A Journey to Glory: The Inspiring Rise of the Preston Rivulettes

Catch GLORY on stage July 24 – August 17. 

New Beginnings – 1930
While looking for a winter sport to play, teammates Hilda and Nellie Ranscombe, and Marm and Helen Schmuck decided to form a hockey team with fellow members of their baseball team, the Preston Rivulettes. With the help of women’s sports reporter Alexandrine Gibb, they formed Preston’s first women’s hockey team and acquired local arena manager Herb Fach as their head coach.

A Record-Breaking First Season – 1931
After only a few months of practice, the Preston Rivulettes officially debuted in the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association (LOHA) and won their first game against the Grimsby Peaches. Since the team had joined the league late in the season, this was also the qualifying game for the Division Championship playoff. The Rivulettes would continue on to defeat the Port Dover Sailorettes, the London Silverwoods, and the Pembroke Ladies to become Division Champions.

A Heart-Wrenching Loss – 1933
As the Western Canadian Champions, the Edmonton Rustlers paid for the Preston Rivulettes to travel to Edmonton and face them in the first-ever Dominion Championship. Unfortunately, the flu-ravaged Rivulettes lost to the Rustlers in the first playoff game and tied in the finals. These playoffs would mark the first time the team played outside of Ontario as well as the first loss of the Rivulettes’ career. The Championship loss was questioned by some, as the referee came into the Rivulettes’ dressing room after the playoffs and apologized, stating “Sorry girls, I couldn’t let you win”.

The Great Depression Takes Its Toll – 1934
Despite beating the Toronto Vagabonds to become the Eastern Canadian Champions, times were hard for the Preston Rivulettes. They could not secure funding to host the Edmonton Rustlers for the Dominion Championship, which resulted in the team having to default the victory title to the Rustlers.

Back On Top – 1935
The Preston Rivulettes defeated the Montreal Maroons and the Summerside Primrose A.C. to become the Eastern Canadian Champions. The team would go on to beat the Winnipeg Eatons on home ice and claim their first ever Dominion Championship. The town held a gala banquet in their honour, and sports leaders from across the nation joined in the celebration. This season also saw the retirement of founding member Helen Schmuck (who would later return to the Rivulettes in 1938).

The Factor of Cost – 1936
To keep costs down, the Preston Rivulettes sent only eight players to face the Montreal Maroons in the Eastern Canadian Championship. They beat the Maroons 9-2, and their victory was reported in the New York Times. Facing financial challenges after traveling to Montreal, the Rivulettes were unable to travel to Winnipeg for the Dominion Championship. This forced the team to default the title to the Winnipeg Olympics.

A Golden Opportunity – 1939
After winning three consecutive Dominion Championships (1937, 1938, 1939), the Preston Rivulettes were invited to Europe to demonstrate their skills against men’s teams in an exhibition tour. Unfortunately for the Rivulettes, the tour was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.

The End of an Era – 1940
Due to the financial constrictions of war, the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association shut down, forcing the Preston Rivulettes to disband. The women also found themselves otherwise engaged, as many took on new roles assisting with the war, as well as being new wives and mothers.

Well-Deserved Recognition – 1963
The Preston Rivulettes were recognized by Canada’s Hockey Hall of Fame for their excellent winning percentage of over 95%. Over a ten-year span, the team had a record of 346-2-2 (346 wins, 2 losses and 2 ties) and accumulated 693 points (of a possible 700). This record is still unmatched in the history of Canadian women’s hockey.

Canadian Pride – 1996
The still-impressive record of the Preston Rivulettes saw them inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Captain Hilda Rancsombe would later be inducted as an individual player in 2015. Fellow LOHA players and NHL players alike credited Ranscombe as being “without a doubt the best female hockey player in the world.”

Hometown Legends – 1997
In 1997, the Preston Rivulettes were inducted as a team into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame. Team captain Hilda Ranscombe was inducted as an individual player the same year. When asked about her hockey accomplishments, Hilda would only say, “The whole team was the most valuable player”.

A New League – 2004
As part of the Cambridge Roadrunners Girls Hockey Association, a new Intermediate AA team known as the Cambridge Fury joined the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).

The Rivulettes Reborn – 2012
After 8 successful seasons in the PWHL, the Cambridge Fury underwent a rebrand. Going back to their roots, the team adopted the Rivulettes name once more, and have been the Cambridge Rivulettes ever since.

Sports Legends – 2016
On February 15, 2016, the formation of the Preston Rivulettes team was named a National Historic Event. In December 2017, a Federal Historical Marker Plaque was unveiled at Preston Memorial Arena. This solidified the team’s status as Canadian Sports Legends, who opened doors for women in hockey.

Sharing Their Story – 2018
In 2018, writer and choreographer Tracey Power retold the inspirational story of the Preston Rivulettes as a live theatre production. Titled GLORY, the play takes audiences through the inaugural ten-year run of the team and their many struggles and victories. The play premiered at Western Canada Theatre in 2018 and comes to Ontario for the first time this summer. Catch it at the Thousand Islands Playhouse July 24 – August 17.

Article written by Drayton Entertainment. Photos provided by the City of Cambridge Archives Photo Collection and the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame.

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