Jenny John of Essex, England, had a choice in 1970 — the Great White North or the Land Down Under.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, I’m bored. I’ll just go away to Canada or Australia,” John said. “Australia had more snakes than Canada.”
The Canadian field hockey community is forever indebted to Aussie serpents.
John, who planned to stay in this country for two years, but never left, is this week taking her place in the Field Hockey Canada Hall of Fame in the builder category.
The Class of 2019 inductee completes a hall of fame hat trick, having entered the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
“This just tops the lot off,” John said, noting she is a youthful 79 years old.
John waltzed into KTW on Monday with a treasure trove of old photos and a résumé nearly too heavy to carry.
She came to Canada with a degree in physical education and taught on Vancouver Island — at Norfolk House Private School from 1970 to 1974 and at Spectrum Community School from 1974 to 1979.
Outside of the classroom, her tools as a field hockey player, official and coach were quickly noticed. By 1980, she had coached the Spectrum school, University of Victoria, Vancouver Island, provincial and Canadian field hockey teams and was logging hours on three national committees.
John captained Canada at the 1975 Field Hockey World Cup in Scotland, where vicious lumber work from a Belgian brute ended her competitive playing career.
“This woman just put her stick between my legs,” said John, noting relaxed laws of the game back then made injuring top scorers an effective strategy. “I fell inwards and massacred my medial ligament.”
The injury list — “a couple of new ankles, a new hip, a new this and that and two new knees,” she said — is almost as long as her résumé.
The Montreal Olympics in 1976 did not go well for Canada.
John was one of 12 sports directors chosen in B.C. in 1979 to help right the ship, the only woman to earn one of the provincial government positions.
She was the provincial sport co-ordinator for field hockey from 1979 to 2000, a job that precipitated a move to Vancouver in 1981.
Highlights of the tenure include two cross-Canada tours in the 1980s to promote mini-stick field hockey with children, championing the game at the high school level in B.C., teaching somewhere in the range of 15,000 classes and clinics, umpiring at the provincial and national levels, sitting on dozens of committees, publishing numerous manuals, coaching videos and articles and conducting countless coaching and official certification courses.
John’s name became synonymous with the game among the national field hockey community.
“It just took off all over the country,” said John, speaking of the two cross-Canada tours sponsored by Field Hockey Canada and Fitness Canada.
Below is an excerpt from a note dated Dec. 12, 1980, sent to Pat Forbes, president of the B.C. Women’s Field Hockey Federation, from Barbara Lewis, vice-president of recreation for the Canadian Women’s Field Hockey Association.
“The success of her tour is demonstrated by the fact every area asked to have her back and Prince Edward Island was not going to let her off the Island!” the note reads.
John, who became a Canadian citizen in 1975, provided colour commentary for the CBC during the 1979 World Field Hockey Championship in Vancouver and for TSN during the 1997 Canada Games in Brandon.
“I’m sort of bragging now, but they’d say Jenny John — field hockey,” said John, who received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003. “I think I spread the word in Canada and promoted so much in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and I think that, for me, is special.”
The 1993 Canada Summer Games, at which John was national technical advisor for field hockey, would eventually have a hand in changing the course of her life.
She became familiar with host city Kamloops in the years leading up to the event and decided to move to the Tournament Capital (ironically home to more than a few rattlesnakes) in 2000, when she retired from her sport co-ordinator position with the government.
“I thought, ‘Where should I go?’” John said. “A friend in Kamloops said, ‘Well, I’ve got a room here if you’d like to come for a little while, while you’re thinking.’ That was in 2000 and I’m still here.”
John’s involvement in sports continued in Kamloops and she remains a director on the board for Pacific Sport Interior B.C.
The Field Hockey Canada Hall of Fame ceremony was scheduled for March, but was pre-empted by the pandemic. Instead, inductees will be recognized online throughout the month of August, with videos and articles to be published at fieldhockey.ca.
John’s will be revealed on Wednesday, Aug. 12.
“This is very special,” John said. “Back then, I realized this [Canada] was the land of opportunity. I didn’t mean to stay here and for me to be able to see the country was just amazing. And to be into every province, even Quebec, and promote and introduce field hockey, plus captaining Canada — that, to me, is just wonderful.”
Kamloops Daily News reporter Michele Young told the story of John’s induction to the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in September of 2010:
Induction night at the Vancouver Convention Centre was meant to be a joyous occasion for John, but the disappearance of her longtime friend, May Milling, then 81, put a damper on festivities.
John’s mind was with Milling, who had been vacationing in Jasper and was scheduled to visit with John in Kamloops on Sept. 2, 2010, before continuing home to Gibsons.
The hall of fame ceremony was held on Sept. 16 and police had no leads at the time.
“I’ve got shivers going up now because it’s coming up to Sept. 2,” John said on Monday, noting the friendship was formed through field hockey in the 1970s. “I remember it second by second. We had the police all over. A friend and I drove from Kamloops to Jasper, going about 25 miles an hour, looking for scraping.”
Milling shared a home for more than 40 years with two other women, a trio fondly known as the Golden Girls. They were pioneers of field hockey in Canada and welcomed John, younger than them, into the community.
John was told police believed Milling filled her tank with gas and withdrew money in Jasper before heading toward Kamloops.
“I just thought she had been murdered and so did friends,” John said. “She was a well-dressed woman, permed hair, a typical 80-year-old, had a nice car and had everything going for her. We just needed closure.”
Answers came later in the fall of 2010.
A Clearwater farmer spotted a wallet in an eddy in the North Thompson River. It contained cash and Milling’s credit cards.
The police led a search party up the river, with help from dogs, kayakers and the local First Nations community, and found car mats, luggage and pieces of the vehicle.
“She must have had a heart attack,” John said. “One side was a mountain, so she couldn’t stop. She must have just pulled over down this little side road and then tipped 100 feet down into Mad River, exactly 40 kilometres above Clearwater.”
Milling’s body has never been found. She was pronounced dead in March of 2011. A celebration of life was held in Gibsons that May.