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Ada Mackenzie

Photograph of Ada Mackenzie

(1891-1973)

Golf

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At a time when female athletes were few and far between, Ada Mackenzie was looked on as a pioneer. Her achievements are even more remarkable taking into account the general attitude regarding the role of women in society in the first half of the 20th century. If the men's domain was the public sphere, then the women's was definitely the private sphere. If women worked outside the home, it was often while "waiting" for marriage or as a continuation of their maternal role. At that time, it was very difficult for women to promote their skills in a world still strongly dominated by men. That Ada Mackenzie succeeded in asserting herself outside these traditional spheres of activity was an accomplishment in itself and bears witness to her strength of character; that she accomplished this in the sports world was even more remarkable. As she herself said: "I started golfing when women were supposed to know more about a cook stove than a niblick." (Golf in Canada: A History, 1992, p. 243.)

Ada Charlotte Mackenzie was born in Toronto in 1891. Her father was a fervent golfer, as was her mother. From 1903 to 1911, she attended Havergal College in Toronto, a stylish private school for girls. It was there that she discovered her passion for sports. She was a member of the cricket, basketball, tennis, hockey and figure-skating teams. For three consecutive years, she captured the Havergal Cup, given to the College's Athlete of the Year. It is a record that still holds today. But golf was her first love and it was through this sport that she earned a reputation on the national and international scenes.

In 1919, at the age of 27, Ada Mackenzie captured the first of her four Canadian "Open" Amateur Championships, (Canadian citizenship was not mandatory to participate) and her six Canadian "Closed" Amateur Championships (Canadian citizenship was mandatory). The last of these victories occurred in 1931. She also captured the Canadian Women's Senior Association title eight times, the Ontario title nine times, the Ontario Senior title twice and the Toronto tournament 10 times. She placed second on 10 occasions at Canadian amateur tournaments. Throughout her career, Mackenzie captured a multitude of provincial tournaments, championships of private clubs and participated in competitions in the United States and Europe. One of her fondest memories is being invited to join the Scottish national team participating in the British Ladies' Open in 1929. In the 1920s, she was the dominant golfer on the Canadian scene.

In 1933, she was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Canadian Press. Her career spans more than 50 years. She captured her last victory during the Ontario Senior Championships in 1969, at the age of 78.

While she accumulated victories, Ada Mackenzie always had a "regular" job. From 1911 to 1914, she was a sports instructor at Havergal College; from 1914 to 1930, she worked at the Canadian Bank of Commerce.

Ada Mackenzie became equally distinguished in the business world. Inspired by what was going on in Great Britain, and in order to assist young girls and women to play golf, she opened the Ladies' Golf and Tennis Club of Toronto in 1924. Only women were allowed to become members. Men could play there, but privileged hours and weekends, were reserved for women. This business endeavour did not come about thanks to personal fortune. Ada Mackenzie herself amassed the $30 000 required, through the issuance of shares, which she sold in person; again proof of her ingenuity and her persistence. Today, the Ladies' Golf Club of Toronto remains the only golf club in North America reserved for women. The second of her ventures in the business world was that of Ada Mackenzie Ltd., a boutique specializing in sports clothing, which opened in 1930. The daily management of this business kept her very busy until she decided to sell it in 1959.

Ada Mackenzie's explanation for her success? "Keeping active and busy has to be my key to success, .... Some people have a tendency to over-indulge in sports. Not me. I treat athletics like recreation." (A Concise History of Sport in Canada, 1989, p. 249) Indeed, she remained active until health problems slowed her down. She died in January 1973, at the age of 81.

In 1971, Mackenzie became a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame where her brilliant record is proudly displayed in order to serve as an inspiration for new generations of Canadian golfers.

We remember the name of Ada Mackenzie in many ways: the Ada Mackenzie Park in Richmond Hill, Ontario; the Ada Mackenzie Trophy that rounds out the Senior Canadian Championship of the Canadian Ladies' Golf Association; the Ada Mackenzie Foundation that continues to give out awards to wheelchair athletes with a disability, through the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association.

Ada Mackenzie: without doubt, the first lady of Canadian golf.

Resources

"Ada Mackenzie". - A concise history of sport in Canada. - Don Mills, Ont. : Oxford University Press, 1989. - P. 248-250

"Ada Mackenzie". - À la gloire des Canadiennes : les meilleures athlètes du Canada. - Toronto : J. Wiley, 1981. - P. 47-50

Barclay, James. A. - Golf in Canada : a history. - Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1992. - 626 p.

Gordon, John. - The grand old game : a century of golf in Canada = Pour le plaisir du jeu : un siècle de golf au Canada. - Toronto : Warwick Pub., 1995. - 176 p.

Kavanagh, L.V. - History of golf in Canada. - Montreal : Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd., 1973. - 207 p.

O'Connor, Tim. - The Ladies' 1924-1999 : a history of the Ladies' Golf Club of Toronto. - Toronto : Dundurn Press, 144 p.

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