Via The Hockey News, a report on the Moose Jaw Wildcats who were arguably Canada’s most dominant women’s hockey team in the 1940s and 1950s, forming a not so secret love for the game and at times for each other:

Following the roar of the 1930s for women’s hockey across Canada in the form of the Edmonton Rustlers, Preston Rivulettes, and Winnipeg Eatons, it took time for the sport to recover for women following World War II. The fastest revival happened in the West, with teams in Winnipeg and Edmonton forming leagues, as well as in Saskatchewan, led by the powerhouse Moose Jaw Wildcats. Moose Jaw’s team showed a not so secret love for the sport, and at times, each other.

The first recorded games for the Wildcats took place in the spring of 1945 as the Allied forces began closing in on the end of the way as Nazi powers collapsed. 

On March 10, 1945, Terry Donahue and Ev Brown each scored a pair of goals in a 4-3 win for the Moose Jaw Wildcats over the University of Saskatchewan Huskiettes in front of more than 3,000 fans (Star-Phoenix, Moose Jaw Girls Beat Co-Eds, March 12, 1945, Page 13). A week later on March 17, Moose Jaw beat the Huskiettes again 5-2, with Ev Brown recording a hat trick, and Terry Donahue and Peggy Eclestone adding the others for Moose Jaw. Dot Simpson was the top scorer for the University of Saskatchewan. The games were a fundraiser for the UCT Cancer Control and Sunshine Funds.

The following spring, the two teams met again. On March 9, 1946, the Wildcats played to a 2-2 draw with Brown and Mary Wells scoring the goals in front of more than 2,000 fans. The following week the teams met again, and as the Star-Phoenix wrote on March 18, 1946, “Discarding their feminine charms for hockey toggery, University of Saskatchewan Huskiettes and Moose Jaw Wildcats gave an entertaining confusion of hockey for the 1,000 fans who saw Huskiettes emerge winners on a 3-0 score…”

“Ev Brown, Terry Donahue and Mary Wells were the pick of the Moose Jaw squad,” the Star-Phoenix declared. 

That summer, Terry Donahue would trade her hockey gloves for a catcher’s glove. She played baseball every summer, but this summer, she cracked the lineup of the Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League after being scouted while playing for the Moose Jaw Royals. Donahue was a catcher for the Redwings for four seasons playing in 287 games in the league. Each year she’d play hockey in the winter, and baseball in the summer.

By 1947 the Wildcats finally found a new opponent. For the first time, Regina hosted a women’s hockey team, the Regina U.C.T. Pats. Much like the Preston Rivulettes in Ontario, the Moose Jaw Wildcats and Regina Pats had softball ties in the summer. As The Leader Post wrote in February 1947, “It’s billed as girls’ hockey but it looks like softball on ice.” 

On February 21, the two teams played in front of 3,625 fans in Regina as part of the United Commercial Travellers charity show. The Wildcats jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but Regina’s star, Joan “Duchess” Dukowski scored three unanswered goals in the second period to spark Regina’s comeback to win 4-3. Dukowski was the daughter of Laudus “Duke” Dukowski, who spent five seasons in the NHL between 1926 and 1934 with the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks and and New York Americans. In a return match the following week in Moose Jaw, the Wildcats exacted their revenge. The game, which ended in a 2-1 Moose Jaw win, also included the typical physical play women’s hockey was known for in the era. In the third period a fracas began when Wildcats netminder Bea Mitchell “hauled off and socked the Duchess on the jaw.”

“There was no hair-pulling, which girls are supposed to do. Instead other team members piled into the battle for a down-to-earth fist fight,” The Leader-Post wrote following the game. 

In time for the 1947-1948 season, the teams were now playing in what was dubbed the Girls’ Southern Hockey League playing to a 5-5 tie in front of 1,000 fans with Ev Brown scoring four and assisting on the other for the Wildcats, while Joan Dukowski had a hat trick for Regina.

The game also marked the first recorded contest with the Moose Jaw Wildcats for defender Pat Henschel. It was the beginning of a 72 year love story between Henschel Moose Jaw teammate Terry Donahue. The pair would secretly become inseparable, but due to widespread homophobia in the 1940s, not even their closest family members would learn about their relationship. To outsiders, Donahue and Henschel were the closest of friends, and soon roommates. Their love story was told in the 2020 Netflix documentary titled A Secret Love. 

“All those girls were tremendous athletes, and at that point in the ’40s being gay was taboo. It was dangerous, lives were ruined,” said Chris Bolan, Donahue’s great nephew, and the director of A Secret Love. 

They didn’t come out to family until 2009, 62 years after their relationship began. Following the United States Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015 that all states must end bans on same-sex marriage, Henshel and Donahue tied the knot on Donahue’s 90th birthday. The couple moved to Chicago in 1949 after Donahue signed to play professional softball for the Chicago Music Maids. They lived out their lives there together until Donahue passed away in 2019 at the age of 93. In 2022, the couple were honored by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum who created a bobblehead of Donahue playing baseball for the Peoria Redwings, and Henschel playing for the Moose Jaw Wildcats.

In 1948, Moose Jaw again beat Regina, this time in front of 2,892 fans. Donahue tallied in the game, but it was Ev Brown who remained the leader. She scored twice and assisted on another in Moose Jaw’s 4-2 win a game where The Leader-Post described Brown as “by far the headiest player and was a terror every time she handled the puck.” In a rematch later that month, the Wildcats again triumphed 5-4, with Brown factoring in on every goal. In their next game in early 1949, Donahue took her turn scoring twice. 

In 1950, more organization in women’s hockey was beginning to re-emerge and the Wildcats played for the Western Canadian senior women’s hockey championship, with a chance to capture the revitalized Lady Bessborough Cup as Canada’s national champions. That season the Wildcats fell 2-0 in the best-of-thee series for the Western Canadian title, losing 5-0 and 5-2 to the Winnipeg All-Stars. Winnipeg went on to beat the eastern champions the Port Arthur Bombers 7-2 and 7-3 powered by Ev Wawryshyn to win the Canadian title.

The following season however, the Moose Jaw Wildcats would earn the right to claim their spot as Canada’s top team. In the opening game of the Western Canada finals against the defending Canadian champions, the Winnipeg Canadianettes, Moose Jaw fell behind 4-1, but team star Ev Brown had other ideas. She scored a hat trick, including the overtime game winner in a 5-4 come from behind win, while Lois Milligan scored the other Wildcats’ goal. In front of more than 1,000 fans in Winnipeg, the Wildcats took game two 3-2 to capture the Western Canada title. They advanced to face the Port Arthur Bearcats for the Lady Bessborough Cup.

Moose Jaw opened the series with a dominant 4-0 win with Lois Milligan scoring a hat trick. The second and deciding game of the series was even more lopsided with the Moose Jaw Wildcats securing the Lady Bessborough Cup and a Canadian national championship with an 8-1 win.

In Manitoba legislature following the win, Manitoba’s attorney general, J.W. Corman, who was instrumental in passing Saskatchewan’s Bill of Rights in 1947, stood and addressed the legislature saying “In Moose Jaw, in hockey as in politics, we play for keeps.”

The Wildcats retained their Western Canada title in 1952 beating Winnipeg 5-3 and 5-0 in the championship series, but there’s no record of a series against an eastern team for the Canadian title. 1953 saw controversy for the Moose Jaw club after a group from Edmonton claimed they were the Canadian champions without ever playing a game against the Wildcats. The Edmonton team made the claim after failing to arrange a series against Moose Jaw.

“We certainly never turned down the Edmonton challenge,” said Moose Jaw coach Lew McNamee. “We merely told Edmonton that due to the lack of ice facilities at Moose Jaw, we couldn’t accommodate them for a Saturday game either in February or March. As an alternative, we suggested that we would be willing to play in Edmonton during the same period. As yet there has been no further word. Meanwhile, our offer still stands.” According to the Edmonton Journal at the time however, no Edmonton team had even been formed. A four team league existed in the city at the time, but Edmonton recreation commission athletic director Jack Reilly said he would have picked an all-star team from the league’s teams to face Moose Jaw. Weeks later, Edmonton turned down a renewed offer from Moose Jaw to play the series.

The team would continue to play in 1954 and 1955, but would disband following the 1955 season ending a span of dominance by the team. They finished the season as Saskatchewan champions, and through the 1940s and 1950s, the Moose Jaw Wildcats were Canada’s most dominant team. Ev Brown continued to be the top player in Canada during the era, alongside Lois Milligan, powering the Wildcats for several seasons.

It was a quiet era for women’s hockey in Canada, but not for the women of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, who kept the game alive for other generations to enjoy.


Leave A Reply