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Hilda Donati

Hilda Donati Portrait
Hilda Donati (ca.1945) Courtesy of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame archives.

Submitted by Diane Imrie, Executive Director, Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame

Name: Hilda Donati (nee: Fiori)
Date of birth: September 5, 1910 (Virden, Manitoba); arrived in Port Arthur in 1932
Date of death: November 16, 1956
Accomplishments related to: Sport and Community Development
Major affiliations: Hockey

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Hilda Donati contributed greatly to the development of the game of hockey. Arriving in Port Arthur from Manitoba in the early 1930s, she became an executive member of the Port Arthur West End Junior Hockey Organization in 1936, a position she held for many years and one not commonly undertaken by a woman during that time. In addition to being a dedicated volunteer, she was also a truly rabid hockey fan with her antics being legendary, including the tossing of a corset onto the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1946.

Hilda’s affiliation with Pee Wee hockey began in 1942. Tom Crompton, then President of the Port Arthur Minor Hockey Association, mentioned to Hilda while visiting her store, which was located across from the Port Arthur Arena, that he needed one more sponsor for a team in the Pee Wee division of the PAMHA. Hilda took up the challenge, not only taking over the sponsorship, but some coaching duties as well. As if in a storybook, Hilda's team went on to win the Pee Wee championship title that year. Realizing the number of youngsters who wanted to play hockey but were unable to gain a spot on a team in the Pee Wee division, Hilda decided to create the opportunity for them. Acting as the prime fundraiser, organizer, and manager, Hilda helped establish Thunder Bay's first Pee Wee hockey league which, by some reports, was also the first of its kind in Canada. In its first year of operation, 'Hilda's League', as it was called, consisted of eight teams, with each one of the players being personally selected, assigned, and outfitted by this one-woman dynamo.

By 1948, the league had grown to include over 20 teams and over 300 players, with its founder being referred to as “Mrs. Hockey” in an article published by MacLean’s Magazine that same year. The league continued on until the early 1950s with Hilda's League icing teams in the Midget, Bantam, and Juvenile circuit, and many of her players going on to enjoy successful hockey careers. Through her efforts, thousands of young athletes, who otherwise may not have had the chance, were able to participate in the game of hockey.

Sadly, at the age of only 46, this outstanding community volunteer, who was employed in 1956 as a welfare worker, was struck and killed by a train on her way to visit a family in need. Hilda Donati was inducted posthumously into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame on September 17, 1988 in the Builder category.

Hilda and hockey players
Hilda pictured with players from her team. Tom Crompton (in tam) in back row. Courtesy of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame archives.

Hilda receiving Cheque
R.C. Chambers, on behalf of Port Arthur Mayor Charlie Cox, presenting a $100 cheque to Hilda Donati in 1947 to help defray costs for her Pee Wee hockey league. Accession 987-49-6. Courtesy of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame archives.
 
Hilda's First Annual Pee Wee Banquet
First Annual Banquet of Hilda’s Pee Wee Hockey League (April 1946) Accession 987-49-8
Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame archives.

Hilda's Hockey Team members
Members of one of Hilda’s hockey teams.  Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame archives.