Image courtesy of Dr. Justine Blainey-Broker

Women's Hockey Hero and Former Player Justine Blainey Celebrates 40th Birthday

Mark Staffieri

As one of the most influential people in helping to give women’s hockey a voice, Justine Blainey reached a milestone 40th birthday. In the 1980s, her legal struggles with discrimination in sport made her a national figure in women’s rights and issues with equality in sport.

Today, she is known as Dr. Justine Blainey-Broker. With two children and a chiropractic practice, her birthday received little attention in athletic circles, “I think that for people, it is forgetful. It is not in the news right now, not in the consciousness.”

In 1981, Blainey had earned a spot on a boys’ team that participated in the Metro Toronto Hockey League. Despite earning her place on the team, she was denied her opportunity to play with boys.

Upon discovery that the Ontario Human Rights Code allowed sexual discrimination in sport, Blainey underwent an arduous legal battle. Five different court cases and an eventual hearing with the Supreme Court of Canada in 1987 brought to light the issues of equality.

Although she endured the legal battle, she still managed to compete in some hockey matches with boys. “During court cases, I pretended to be Justin (rather than Justine). This happened in exhibition games or contests in the States. Never in league games as this would have affected being kicked out of the game.”

Despite her legal struggles, having to pretend to be Justin did not create any resentment with male players. When asked if they were respectful, she replied, “Definitely. I never really had problems with the guys.”

After the Supreme Court had deemed the discrimination was in conflict with Canada’s bill of rights, Blainey’s struggle resulted in a great victory for female hockey players and women’s rights. With great humility, Blainey is quick to point out that it was not just a one person crusade, “It was not just me. There was a team of people that helped me. A group of people helped me.”

Her courage and determination helped to shape a generation of women’s hockey players. “Definitely I know that I opened the door for others. For many other girls, it helped just to be introduced to the sport.”

Blainey’s impact on hockey stretches far beyond the MTHL. She was also part of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues hockey program and would play a pivotal role in preserving its future. “I started practicing with the Varsity Blues when I was 10. The coach was excellent. It was for young players, future prospects, and (held) at Christmas time. When I started, I was at a real young age, but getting a scholarship (later on) helped.”

In 1993, Blainey would add to her legacy as she organized a Save the Team event at the University of Toronto. “In my first year, they wanted to cut the team. It only cost $10,000, compared to the men’s team which cost $100,000. There was a phone campaign, and a game that featured a silent auction. We even went on TV.”

Her hockey career at the university level did not always feature the best amenities, “We did not have good change rooms, no curtains for the showers, no mats. We would get the worst ice time. The men’s team had skate sharpening, TVs, best ice time. It was significantly different. It also affected Hart House and the swimming team.”

Through her tireless efforts and leadership, the result was the women’s team surviving. Currently, the squad is coached by former Varsity Blues players (and Canadian national team members) Vicky Sunohara, Lori Dupuis, and Jayna Hefford. “We raised money to help the women’s hockey team. I am still very happy for that.”

Although Blainey and Hefford were not teammates with the University of Toronto, the two would become teammates in later years. “I played with Hefford on the Mississauga Chiefs. We (also) played together on the Brampton Thunder. Prior to that, I played for the Toronto Aeros.”

With the Toronto Aeros, Blainey would have the opportunity to call two very special players her teammates. “I played with Cassie Campbell when she was on the Aeros. I was very lucky to meet some of the greatest athletes in women’s hockey. Angela James was another athlete I played with on the Aeros. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with her.”

Of note, Cassie Campbell was the first female recipient of the Order of Hockey in Canada. James would be the first Canadian woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“What stood out on the Aeros was playing with Angela James. One year, we had 8 players and we won the Provincials. Many teammates went to Nationals so the team was divided. The leftovers of the team went on to win Provincials. It showed the quality of teamwork.”

Like many other Aeros players, the opportunity to play for Ken Dufton left a very positive impression, “We also had amazing coaching in Ken Dufton. Very thankful, definitely someone that would stick out forever.”

Upon joining the Brampton Thunder in 1999, she was teamed with a group of players that would help Canada claim the gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. “With the Brampton Thunder, I played with Sunohara, Dupuis, Hefford, Sami Jo Small. It was definitely a group with well-known athletes.”

Another strong woman on the Thunder would make an impression on Blainey, “With the Thunder, there were a lot of great, great times. I was so impressed with the support we got from Sue Fennell. She went above and beyond with the athletes. She supported the team and got us the best (quality) ice, best ice times, and the best coaches. She was so instrumental for women’s hockey.”

“I do not think it would have existed had it not been for Fennell. She recruited many athletes from Scarborough, Toronto and Etobicoke. It created an exciting environment. The athletes were treated with respect like never before. We had trainers, and dry land practices. It took it to another level. She really changed the face of the game.”

As a long time aficionado of the game, she is quick to notice how much it has improved. “Most definitely. The female athletes have really stepped it up. I am really impressed. They are faster, tougher, stronger.”

“The game has a lot more intensity to it than ever before. There is more contact at higher levels. At one time, it was believed to be a finesse game or a delicate game.”

As a proud mother of two, her children have differing views on the game, “My daughter hates hockey. She is a figure skater, in both pairs and singles. She is an athlete for sure.”

“My son plays AAA Hockey, but he is also a figure skater. My children were both very impressed by the Vancouver Winter Games, and the performance of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. He does both sports competitively. All four of us spend our lives at the rinks and we love it!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”


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