Tom Bartsiokas recognized a good story when he saw it and did not have a hard time convincing fellow Seneca College employee Corey Long that the history of Angela James – the first superstar of women’s hockey – needed to be shared with a wide audience.
Born to an absentee Black American father and White Canadian mother, James’ passion for hockey was fuelled in Flemingdon Park, one of the city’s designated priority neighborhoods and housing projects. She began skating on the frozen hydro fields and later played shinny and ball hockey with neighbourhood boys in the mid-1960s. The talent and skills displayed at an early age took James to the summit of women’s hockey and the esteemed Hockey Hall of Fame.
The only Black to captain a national women’s hockey team, James and American Cammi Granato made history two years ago by becoming the first females to be inducted into the Hall, established 67 years ago. She and five-time Stanley Cup champion, Grant Fuhr, are the only Blacks in the sport’s Hall of Fame.
“Her story should have been told a long time ago,” said Bartsiokas, a communications specialist at Seneca, at James’ biography launch last week at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, formerly Maple Leaf Gardens. “This is a remarkable Canadian athlete who has accomplished so much. She’s a pioneer who has broken down doors and stereotypes and her legacy lives on in Canadian hockey arenas.
“I see it every weekend at the Angela James Arena where my daughter and niece play alongside the boys. That’s because of Angela. This book is about the love of sport and family. Hockey was Angela’s passion and her family stood behind her.”
Registered by her mom in minor boys’ hockey when she was eight years old, James dominated the game at the Ontario College Athletics Association level, where she was a three-time scoring champion and Most Valuable Player (MVP). As a defense player, she turned in the remarkable feat of scoring 50 goals for Seneca College in the 1984-85 season.
The leading scorer eight seasons, six-time Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League (COWHL) MVP winner and four-time women’s world championship gold medalist, James netted 11 goals in five contests at the inaugural world championships in 1990. Overall, she recorded 34 points in 20 games in the first four tournaments.
She also won gold medals in 1996 and 1999 in the Three Nations Cup tournaments that also involved the United States and Finland.
Long, a part-time teacher at Seneca College who edits the alumni publication, RED, thanked James for trusting him and Bartsiokas to write her story.
“It takes an awful lot of courage to open up to strangers,” he said. “Angela couldn’t be more forthright, open and generous.”
Four years ago, the Angela James Bowl was created to honour the pioneer. It’s awarded to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s top goal scorer. Flemingdon Park Arena, where she first learned to skate and hone her hockey skills, was renamed the Angela James Arena in June, 2009.
James is one of two Black women to have North American hockey arenas named after them. The Laura Sims Skatehouse, which was opened in 1985, is named after the late founder of a minority youth hockey program in Philadelphia.
Two-time Stanley Cup champion, Adam Graves, wrote the foreword.
“I was only four years old when I stepped onto the ice at 165 Grenoble Drive, otherwise known as Flemingdon Park Area,” he recalled. “Little did I know then this arena would be renamed after one of the most inspirational players hockey has ever known…Angela blazed a trail that opened doors to young girls and women being afforded the opportunity and privilege to play the great game of hockey. Every time my two daughters step onto the ice to play for the Oakville Hornets Girls Hockey Association, I think of number eight (James’ number).”
A graduate of Seneca’s recreation facilities management program in the early 1980s, James – who was also a softball star – is the college’s senior sports coordinator, responsible for the administration and coordination of sports and recreation leagues.
BY RON FANFAIR