A Brief History of Women's Rugby in Victoria

December 02 2015

Reflecting on UVic Article on Women's Rugby Trail Blazers: Looking Back to the 90s

posted Dec 2 2015
[ed. comments below. If you have any stories of women's rugby in the 90's email to editor@bcrugbynews.com]

There was a good article on Jess Neilson on the UVic website titled the “First Lady of Rugby” talking about some of her “First” accomplishments like being the only girl at CW when she was 8. Or when she was in Grade 7 not being allowed to play with the boys since there was no girls team, she petitioned the school board and was allowed to play. Another first... well not quite. It made me realize how little is known about women’s rugby in Victoria during the pre-internet years. Today people will Google for facts but much of the information is fairly recent, within the last decade or so. You Google Phil Mack and see pages of images, you Google Gareth Rees and most images are recent during his management years, very few of his playing years. In Google terms a decade is old news, so it’s time to remind the internet about the history of women’s rugby in Victoria.

CW’s Director of Women’s Rugby, David Crossley, had this to say in the UVic article “Jess is a great coach and a trail blazer for female athletes in rugby. A few other girls in my program play with the boys in middle school, which they owe to Jess’s determination back then”. Jess is great role model for young girls but the trail was being blazed in women’s rugby before Jess was even born.

CW had a women’s program for two seasons in 1994-1995 and 1995-1996, Alun Rees was the coach the first year and Larry Chung in the second year. It was mostly graduating UVic students who made up the team including two national team players Jenn Ross and Lori Hitchcox. They ended up losing a couple of key players and folding at the beginning of the ’96 season. The two years they were in the league they finished 2nd to a strong Brit-Lions team who dominated in the ‘90s. Almost 20 years later CW have restarted their program and again UVic and national team players are an integral part of the program.

The UVic women’s program had been started in the early 90s and Spencer Robinson was a key figure in its creation. The Crimson Tide first created a women’s team in 1994 and Jen Ross who featured at UVic and CW as a national team prop was instrumental in creating that milestone.

James Bay, CW and Velox had women’s programs in the 90s, there was also a team called Incognito who played out of Royal Roads, many of the players later joining Velox. Both the CW and James Bay programs eventually folded leaving only the Velox program running over the next decade. CW is back now but James Bay haven’t returned at this point.

There weren’t any girls high school programs operating in Victoria in the early 90s, Shawnigan Lake had a good program and there were several operating on the mainland.

This is where I can change from 3rd person to 1st person in the narrative.

The newspaper article below from late 1995 in the Times Colonist is self explanatory (you can click on the image to view a larger format). Kara was a Grade 9 student playing for the James Bay women at the time and also playing for the Reynolds High School Boys team - until a rival coach complained. I still don’t know who it was. The school board got involved, I took them to the Human Rights Commission and the rest is history. When Jess’s parents called me up 13 years later I had forgotten all about it, I found the Human Rights Commission ruling which we had won and it helped sort out the problem for Jess. It was the same school administrator... unbelievable.

Times Colonist article from 1995

In 1995-96 it took a year of battling the school board through the Human Rights Commission process and by that time the window of opportunity had passed for Kara but it was rewarding to see it had helped someone else 13 years later, when Jess ran into a similar problem in Grade 7.

It’s a bit like rugby, each person carries the ball forward and presents it back when their progress is stopped - for the next person to carry forward. The current women’s programs are similar, moving forward from the hard yards done by women in the 90s.

Pemberton Holmes
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