This Week in History

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Pioneers in Canadian and Women’s Sport

For the week of Monday May 9, 2005

On May 14, 1887, John Percy Page was born in Rochester, New York. He would go on to found and coach perhaps the most successful amateur sports team in Canadian history, the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, commonly known as “The Grads.”

John Percy Page
© Glenbow Archives / NA-3578-1
J. Percy Page was raised in Ontario and graduated from Queen’s University. In 1912, he relocated to Edmonton, Alberta, to take a teaching position at McDougall Commercial High School where he would later become principal. In 1914, Page established basketball as a part of the physical education program for women. In 1915, with a number of recently graduated players, he formed the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club for female students and graduates of the school.

Page was a strict and demanding coach who placed an emphasis on the basics of the game: shooting, passing and physical conditioning. He also demanded that his girls adhere to the conservative lifestyle he adopted as his own. The girls were expected to put their basketball careers before all else! This meant social activities were monitored and limited.

The Edmonton Grads
© Library Archives Canada / A11413
During their 25-year history, the Grads played 522 games, losing only 20. They won 49 out of 51 possible titles. Between 1924 and 1936 they participated in four Olympic games, winning all 27 matches played. No medals were awarded because women’s basketball was a demonstration sport at the time and until 1976.

In 1940 a decision was made to disband.  Page wanted to move into politics, and the Royal Canadian Air Forcetook over the Edmonton Arena where the Grads played all of their hometown games for training purposes. On June 6, 1940, the Edmonton Grads played, and won, their final game.

At a time when rules existed to protect women from the physical dangers of basketball, the Grads played according to men’s rules. Critics feared this would lead to decreased femininity and injury. The Grads proved these critics wrong, demonstrating both on and off the court the success that hard work and fair play could achieve.

In 1976 the achievements of the Edmonton Grads were designated as a National Historic Event, and in 1978 a plaque commemorating these achievements was placed in their honour in Edmonton, Alberta.

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