One of the most gratifying things you get from a lifetime in sports journalism is spending time with incredible people you meet, interview and write about. There’s no life like it.
New Glasgow native Gloria Borden was one of those.
I’ve admired her life and career achievements for more than six decades – since back when we were students at New Glasgow High School in the mid-1950s.
There was a lot to admire.
I first learned of her background when she arrived at the school, discovering that she was one of many young Bordens in the town’s classrooms. She was one of 18 siblings growing up in the family home on Vale Road.
I watched her and first wrote about her when she was the star goaltender with the school’s newly-organized girl’s soccer team that won the Nova Scotia Headmasters championship in just its second season in the sport.
I observed her youthful inner strength when she was fighting discrimination in her hometown and elsewhere, being banned from restaurants and other public places because of the colour of her skin.
I marvelled at her significant successes when she became the first black woman boxing manager in Canada, helping some 150 boxers, including four who became Olympians in Montreal in 1976.
I applauded her many accomplishments that led to her induction into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.
I enjoyed writing newspaper stories and columns about her extraordinary life, as well as devoting a chapter about her in my second book, Remembering Pictou County.
I observed her major achievements in the health field – becoming a lab technologist at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax, later being the first black hematology specialist in Canada.
Her life’s journey is worth noting once more.
I knew she loved her career, loved music, loved sports, especially boxing. As far back as she could remember, she was athletic, playing softball, baseball, basketball and soccer.
So many enjoyments.
And now, just a few weeks ago, she added another impressive milestone to her profile when she was awarded an honorary doctor of civil law degree from Saint Mary’s University.
What a wonderful tribute to top off a wonderful career.
This is an exceptional woman who I believe would have succeeded at anything she attempted to do.
One of the most heart-warming – and emotional – interviews I’ve had with anyone occurred 10 years ago when I spent time with Gloria at her Halifax home, listening to her discuss the highs – and, yes, the lows – of her experiences.
What was it like being a kid in such a crowded home?
“A lot of disagreements, a lot of fun, and a lot of chaos,” she told me. “Sports was a very important part of my life, and for most of the children. I just wanted to be in sports. Sports are what kept me in school.”
How did the high school soccer team win a championship and go undefeated in just its second year?
“We did it because we were confident we would do it. We set a goal, and we worked for it, and won. That was our goal and we achieved it.”
Gloria was one of three blacks on the team, along with her cousin Willena Borden and Mildred Paris.
I asked about the unpleasant things.
“After we won the championship (in Halifax), our coach (John “Brother” MacDonald) wanted to take us out to dinner, so we went to a restaurant. As we went in, a lady approached Brother and said we couldn’t eat there because there were three black girls on the team. Brother said, ‘Okay, girls, we’ll go somewhere else.’ So we all left.”
There was a similar incident in Antigonish.
“At our game, Brother was approached by a man (on the sidelines) and Brother came over to me and said, ‘It’s sad, but we have to be back on the bus by six o’clock.’ Later, Brother said there was a curfew in the town and (because there were blacks on the team) that we had to be out of town by six.”
Did such things hurt Gloria?
“They affected my white friends on the team more than it affected me. Some of them were very offended because we were tight as a team.”
There was an incident in New Glasgow when she went into a restaurant, but was told she couldn’t eat there. She went up the street to another restaurant and, when she went to go in, an employee told her they don’t serve blacks.
“Long before that, I had been told such things might happen,” Gloria said. “It was better just to go on our way.”
In 1958, she left her roots and moved to Halifax. She wanted to get into boxing so she formed a boxing club.
She was Ricky Anderson’s first manager before he became one of the province’s finest boxers. Pictou County’s Art Hafey trained with her before he became number one ranked in the world.
There were many others.
Gloria gave a lot to boxing, yet there were dissenters – because she was a woman, because she was black.
“There were people who wanted what I had, what I was doing, but they weren’t going to get it, not as long as I ran the club the way the city wanted me to. I was safe.”
After the 1976 Olympics, she stepped down.
“I achieved what I started out to do, and I didn’t feel I wanted to carry on with the pressure it demands.”
Even in boxing she faced discrimination.
“It was hurtful, some of the things that happened, but it was just another hurdle.”
Gloria, 81, has been a trailblazer. She’s now Dr. Gloria Borden. She’s also a winner, a champion, a delightful human being.
The honour bestowed on her at Saint Mary’s is the frosting on her cake.