Basketball & genealogy
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Pickles, ketchup, chow, chow, chow,
Chew ‘em up, eat ‘em up, bow, wow, wow;
Hannibal, cannibal, sis, boom, bah,
Commercial Graduates rah, rah, rah!
Although I had a vague notion that the Edmonton Grads were a famous women’s basketball team, I admit, I’ve never paid much attention to the details. In my defence, I’m not very sporty, and the Grads disbanded in 1940 at the onset of the Second World War, slightly before my time. Doing a bit of research, however, I discovered that the Grads were the first basketball team to ever win a World Title. This is pretty amazing for a women’s team from Edmonton, with poor to non-existent funding. The Grads were born from the McDougall Commercial High School team in 1915. Upon graduating, the team stuck together, and became known as the Commercial Grads, or just the Edmonton Grads. Everyone who ever played for the team, with the exception of two, was a graduateof McDougall. Over its history, the team won 502 games, lost only 20, and participated in four Olympics although basketball was not yet an official event. That is quite a record!
My daughter has been playing basketball in Edmonton for two years now. I had assumed she inherited the interest from her father, but now I’m not so sure because apparently there is some basketball in my genes as well! This week I contacted the Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum regarding my grandmother’s school records. Along with those records, they sent a few photos- one, donated to the archives by my grandmother herself! It is a photo of her Queen’s Avenue School Fastball Team in 1929 when they won the Public School Championships. Another photo, displayed here, shows her with the 1928 Queen’s Avenue School Basketball Team, where they appear to have won two trophies. A photo from the following year, after my grandmother had already left the school, shows the team had won one of the same trophies again. I wonder what has become of these trophies, perhaps they may still be found in a dustry trophy case in one of Edmonton's schools.
Photo used with permission from the Edmonton Public Schools Archive and Museum.
I remember my father telling me that grandma played fastball, but I didn’t know she had also played basketball. I contacted one of my aunts, and she told me that not only had Grandma played, but that she had been on the “waiting team” for the Edmonton Grads, though never played for them.
Time to investigate!
School records indicate that, indeed, my grandmother went to McDougall Commercial high school in 1929, after leaving Queen’s Avenue school. Her attendance and progress card, which should have followed her from school to school is only filled in starting in 1930, despite recording that she entered the high school in September of 1929. All of her primary school records, unfortunately, are missing.
An online article on an archived site of Library and Archives Canada describes the McDougall school farm system which is believed to have contributed to the Grad’s success : “...girls developed their skills through working their way up through three teams, the third one being the Gradettes (who could be either students or graduates), finally joining the Grads when there was an opening. [J. Percy] Page either coached or supervised all these teams, so every player who ever wore the black-and-gold uniform of the Grads had been assessed by him from her earliest playing days.” Perhaps my grandmother played for one of these school teams, but did not succeed in making it to the Grads? Since her school health record shows her at only 62” tall throughout high school, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that a basketball career did not materialize.
I have not yet been able to find proof of my grandmother being on a feeder team. Unfortunately the EPSB archive does not have any yearbooks, team photos or lists for the years 1929-1932 when my grandmother would have been at McDougall school. Possibly over the years of the depression, yearbooks and photos were not a priority. Additionally, there was a fire in 1929 where McDougall school was almost completely destroyed. I suspect that my grandmother’s early school records perished in this fire, possibly along with any photos of teams taken that fall. The school was rebuilt in 1930, but I’m not sure what affect the fire and moving to a temporary building would have had on the presence of a basketball team during those years.
The holdings of the Provincial and City archives, not surprisingly, focus on the Grads team itself, not its feeder teams, and I have not found any yearbooks or junior McDougall team photos in their catalogues. I will keep poking around though and see what may turn up.
 Edmonton Commercial Grads, The story of the “Grads”: Being a short history of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates’ Basketball Club, including a brief account of their European tour, (Edmonton: Western Veteran Publishing Co., 1924?), 1; digital image, Peel’s Prairie Provinces (peel.library.ualberta.ca : accessed 29 April 2015).
 Edmonton Commercial Grads, The story of the “Grads, 13.
 Edmonton Commercial Grads, The story of the “Grads, 3.
 Edmonton Commercial Grads, The story of the “Grads, 4.
 Library and Archives Canada, Celebrating Women’s Achievements (https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1507-e.html : accessed 28 April 2015), archived content on “The Edmonton Grads”.
 The Comet 1949: Yearbook of McDougall Commercial High School, (Edmonton, Alberta: publisher unknown), 57, 58.