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Marion Lay


Marion Lay always believed in fighting hard to achieve her goals. As a young girl she failed to make her local swim team three years in a row, but refused to give up her dream of becoming a competitive swimmer. After turning seventeen her perseverance began to pay off. From 1964 to 1968 Marion prevailed as Canada's 100 m freestyle swimming champion. She also triumphed internationally, winning a gold medal in the 100 m freestyle race at the 1966 Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal with Canada's 4x100 swim relay team at the 1968 Olympic Games.

After retiring from competition Marion Lay became a pioneering advocate for gender equality, introducing feminist principles to Canadian sport as a coach, media commentator, administrator and organizer. In 1970, the federal government conducted a Royal Commission Report on the Status of Women. Among other things it found fewer girls participated in sport than boys across Canada, and recommended further studies to discover why. Seizing this momentum Marion undertook groundbreaking research, gathering statistical evidence that proved women faced systemic discrimination in Canadian sport.

In addition to conclusively proving Canadian women enjoyed fewer opportunities to participate in sports than men, Marion Lay's research indicated women were excluded from positions of power and influence, and therefore lacked an official voice to effect change as coaches, officials, organizers and administrators. Even when they managed to overcome the odds and become successful athletes, women were quickly pushed out of Canadian sport after peaking as competitors, because there was little opportunity for them to pursue further careers in other roles.

Faced at first with intense scrutiny from a disbelieving public, Marion Lay's research challenged sexist assumptions that men dominated Canadian sport because women's interests inherently lay elsewhere. Vigorously tackling the thorny world of sport administration, in the early 1970's Marion helped establish the federal government's first Women in Sport program. In 1974 she helped organize Canada's first national conference on women in sport, and in 1981 became a founding member of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport (CAAWS). Tenaciously fighting for inclusivity and equality, Marion Lay empowered more women to participate in sport at all levels, promoting physical activity as a source of joy and fulfillment that should be equally available to all Canadians, regardless of gender.

photograph of young Marion Lay in swimming pool
Marion Lay's competitive career as a swimmer included an Olympic bronze medal, four Pan American Games medals and three from the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. The values of patience, focus and commitment she learned as an elite athlete are characteristics that she has brought to her career as a coach, administrator, advocate and volunteer.
Collection: Private Collection: Marion Lay

portrait photograph of Marion Lay
Marion Lay is a leading advocate for equality in sport. She was honoured with the inaugural Carol Anne Letheren International Sport Leadership Award in 2002, acknowledging a Canadian woman who has made an outstanding contribution to international sport leadership. Her commitment to equality for everyone is shown in her work to including sexual orientation in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter.
Collection: Private Collection: Marion Lay

photograph of Marion Lay with Vancouver 2010 torch
Marion Lay served as the Chair of the 2010 Bid Committee that brought the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to Vancouver. She was the Vancouver representative on the Executive Committee of the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee. One of her proudest moments is shown in this photograph as an Olympic torchbearer in 2010.
Collection: Private Collection: Marion Lay

nylon jacket with CAAWS logo
Marion Lay is respected for her leadership in bringing forward the issue of gender inequality. In her work with the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS) she has helped girls and women to become more involved in sport. With her vision, integrity and leadership she has helped to ensure that women are actively involved in careers in coaching, sport administration, event management and education.
Collection: Private Collection: Marion Lay

photograph of Jocelyne Bourassa holding golf club on course
Jocelyne Bourassa's outstanding playing career included many provincial and national titles, including Rookie of the Year by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1972. Early in her career she played on the men's golf team at the University of Montreal since there was no women's team. That made a lasting impression that would drive her desire to support women golfers. Her commitment to her sport has led her to become one of the sport's exemplary builders.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Folding golf seat from La Canadienne Tournament
This golf seat is from La Canadienne, the first Canadian Women's Open. On her 40th anniversary of winning this championship Jocelyne personally supported a young player to help her integrate into the LPGA tour. She has worked to initiate developmental programs for young female golf professionals and her efforts have resulted in more Canadian women playing as professionals. Jocelyne is a role model and mentor to women golfers and is considered Canada's ambassador of golf.
Collection: Private Collection: Jocelyne Bourassa

Japanese warrior helmet with crest
When the Canadian Team was in Japan for the 1978 International Field Hockey Match, the organizers would not speak to Marina van der Merwe as a female coach, only communicating organizational matters to the team physician. After Team Canada solidly won both matches and the organizers realized she was the coach in charge, they deemed her a warrior and presented her with this Japanese warrior helmet.
Collection: Private collection: Marina van der Merwe

photograph of Marina van der Merwe and teammate on playing field
Marina van der Merwe was the coach of the Canadian Women's National Field Hockey Team. Under her coaching the team qualified for every major international games and brought home several medals. She inspired her athletes through her love and passion for the game and challenged them to make excellence their standard. She has continued to give back to the community by supporting the development of coaches and athletes in Canada and around the world.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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