From the archives: Aileen Meagher (Herstory 2012)

Aileen MeagherAileen Meagher represented Canada at the 1931 Olympics and went on to become one of Canada’s most successful athletes during the 1930s.

Born in Edmonton in 1910, Aileen grew up in Halifax and attended Dalhousie University, where she earned a teaching degree and began to run. She astonished the track world when she won a spot on the 1931 Olympics team. “Miss Meagher, who competed in her first major track meet on July 1, of this year, in the Maritime Olympic Trials, captured a berth on the Canadian contingent by outfooting the fleetest girls in the Dominion….”1 Aileen recalled, “Just running was a lovely free feeling, training a bit boring but pleasant. Competitive running was nerve-wracking lonely ordeal, good for one’s discipline, no doubt… winning and making the team opened up a whole new world of friends, experiences, and a lifelong itchy foot to travel.”2

In 1934, Aileen won three medals at the London British Empire Games (BEG) and was part of a medal-winning relay team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She later recalled, “Training as still not very scientific, nobody thought too much about food, nobody had medical exams so it must have been a natural gift and luck too.”3 Her final international competition was in Sydney as part of the 1938 BEG team, where she won two medals. Instead of returning home immediately, she used her travel money to purchase an around-the-world ticket and spent six months travelling – a pursuit she was to enjoy her entire life. In 1935, she was named Canada’s outstanding woman athlete and Canadian Athlete of the year.4 She is in both the Canada and the Nova Scotia Sports Halls of Fame.

Returning to Halifax, she resumed teaching elementary school and became known as “Canada’s Flying Schoolmarm”5 – she ran to work every day. Aileen became more and more interested in art, both as a teacher and as an artist. She studied art during the summer, took her sketchbook when she travelled and exhibited her work in a number of venues, winning prizes. Aileen died in 1987. Since 1992, the Aileen Meagher International Track Classic has been held in Halifax, attracting an international slate of athletes.

“Postmaster-General Ouellet introduced me as ‘Mrs. Aleen Meeger’ gymnast in the ’36 Olympics – grr. When I corrected him he asked if that was the first time Canadian women were in the games – grr, grr.” – Aileen Meagher, 1974

Sources:
Barnard, Elissa. “Meagher Makes Both Shows, One as Artist, Other as Runner,” [Halifax] Chronicle-Herald, 25 September 1985, 3-E.
[Halifax] Chronicle-Herald, 13 July 1985, 26.
Meagher, Aileen, Fonds. Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, MG 1 vol 2994-2999 & 3660-3661.
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management. “Aileen Meagher Olympic Medallist and ‘Canada’s Flying Schoolmarm’.” Virtual Exhibit available: http://www.novascotia.ca/nsarm/virtual/meagher/.
O’Brien, Betty. “The Flying schoolmarm.” The Nova Scotian, 26 November 1983, 3.
Townsend, Hugh. “Memories of Berlin.” Unidentified clipping found in Meagher, MG1 vol 2996, file 1.
1. 11 July 1931, unidentified clipping found in vol 3360, file 8.
2., 3. Meagher. Handwritten memoir found at vol 3360, file 1.
4. Meagher, MG 1, vol 3360, file 1.
5. O’Brien.

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