so many powerful women coming together to create their own version of this important Canadian institution.”
In Offside, Leeman Taylor details the many battles she faced over the years – financial, political, bureaucratic – to advance women’s hockey in Canada, as well as the victories she
"I’m not telling my story because it’s unique,” she writes. “I’m telling it because I know there are thousands of other women out there who have faced and overcome challenges similar to
my own. I do not aim to speak for these women, but rather, beside them.”
Offside: A memoir is written by Rhonda Leeman Taylor and Denbeigh Whitmarsh. A portion of the proceeds of book sales is donated to the Grindstone Award Foundation to support young girls in hockey.