Ruth Black

Ruth Black

Ruth Black 

  • Date of Birth: 1914, Swift Current, SK
  • Date of Death: April 22nd, 1995, Thunder Bay, ON
  • Accomplishments related to: Sport, Health Care, Community Development & Service 
  • Major affiliations: Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital, YWCA, YMCA, Thunder Bay’s Soroptimist International Friendship Gardens

Ruth Black was a trailblazer and role model for women in a variety of aspects of her life. Whether it was in the sports arena, throughout her long and respected career in health care, or through her contributions to her community, she left her mark in many ways.

During the 1920s and 30s, women began to participate in organized sports on a scale not previously seen. Ruth was a prominent local athlete during this time period. She demonstrated her versatility by competing at a high level in several sports, including basketball, volleyball, hockey, and softball, often playing and winning at the championship level. Teams she played on include the Golden Sprays and the Port Arthur South Ends, along with several high school teams. In 1937 she was recruited by Schreiber to play in the Women's Ontario Softball playoffs; their only loss of the tournament was in a game against Toronto in the finals. A pioneer in the field of women’s sports in northwestern Ontario, she earned entry into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 in the Athlete category.

Not content with success in sport alone, Ruth also gave close to 40 years of service to health care at a time when women did not hold positions of power in that field. Starting as a secretary at the newly opened Ontario Hospital farm in 1936 on the old Scott Highway, she went on to become the assistant administrator of the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital (LPH), retiring from that position in 1973 as the lone female assistant administrator amongst the Ministry of Health’s twenty-six facilities which were operating at that time. Highlights of her career also included helping to coordinate the building plans for the LPH’s new location on Algoma Street and organizing the hospital's Volunteer Services Group.

Ruth left her mark in the community in many ways, but perhaps most notably as a local hero during a crisis that unfolded at the Lakehead Exhibition Grounds in 1947. A team of horses suddenly began to run amok, galloping with a large empty hay wagon towards the crowd.  Accounts note that it was Ruth who ran from the YWCA booth, caught the running team, gained control, and brought them to a stop. She would later be presented with the National Dow Award for Bravery due to her selfless heroism. Ruth also contributed more conventionally to her community as a volunteer with many organizations. She served on such boards as the YMCA, Visitors and Convention Bureau, and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. One of her lasting legacies was her work on the development of Thunder Bay’s Soroptimist International Friendship Gardens which she, along with Rose Frim, proposed as that group’s Centennial Project in 1967.

Upon her passing in 1995 she left a number of financial bequests to a variety of organizations. She also left a large sum to the Thunder Bay Community Foundation, establishing the Ruth Black Fund which provides support to worthy groups each year, including a bursary at Confederation College and the Ruth W. Black Memorial Graduate Bursary at Lakehead University. For her excellence in sport, medicine, and community involvement, she continues to serve as an inspiration to women in the Lakehead.


Information for this articles has been provided courtesy of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame

Additional information about her contributions to the LPH can be found in the excerpts from the publicationLakehead Psychiatric Hospital 1934-2004 From Institution to Community – A Transformation of Psychiatric Services



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