Women’s world hockey champion and OPSEU/SEFPO retiree receives Order of Canada

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Know an OPSEU/SEFPO member or retiree who’s earned honours or recognition? Please let us know by emailing opseucommunications@opseu.org

OPSEU/SEFPO is incredibly proud of the accomplishments of Angela James, O.C. – women’s world hockey champion, co-owner and general manager of the Toronto Six women’s hockey team, recently retired Senior Sports Coordinator at Seneca College, and as of June 2022, Officer of the Order of Canada.

It’s the most recent in a long line of prestigious honours and awards. James has been hailed as “the first superstar of modern women’s hockey” and was the first and only Black woman to captain Canada’s National Women’s hockey team. She was inducted into the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. She was one of the first women and the first openly-gay player inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame (2008) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010). She is also in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2009) and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (2019).

In 2009, the arena in Flemingdon Park, the Toronto neighbourhood where James grew up, was renamed the Angela James Arena. She also received an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Windsor in 2018.

James was born and raised in Toronto, where she played hockey as a child in local boys’ house leagues during the 1970’s despite opposition from officials. She was pushed out of the boys’ leagues by jealous parents and officials when her skills outshone those of boys much older than she was. James then moved to girls’ and then women’s leagues, again playing against older girls and women as a child and young teenager.

Playing against older kids and adults was fine with James. “I just wanted to play, it didn’t matter to me,” she says. “If I had to work harder to keep up, that’s just what I did. I just remember I was outside, playing the way I wanted to play.”

James attended Seneca College and played hockey for the Seneca Scouts, leading the team to their first championship in 1983-84, followed by another championship the next year. She was named Athlete of the Year by the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) in both 1984 and 1985, and was inducted into the OCAA Hall of Fame in 2005.

James played for Team Canada in the first Women’s World Championship sanctioned by the IIHF in 1990, leading the team to victory over Team USA. She played in 3 more world championships for Team Canada, winning each time against the USA.

Read more about James’ hockey career and many awards and honours here.

Active member of OPSEU/SEFPO since 1986

While hockey fans know Angela James as a women’s hockey superstar, members of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 561 also know her as a friend, co-worker, and active union member who was a shop steward for more than a decade.

“Angela is quite a hero to us at Seneca, and also to all the girls in the 70s and 80s who were told that girls can’t play,” said Local 561 president Janice Hagan. “She was also a solid steward. She made sure all the staff in the sports and recreation areas of the college knew what was happening in the union, she participated in the card-signing drive during the part-time organizing campaign, and was a picket captain during the 2011 CAAT-S strike.”

James was hired by Seneca College in 1982 part-time as a student, and was hired on full time as a recreation coordinator in 1986 after graduating. Over the years, she progressed to senior sports coordinator, and retired in 2020. Her job included scheduling, budgeting, coordinating intramural and varsity sports programs, advising the Sport Council, and coaching on the side as well.

James worked at Seneca throughout her championship hockey career. “I worked in the athletic area and they understood the importance of competition and sport,” says James. “I’d accumulate a lot of overtime and use all my vacation days, and they were very flexible with me. When I was competing internationally, I would train in our facilities in the mornings until noon and then work the rest of the day.”

Despite her busy schedule working, playing hockey and coaching, James felt it was important to be active in her union as a steward. “I tried to help as much as I could with the time that I had,” says James. “I informed people of the issues, gave them the union’s point of view, explained people’s rights, that they have a right to grieve. I wanted to make sure everyone understood their rights and responsibilities.”

During the 2011 CAAT-S strike, “I was the picket captain, blowing the whistle,” says James. “It was a blast. And not just all the donuts – everyone came together. The faculty and the staff all came together.”

James was also active during the part-time organizing drive, signing up the many part-timers who worked with her. “I wanted them to be able to have a union and have good wages,” she said. “I started the same way – I worked part-time for a few years before I got on full-time. Unionizing is good, because it allows students to have opportunities for part-time work and puts them in classifications. It wasn’t people getting jobs because they were related to someone.”

“Retirement” plans

Although retired from Seneca College, James has no plans to stop working. She is a co-owner of the Toronto Six professional women’s hockey team, and has just accepted a full-time position as their General Manager. “I’m glad to be in a position to pay women well to play hockey,” she said. “I think women deserve it. We fight in the union for equality and inclusion, and I’m really happy to be a part of this.”

She only started thinking about retiring from Seneca during the pandemic, when her partner urged her to look into her pension benefits. “When you get to the point where you’re going to retire, you’re not sure if the pension is going to be enough. It is enough. But next year, my three kids will be in university at the same time – so I’ll never retire!” James laughs.

Still, James finds time for relaxation. “I’m an avid pickleballer now,” she says. “My daughter plays hockey competitively and I was coaching her midget team last year as well, the North York Storm. I go for nice bike rides with my kids, and I have a nice convertible that I putter around in.”

Angela James (right) with her partner Angela McDonald (left) and their three children: Christian, Toni and Michael