The Edmonton Grads finally get their own Heritage Minute

Former Edmonton Grads basketball team members (left to right) Edith Stone Sutton (1930-34), Margaret MacBurney Vasheresse (1926-36), Helen Northup Alexander (1934-40), pose with a more modern rubber version of the ball that made them sports legends. The Grads were feted and toasted by thousands but disparaged as uppity Amazonian hoopsters and destroyers of feminine grace and beauty. (CP PHOTO/John Ulan)

Perhaps the most famous— and certainly the most successful— basketball team that Canada has ever produced is getting some well-earned recognition today with the release of a brand-new Heritage Minute.

The Edmonton Grads, a local team started by a high school gym teacher, J. Percy Page, owned women’s basketball. The all-female team were world champions for 17 of their 25-year run between 1915-1940, and helped establish a new precedent for women in sport.

Though women’s basketball wasn’t recognized as an official Olympic sport until 1976, the Edmonton Grads had already been dominating international competition for decades at that point. Their talented roster featured 38 players over the years, including Dorothy and Daisy Johnson, Noel Robertson, Winnie Martin, Eleanor Mountifield, Nellie Perry, and Connie Smith.

The Grads may not have been able to officially take the podium but they won four straight Olympic titles between 1924 and 1936, decimating opponents by a total score of 1863-297.

With an all-time record of 502-20, the Grads are believed to boast the highest winning percentage of any North American sports team ever— James Naismith himself declared them “The finest basketball team to ever have stepped out on a floor.” In 1983, all 38 members were inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame.

The new Heritage Minute focuses on the Grads’ 1923 championship series vs. the Cleveland Favourite Knits, a team who marketed themselves as ‘world champions’ despite never having played the Grads. In their two-game playoff, Edmonton outscored Cleveland by a combined score of 53-33.

The Grads’ Heritage Minute, produced by Historica Canada along with Stir Films, was shot in Calgary and stars real players from the University of Alberta. Sportsnet’s own Roger Millions plays a reporter in the Minute and two-time Olympic gold medalist Cassie Campbell-Pascall lends her voice as a narrator. Uniforms were recreated from archival photos while the court used in the shooting was built from scratch to period-specific detail.

Check out this real-life footage of the Grads in action, courtesy the Provincial Archives of Alberta:

The Heritage Minutes have become an iconic series of shorts capturing a wide range of some of the most notable moments in Canadian cultural history— everything from the creation of Winnie the Pooh, to the to the story of Chanie Wenjack and the first inquest into residential schools.  

Stories from the world of sports have also been told through Heritage Minutes, like Naismith and the peach baskets, and Jacques Plante and the birth of the face mask.

What other sports tales from Canadian history would make for a good Heritage Minute? Have your say below.

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