September 14, 2016

London Life employee and Olympian long-listed for bank note

Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld passed away over 45 years ago, but her impact has gone the distance. In April, The Bank of Canada announced the track and field Olympian and former London Life employee as one of 12 prominent Canadian women long-listed to appear on a new bank note in 2018.

She was born on Dec. 28, 1904 in Ekaterinoslav, Russia (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine). In 1905 her parents immigrated to Barrie, Ontario. As a child, Bobbie excelled at sports. She played basketball, softball, lacrosse, ice hockey and tennis. But it was her performance on the track that pushed her into stardom. Shortly after the Rosenfelds moved to Toronto in 1922, Bobbie won the women’s 100-yard Century Race at the Canadian National Exhibition, matching the world record of the time of 11 seconds.

In August 1925, Bobbie represented her then employer, Patterson’s Chocolate Company, at the Ontario Ladies Track and Field Championship. Incredibly, even though never trained in field sports, she won gold in a number of events: the 220-yard dash, 120-yard low hurdles, long jump, discus and shot put. She also won silver in the 100-yard dash and javelin.

Cue the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The first time women are allowed to compete in track and field. Bobbie was chosen for the Canadian women’s Olympic team, which consisted of 7 women: 1 swimmer and 6 track and field stars — dubbed the Matchless Six.

The Olympic Games proved to be a huge success for the Canadians. The 4 x 100-metre relay team won gold, with Bobbie as the starting runner. She went on to win silver in the 100-metre. Shortly after returning to Canada, Bobbie developed arthritis and retired from track and field. She did, however, go on to be named the Most Outstanding Woman Hockey Player in Ontario in the 1931-1932 season.

After arthritis eventually forced her out of sports, she started her career as an agent at the Toronto Albert branch of London Life in 1932. Under the direction of J.F. Maine, Superintendent of Industrial Agencies, she was the first woman to be promoted to Superintendent.

In 1934, J.P. Henderson and Bobbie wrote one of the largest Group Life Insurance cases of the time for the 125 employees of Patterson Chocolates Ltd. In 1936, she traded her insurance career for a career in journalism and joined the Globe and Mail as a sports writer for the column “Sports Reel”. She was a sports journalist for the next 20 years.

She spent most of her journalistic career defending women in sports. In a 1933 Vancouver Sun article, the writer, Andy Lytle, argued women should not participate in vigorous sports, adding “Nature did not cast her in the mannish mold.”

In the July 1933 issue of Chatelaine, Bobbie responded:

“Athletic Maids, to arms! Andy Lytle beware! We are taking up the sword, and high time it is, in defense of our so-called athletic bodies to give the lie to those pen flourishers who depict us not as paragons of feminine physique, beauty and health, but rather as Amazons and ugly ducklings — all because we have become sport-minded and have chosen to delve so whole heartedly into competitive sport.”

In 1955, Bobbie was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. On Nov. 13, 1969, she died at the age of 64.

Her commitment to women’s sports through her athletic accomplishments and her sports journalism is now recognized by the Bank of Canada. Bobbie joins iconic Canadian women like Emily Carr, Nellie McClung, and Gabrielle Roy, to name a few.

The short-list will be up to the public, when a formal opinion survey is released to a selection of Canadians. The results of that survey, combined with the opinion of historical experts, will shrink the list to 3-5 finalists.

The final decision will be in the hands of the Minister of Finance.

The nomination criteria required the nominee to be:

  • Any Canadian woman who demonstrated leadership, achievement or distinction in any field benefitting or in service to the people of Canada
  • Not a fictional character
  • Deceased for at least 25 years (April 15, 1991)

Read more about Fanny Rosenfeld and her fellow nominees on the Bank of Canada websiteOpens a new website in a new window.