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Abby Hoffman


Abby Hoffman learned at an early age that sometimes you have to break the rules to change a game that is unfair. In 1956 nine-year old Abby wanted to play hockey like her two older brothers. Although she had grown up playing shinny on outdoor rinks, she quickly discovered there were few organized leagues for girls. In an act of determined improvisation, she cut her hair short and enrolled in the Toronto boy's Junior A hockey league. 'Ab' Hoffman excelled on defense, and was chosen to play in the league's all-star tournament. At that point careful scrutiny of her birth certificate revealed Abby's true identity and her story became an overnight media sensation, publicizing the rampant discrimination that was preventing many young girls from taking up sport in postwar Canada.

Abby Hoffman continued to crash up against gender barriers while studying at the University of Toronto in the 1960's. Aspiring to become a champion middle distance runner, she repeatedly attempted to train on the indoor track at Hart House and was turned away from the 'male-only' facilities every time. Persevering to reach international competition, highlights from Abby's long competitive career include gold medals captured in the 800m event at the Pan American Games in 1963 and 1971, as well as the Commonwealth Games in 1966. Between 1964 and 1972 she competed in four Olympic Games, and helped break the record for the women's 800m race with several other competitors. Throughout the 1970's she also became part of an outspoken contingent of female athletes who pressured Olympic authorities to open long distance track events to women for the first time.

After retiring from competition Abby Hoffman continued to fight for gender equality as an athletic administrator and organizer. In 1981 she became the first female Director-General of Sport Canada and the first woman ever named to the executive of the Canadian Olympic Association. Tirelessly lobbying to improve women's access to athletic training facilities, mentorship and sport programs, from 1980 to 1982 she also wrote a fitness column for Chatelaine magazine encouraging women to become more active in their everyday lives. Fearless, determined and well-spoken, her achievements as an athlete and activist attest to the power of refusing limitation, seizing sport as an opportunity to inspire others to "push back barriers and expand your idea of what you are capable of."

photograph of Abby Hoffman wearing jacket with Olympic crest
Abby Hoffman has been a prominent figure in Canadian sports for over fifty years. First as an athlete, then as a sport administrator and columnist, she has been a strong advocate not just for women's advancement in sport but for athletes' rights, racial equality and fair play. Her lifelong commitment to her ideals has won her world wide respect.
Collection: Library and Archives Canada

photograph of Abby Hoffman as flagbearer
Abby Hoffman was the flag bearer for the Canadian team at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. This was a fitting tribute to someone who had competed throughout her athletic career, including four Olympic Games with integrity and perseverance.
Collection: CP PHOTO/file

photograph of Abby Hoffman running at 1976 Olympic Games
Abby Hoffman was denied access to a training facility at the University of Toronto because it was an all-male facility. Today the facility is open to everyone and bears a plaque in her honour "Only she who attempts the absurd will achieve the impossible". Her continuing efforts to achieve equality for all athletes regardless of gender or race, resulted in her being elected to the Council of the International Association of Athletics (IAAF), the governing body for athletics.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of Abby Hoffman racing with crowd in background
As a young girl, denied the opportunity to play hockey, she said that children should be allowed the opportunity to play hockey, not just watch it. This image is of Abby competing at 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg where she won a gold medal in the 800m. Throughout her career she was a strong voice for equality, self-respect and excellence. In her role as a sport administrator she worked to ensure that everyone had access to sport in a fair and unbiased environment.
Collection: Library and Archives Canada

portrait photograph of Sarah Burke wearing helmet
Sarah Burke was a leader and innovator in her sport of Freestyle Skiing Half-pipe. She started her sport when there were no women competitors and she could only compete with men. With her strength, personality and belief that all girls should have an equal chance, she attracted and trained a generation of female competitors. Her passion and perseverance was instrumental in having her sport included at the Olympic Winter Games.
Collection: Private Collection: Gerald Burke

yellow race bib Freestyle World Cup
Sarah Burke wore this yellow race bib as the leader in the World Cup standings in her sport. She was the Freestyle World Ski Champion Half-pipe in 2005. Sarah, who died from injuries in 2012, lived her life with a pure commitment to everything she did and everyone she touched. Her achievements are a great inspiration for youth across Canada.
Collection: Private Collection: Gerald Burke

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