Adrienne Clarkson served as the 26th governor-general of Canada.
As a little immigrant girl growing up in the wonderful winter city of Ottawa, skating was, of course, one of the first things I wanted to do with Canadian kids. So my cash-strapped parents gave me a pair of fancy skates when I was seven years old, and I went to the rink at St. Luke’s Park on Elgin Street to have rudimentary lessons.
It became very clear that I was never going to be a figure skater. I was told right away by a kind man, with frost dripping off his walrus-like mustache and twinkling blue eyes under his tuque: “Too bad, little girl, you’ve got really bad ankles.”
Surreptitiously, I tried on my brother’s hockey skates and thought, “These will give me more support – maybe I can wear those.” But that was not to be. Girls wore figure skates and learned how to spin. Boys wore sturdy skates and learned to play hockey.
As I grew up and realized that other women played hockey, and that it was really blooming into a sport for women well after I possibly could have a) learned to skate that well, and b) learned to play hockey, I realized that I still wanted women to be encouraged to play hockey. I wanted it very badly.
When I was governor-general, in 2004 the National Hockey League had a lockout. It looked like the Stanley Cup was not going to be played for. At Rideau Hall, we thought, “It can’t not be played for! It was named for Lord Stanley, the sixth governor-general of Canada!” Not only was hockey Canada’s national winter sport, but the former governor-general had given the sport one of its most coveted trophies in North America.
Our team came up with an idea: If the NHL wasn’t going to present the Stanley Cup to its champion that year, then they should present it to the National Women’s Hockey League. This was met with equal parts derision, puzzlement and faint praise.
We decided to switch gears. Women were excelling at hockey, especially Canadian women at the Olympics. Why couldn’t we just have a cup for women’s hockey, even if it didn’t yet belong to a particular league?
And that was the genesis of the Clarkson Cup. Henceforth, the office of the governor-general would honour women’s hockey just as it had men’s hockey since 1892. I wanted to honour the women who had it so tough and yet persevered to play in the various leagues that they had organized. I wanted them to have a symbol as beautiful and as memorable as the Stanley Cup has been for men. Why should women be shortchanged?
In 2005, on a trip to Iqaluit, I commissioned a cup from Inuit silver-making students working with artist Beth Biggs at Nunavut Arctic College. The result is a most extraordinary work of art that is happily ensconced in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is my personal gift to women, to women’s hockey and to the ideal of women’s equality in Canada.
Engraved on the cup is the Inuit goddess of the sea, Sedna. In her creation story, she is thrown overboard from a kayak by her father, who cuts off her fingers as she clings to the side. The fingers fall into the water, becoming the various fish and denizens of the sea – the walrus, the whale, the seal. Sedna is portrayed on the cup, brandishing a hockey stick and triumphant over all adversities.
The Clarkson Cup has been played for 11 times. About 80 per cent of the women who are now in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League have played 10 or 11 times for the Clarkson Cup. I’ve found it to be the most thrilling event of the year, to come out to the ice (I wish I had been able to skate out but that ship sailed a while ago) and present that cup to the likes of Cassie Campbell and Marie-Philip Poulin.
The cup sits splendidly in the Hockey Hall of Fame. As the new PWHL teams hit the ice in January for the first time, I believe the Clarkson Cup should be the cup awarded to the finest women’s hockey players in North America. It comes from Canada, where hockey began. It is the personal gift of a governor-general of Canada, just as Lord Stanley’s was for men’s hockey.
I’m so looking forward to an exciting new season of reorganized women’s hockey. And in any event, with the Clarkson Cup entrusted to Hockey Canada, I can hardly wait for it to be played for again.