Cookie Cartwright resurrected women's hockey at Queen's

Women have been playing hockey in Kingston going back to the 1890s, when they skated in full-length dresses and fired the puck on the Lake Ontario harbour ice. However, the game has waxed and waned over the decades, depending on the cultural norms of the time.

During the Second World War, hockey virtually died out as women were called on to work in factories to manufacture munitions as the men were being sent overseas to fight. Then, in the late 1950s a few women jumped into the battle to form teams, compete for ice time and represent their universities. They laid the groundwork for the incredible growth of the women’s game in this country.

One of those leaders was Kingston’s Katherine “Cookie” Cartwright. “When I was in high school, I was a rink rat who hung around the old Jock Harty arena at Queen’s – I just loved the game so much.”

She enrolled at Queen’s in 1958 only to learn that there was no women’s varsity hockey team, just intramural squads. Cartwright decided to do something about it. “Here I was a young freshette and I was going to the athletics director Marion Ross and suggesting that they add hockey as a varsity sport.”

“Miss Ross was not all that keen on hockey because she thought it was a bit rough, but she did acknowledge that there should be more intercollegiate team opportunities for women,” Cartwright recalls. There were only six women’s varsity sports at the time.

Fred Bartlett, the men’s counterpart to Ross, was even less supportive. “He wasn’t keen on women playing hockey at all,” Cartwright says.

Ross said she would consider it – if the team was properly equipped to ensure safety. Cartwright brought the problem to Queen’s equipment manager Stu Langdon, whom she knew from her rink rat days.

“In the Jock Harty, the dressing rooms were all connected – you had to go through one to get to the next. Stu took me through all of them and in the very last one there were big wooden boxes filled with men’s equipment from the 1930s.”

The gear was old, smelled bad and didn’t fit the women well – but it worked.

With the equipment issue solved, Ross contacted other universities including Toronto, McMaster and McGill. To start, exhibition games were organized, followed by an annual tournament. In 1961, women’s hockey became a full-fledged varsity sport.

At Queen’s, it was a motley crew. “Very few of the Queen’s women had ever played hockey before,” Cartwright says. “At first it was easy to make the team,” she laughs.

And then there were the skates. “Only three of the players had tube skates – the rest were using figure skates. We spent a lot of time filing off the picks on the figure skates.”

Even the sporting goods stores were offside. Up until the 1980s, they insisted on selling figure skates to women – even though they planned to play hockey.

The captain of the men’s team, Bob Carnegie, signed on to coach the women. The team had a blast but the competition was tough. The University of Toronto dominated the era, capturing the provincial title every year. In 1963, Queen’s managed to earn a shared title with U of T. It would not be until 1973 that the Queen’s women would collect a championship.

After graduating with an arts degree, Cartwright stuck around to study law – allowing her to keep playing for the women’s team.

Her legal skills would prove useful when she helped form the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, drafting the constitution for the organization. It would lay the foundation for the explosive growth of women’s hockey since 1980.

Today, the OWHA has 40,000 players and a total registration of 60,000, says President Fran Rider. “We are the only organization of its kind in the world and we owe Cookie so very much for her contributions both on and off the ice. She is a very special person and has left a legacy!”

“Cookie was the kingpin around whom everything revolved,” recalls Annabelle Twiddy, who arrived at Queen’s in 1965 and joined the varsity team. “That was the first time I got to play hockey on an actual rink. Before that, I had only played pond hockey with my Dad and the local boys.”

Twiddy and Cartwright founded the Red Barons women’s team in Kingston in 1969, which allowed those who had finished school to continue to play. The Red Barons played in tournaments across North America.

“Cookie is a ‘get it done’ kind of person,” Twiddy says.

In addition to hockey, Cartwright was an outstanding golfer. She won 24 club championships at the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club starting in 1960. She also captured nine Kingston district golf titles. Cartwright was inducted into the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.