Angela James, OC, hockey player (born 22 December 1964 in Toronto, ON). Known as "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey," Angela James was a pioneering and dominant force in women's hockey during the 1980s and 1990s. She led the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997). She was also one of the first three women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. When James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, she was one of the first two women, the first openly gay player, and the second Black athlete ever to be inducted. She was appointed to the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2021 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2022.
Early Life and Career
James grew up in a single-parent home in relative poverty in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood of Toronto. Her mother, Donna Baratto, made many sacrifices so that James could play hockey. As a child of mixed-race parentage, James suffered insults and racial discrimination while growing up. However, she would overcome poverty, racial taunts, and gender discrimination to become the first superstar of modern women’s hockey.
As a youngster, James played a lot of road hockey with neighbourhood boys, as there were few girls' ice hockey teams. At age eight, she joined a boys’ house league in Flemingdon Park, after her mother threatened legal action against league officials who were reluctant to let her play. James quickly became the league’s top scorer, but in her second year, a new league policy was passed which restricted membership to boys only. James then turned to a girls’ hockey program in Don Mills, and at the age of 13, she started playing senior women’s hockey with the Newtonbrook Saints. At Seneca College in Toronto, ON, she led her team to several college championships and was the leading scorer in the league for three consecutive seasons, scoring 50 goals while playing defence in the 1984–85 season.
James had a reputation as a big, tough and talented player who could score goals. As a result, she also drew comparisons to Mark Messier of the NHL. In 1990, she scored 11 goals in five games at the first world championship in women's hockey (held in Ottawa), leading the Canadian team to its first gold medal. She also led the women's team to the world championship title in 1992 (Tampere, Finland), 1994 (Lake Placid, US) and 1997 (Kitchener, ON).
In 1997, coach Shannon Miller made the controversial decision to leave James off the Canadian team slated to compete in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, in the first women's Olympic hockey tournament. James, her teammates, and her opponents were shocked by the decision, which is still the subject of debate. James wrapped up her competitive hockey career in 2000 after scoring 22 goals and 44 points in 27 games for the North York/Beatrice Aeros of the National Women's Hockey League in the 1999–2000 season.
Life after Competition
James has remained heavily involved in the sport since her retirement from competitive hockey in 2000. A certified referee since 1980, she earned Level IV certification and was Referee-in-Chief of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA). She has coached many female hockey teams, from atom to senior levels; under her coaching, the Seneca College team won the Ontario college championship in 1987 and Team Ontario won the under-18 national championship in 2001. James established the Breakaway Adult Hockey School, and was director of the Seneca College Women’s Hockey School before becoming Senior Sports Coordinator at Seneca College.
Honours and Awards
James has received many awards for her contributions to hockey. While in college, she was twice named athlete of the year (1984 and 1985). Upon graduation, she became a member of the Seneca College Varsity Hall of Fame; the school later retired her jersey No. 8. She was inducted into the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2008, she was one of the first three women inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. From 2008 until 2019, the Angela James Bowl was awarded to the highest-scoring player in the now-defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League.
James was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2010, she entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the first two women to be inducted (Cammi Granato of the US was the other inductee). The Montreal Gazette wrote in an editorial that her induction "highlight[ed] women's participation in elite-level sports. Such moments of recognition can't help but encourage female participation at all levels."
In 2012, the Toronto YWCA recognized James’s accomplishments and her contribution to women’s sport, awarding her the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Sport. Calling James a champion for girls’ sports teams, the organization highlighted her role in developing a free hockey program for girls at her old ice rink in Flemingdon Park. The City of Toronto had renamed it the Angela James Arena in 2009.
James was appointed to the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2021. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2022 “for advancing women’s sport in Canada.”