Bev Beaver was one of Canada’s best women’s hockey players, and perhaps one of the country’s least-known. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is out to change that.
The Hall plans to display hockey jerseys and patches from Beaver, a Mohawk from Southern Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve who played competitive hockey for over four decades, in its diversity exhibit.
Her hockey artifacts will join a hockey stick used by Brigette Lacquette, a defenseman who made history at the 2018 Winter Olympics as the first First Nations woman to play on Canada’s hockey team, in the Hall.
“I thought it was really great that they asked for some of my things,” Beaver, 70, said of Hall of Fame officials. “But sometimes I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I think I wasn’t really that good, but some people tell me I was.”
Angela James, the first black woman and second black player behind Edmonton Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr to be enshrined in the Hall, said Beaver should have no doubts.
“Bev Beaver was great, she was a very good hockey player,” said James, who competed against Beaver toward the end of Beaver’s career in the old Central Ontario Women’s HockeyLeague, which was Eastern Canada’s top league for female players. “She had skill, she knew how to play the game.”
M. Ann Hall, a University of Alberta emeritus professor who has written extensively about Canadian women in sports, said Beaver was “a real pioneer,” a multi-sport athlete who probably could have been an Olympian if women had the opportunity to play hockey in the Winter Games during her heyday.
Beaver began playing competitive hockey in 1963 with the Six Nations Indian GirlsHockey Club and ended her career – sort of – in the early 1990s with the Brantford Lady Blues.
She “retired” but couldn’t stay away from the ice. She continued to play for senior and recreational women’s teams into her fifties. Women’s hockey didn’t become an Olympic sport until 1998, long after Beaver finally hung up her skates.
“It’s too bad they didn’t have it (Olympics women’s hockey) when I was still playing,” Beaver said. “I figure I would be able to play, I would make the team I had enough talent to make the team.”
But would she have gotten a fair shot, given the racial attitudes of the times?
“She’s on a reserve, for her ability to move off and play, there’s discrimination, racism, all kinds of things she would be having to deal with,” Hallsaid.
Beaver won a bevy of scoring titles – she was the COWHL’s leading scorer in 1967 and 1972 and the league’s second-best scorer from 1969 to 1971 – and powered her clubs to numerous league and tournament crowns. She also collected five most valuable player awards along the way.
She had to overcome sexism to play the game that she still loves and watches regularly (she’s a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan). When she was young, Beaver used to disguise herself as a boy in order to play pick up or shinny hockey on the frozen ponds at the Six Nation reserve.
“I would just wear a ball cap or a toque or whatever,” Beaver recalled. “If they asked what my name was, I’d say ‘Billy’ for some reason.”
When puberty ensued, “I would tape my breasts so they couldn’t tell,” Beaver told the authors of “Playing it Forward: 50 Years of Women and Sport in Canada.”
Once her identity was revealed, Beaver joined a bantam boys hockey team at 13 and became its star player. But she was only allowed to play in exhibition games because girls weren’t allowed to play in league contests.
Beaver’s athletic prowess wasn’t limited to hockey. In the summer, she was a top fastball (softball) player for the Oshweken Mohawks, winning eight MVP awards and other accolades for a career on the diamond that spanned from 1961 to 1994.
“I played both sports for 35 years or more,” Beaver said. “I was fortunate enough to play both sports that I really enjoyed.
She won a regional Tom Longboat Award in 1967 and a national Longboat award in 1980. The awards are presented to Canada’s top aboriginal athletes.
“She was one of the first indigenous women to be identified in Canada as one of the most outstanding athletes in the county because the award didn’t make a distinction between men and women at the time, said Janice Forsyth, director of the First Nations Studies Program at Western University in London, Ontario. “She was identified as the top athlete, period.”
Beaver’s fastball career also earned her induction in the Brantfort and Area Sports Hall of Recognitionin 1995.
She joined former National Hockey League players Wayne Gretzky, Keith Jones, and Doug Risebrough and former NHL coach and general manager John Muckler in the Brantford Hall.
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