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'Sports legends': New art exhibit honours Edmonton Grads


A new art exhibit at the Edmonton YWCA is paying tribute to women in sport by telling the story of one of Canada's greatest basketball teams of all time – the Edmonton Grads.

The art exhibit is by Carolyn Campell, the granddaughter of Mae Brown Webb, who played for the Grads from 1927 to 1931.

"This is very, very special," Campbell said. "I feel like this is telling a story in Edmonton that was overdue to tell again."

Founded in 1915, The Edmonton Grads was a women's basketball team and one of the most successful in Canadian history.

The exhibit includes ten pieces by Campell alongside artifacts from the team donated by the City of Edmonton and families of other players and the coach.

Now CEO of Norquest College, Campbell studied art and formerly taught painting at the University of Alberta. She said the show is not her first, but it's one she feels very connected to as the works were largely inspired by a photo album of her grandmother's trip to Amsterdam for the 1928 Olympic games.

"I was just really inspired by the pictures, because I thought, you know, they tell such a great story of the Edmonton Grads, which we don't hear about so much anymore – the winningest team in sports history," she said.

According to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, the team won 502 of the 522 games they played in their 25-year lifespan, including a winning streak of as many as 147 consecutive games.

Basketball was not yet an Olympic sport, but the Grads won all 27 games in exhibition tournaments held alongside the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924, Amsterdam in 1928, Los Angeles in 1932, and Berlin in 1936.

"It's been amazing how many people I've talked to that don't know about the Grads anymore, and I think it's an important part of Edmonton's story we should tell," Campbell said, adding she pitched the idea of hanging a few pieces up to the YWCA.

But YWCA CEO Katherine O'Neill had a better idea, and asked Campell if instead she would like to do a whole show.

"They're sports legends and we really wanted to tell that story to not only Edmonton but to our entire country about this incredible team," O'Neill said.

Fewer than 40 women played for the Grads between 1915 to 1940, and while many recognize the name of coach J. Percy Page, O'Neill said, not many know the names of the women who carried the team into the record books.

So, while the exhibit is a celebration of the team's history and its players, O'Neill said it also speaks to the hurdles that women in sports faced then and continue to deal with today.

"When it comes to women in sports, there's still so many barriers to break," O'Neill said. "[This is] to remind folks that not only in our past that these were pioneers in sports but that there's so much more work to be done and to hopefully inspire that next generation, that next Edmonton Grads team."

GRADS: The Exhibit runs until March 31, and more details on the show can be found at the Edmonton YWCA's website. The show is free to attend, but guests must register online beforehand.

Two public viewings are planned for Feb. 10 and Mar. 4, but O'Neill said more may be added depending on demand.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa Top Stories

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