Bill Waiser

Ginger Catherwood Ladies Hockey 1920

Ginger Catherwood was more than chaperone to famous sister

In August 1928, at the ninth Olympic games in Amsterdam, Saskatoon’s Ethel Catherwood scissor-kicked her way to the gold medal in the high jump.

She remains the only Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in any individual track and field event.

Ethel returned to Canada an international sensation.

In October 1928, Winnipeg held a civic reception in her honour at the Fort Garry Hotel.

The following April, she appeared at an Ottawa indoor meet as one of Canada’s “Track Wonders.”

At these and other events, Ethel was accompanied by her sister Ginger.

In fact, the pair were always listed together in newspaper reports about Ethel’s travels.

It’s understandable.

Ginger, six years older, served as her sister’s chaperone.

But what was never mentioned in the stories — probably not known by the press at the time — was that Ginger Catherwood was also a phenomenal athlete.

She was the best female hockey player in the country.

Ginevra or Ginger was the oldest of seven children of Ethel and Joseph Catherwood.

Born in Hannah, North Dakota in 1902, Ginger and her family moved to a homestead just outside Scott, Saskatchewan four years later.

Her father soon opened a real estate business in town.

Ginger likely learned to skate and play hockey on frozen sloughs.

She also played baseball.

Ethel said her older sister had a reputation as a fireball pitcher.

Ginger entered the University of Saskatchewan on a scholarship in 1919.

But it was on the ice, as captain of the Varsity women’s hockey team, that Ginger excelled.

“When she (Ginger) came down the ice, everyone stayed out of the way,” a teammate recalled decades later. “She skated just like a man.”

Ginger’s arrival at the U of S coincided with the beginning of inter-varsity competition in women’s hockey.

During the 1920-21 season, she was a scoring machine.

In a game against the University of Manitoba, she scored five goals in the first period and finished the game with three more in a 9-1 romp.

Then, she netted four goals in the first 11 minutes in a match against the University of Alberta.

The final score was Saskatchewan 7 (Catherwood 6) and Alberta 1.

“Her stick handling … was marvellous,” one report rhapsodized, “and her shots had the necessary punch and elevation.”

The Saskatoon Phoenix declared the U of S team the unofficial champion of university women’s hockey that season (there was no formal league at the time.)

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Opposing teams quickly learned that Catherwood was a scoring threat every time she had the puck, and tried to rough her up.

During the 1921-22 season, Ginger was hurt in the first period in a game in Edmonton and had to leave the ice and didn’t return.

U of S squeaked out a 2-1 win.

She was still nursing her injury in the next game against Manitoba and played defence in a 2-2 tie.

Ginger graduated with a three-year Arts degree in 1922.

“She is an incorrigible tease, but we love her for it,” read her yearbook entry.

“Her three years’ brilliant playing and captaincy,” it continued, “have made the team well nigh invincible.”

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After attending Normal School, Ginger found work as a teacher.

According to the 1926 census, she was living at the teacherage in the Plenty district.

Then in 1928, her sister Ethel won Olympic gold and Ginger was called upon by their family to chaperone her during her Canadian travels.

Ginger was rumoured to have accompanied Ethel when she left Canada for the United States sometime around 1932.

But on the Vancouver Sun society page for Sept. 19, 1933, Ginger’s photo appears below the headline, “Prairie Bride-Elect.”

She married English-born Charles Mitchell in Toronto later that fall.

That’s where Ginger was living in 1942 when her widowed mother moved there that spring.

It’s tempting to think that Ginger might have watched the Toronto Maple Leafs play in the old Gardens.

The 1942 playoffs were the year of the miracle Leaf comeback.

Down 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in the final, they won the next four games to claim the Stanley Cup.

Today’s Maple Leafs could use a player like Ginger Catherwood.

This article originally appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix as part of the “Say It Ain’t So” series.

PHOTO: Ginger Catherwood, third from left, was a scoring sensation for the University of Saskatchewan women’s hockey team (UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS).

Historian Bill Waiser is author of In Search of Almighty Voice, available in May 2020.