Fran Rider is the first female builder to receive the Order of Hockey in
Two years ago she was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame, the first to
gain membership specifically for contributions to building women’s hockey.
Rider was the first recipient of Hockey Canada’s Female Breakthrough Award,
in 1998, and the first female recipient of the Hockey Canada Order of
Merit, in 1994.
To those in the know, none of these honours are surprising. After all, when
it comes to significant contributions to growing, developing and
celebrating the women’s game, the first name that comes to mind is Fran
For Rider, everything – creating the first unofficial women’s world
championship; helping form the first IIHF World Women’s Championship;
actively pushing for the game’s inclusion in the Olympic Winter Games;
chairing six international and two national championship committees;
creating the Long Game as part of World Girls’ Hockey Weekend – stemmed
from one simple wish: to be involved in the game she’s loved all her life.
“We had a rink in our backyard,” says Rider. “And when I grew up, I was
always at the cottage in the summer and played every sport you could play,
but my first love was hockey. The lake froze in the winter, so we’d build a
rink on the ice.”
Unaware of any organized hockey at the time, Rider was thrilled to just
find a game of shinny.
But, in 1967, a spot in the Toronto Telegram advertising a new
girls’ hockey tournament in Brampton changed everything. She reached out to
the Brampton Canadettes and, having never played before, was placed on a
team in the third division.
“We had a nine-year-old and a 44-year-old on our team,” she says. “I was
16, and it was full body-checking, so you go right from figures skates
never having played hockey into [playing] with some very good players. It
was an incredibly welcoming environment.”
The following year Rider joined a Brampton team, and continued to play in
the city for another 30 years. She played in the first Central Ontario
Women’s Hockey League – the forerunner of the National Women’s Hockey
League and now Canadian Women’s Hockey League – with and against the likes
of Angela James and Danielle Goyette. The defenceman also played on the
COWHL all-star team.
But a supportive infrastructure wasn’t there yet.
“We’d drive four hours for a league game, and it was three 15-minute
periods running time,” she says. “You were lucky to get a full hour of ice
because if anybody else was going on, women’s hockey was not a priority.
“Competition was intense, but we understood there were bigger victories to
win than one game or one championship.”
She also recognized there were bigger takeaways than trophies or medals.
Things like self-esteem, confidence and a feeling of belonging.
Rider volunteered every chance she could – time keeping, score keeping,
sitting on league executives and discipline committees. And she found
colleagues who shared her vision of not only helping girls and women enjoy
the game but also making the game better for them.
In the 1960s, women’s hockey thrived at four large local tournaments. From
those came discussions that a more formal network would make the game
stronger. In 1975, the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association was formed with
Rider as its first executive director. And in 1982, Rider became its
president and CEO, the OWHA joined Hockey Canada, and Rider joined Hockey
Canada’s Female Council, an involvement that still continues.
Visions of a world championship and a place in the Olympics for women’s
hockey existed then, too. Rider repeatedly was told neither would happen in
her lifetime. The grassroots, the naysayers said, wasn’t strong enough.
What she got, though, was sanction for a world tournament in 1987.
“Probably three months out we had teams if we had money, and we had money
if we had teams. We struggled; we really struggled. We didn’t know if we’d
get it off the ground. What we did have was the sincere drive from the
At the end of the day, six countries – and one province – competed and
another five sent delegates. The strength of the game silenced the
skeptics. And in 1990, the IIHF World Women’s Championship was born.
All along Rider made connections and developed relationships with her
European counterparts. And every time Rider turned the talk to gathering
support for getting the women’s game in the Olympics.
The success of seeing it realized in 1998 was both sweet and bittersweet.
“It was disappointing that Norway didn’t pick it up in 1994, and that some
of the top players that got us there – the Angela Jameses and Cindy Curleys
– missed the opportunity. It was their skills that drove the world to
support [the game].
“[But] it was sort of surreal. I don’t even know if I can put words to it.
The support and strength of every country getting behind a women’s hockey
team was special to see. It wasn’t something I was feeling for me; it was
something for the players.”
That mindset – something for the players – is what still drives Rider and
keeps her thinking of an even brighter future.
“The ideal is a girl in every part of Canada has a team available for her
to play at a level she’s comfortable with and that builds her goals and
dreams and self-esteem.”
When the OWHA first started registration, it had 60 teams, if that. Compare
that to now when 45 teams played for the right to advance to the 2017 Esso
Cup. Players on 542 teams in 29 different divisions – from Novice C to
Senior AA – competed at the 2017 OWHA provincial championships. The OWHA
now has over 60,000 members.
Rider would rather deflect attention away from the role she’s played in so
many females realizing these dreams, preferring instead to praise the
efforts of those who came before her and give thanks to those who’ve worked
Her receiving the Order of Hockey in Canada isn’t about one individual, she
says. It’s about one team.
“My philosophy in the game is to try and find the right answers, try and do
the right things the best we can, and try and connect with people to work
with. I share this with everyone I’ve ever worked with, ever played with
and ever played against because it’s a team award. It’s incredibly