7 future N.W.T. candidates for Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Sharon and Shirley Firth became the first athletes from the N.W.T. elected to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame last week. CBC's Garrett Hinchey highlights seven others who deserve the honour.

With the first N.W.T. athletes elected to Hall, CBC's Garrett Hinchey highlight others who deserve the honour

N.W.T.'s Sharon and Shirley Firth, twin sisters who competed in cross-country skiing at four Olympic games, are the first inductees to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame from any territory. (Canada's Sports Hall of Fame )

Wednesday's announcement that legendary cross-country skiing sisters Sharon and Shirley Firth were to be elected to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame was a landmark for sports in the N.W.T. 

Despite a rich sporting history in Canada's North, the Firths represent the first inductees to the Hall of Fame from the N.W.T. — from any territory, in fact — since the hall's opening in 1955, and just the third and fourth aboriginal inductees, following sprinter Tom Longboat and kayaker Alwyn Morris.

However, that doesn't mean that they are the only ones deserving of induction. Far from it. If Canada's Sports Hall of Fame is looking to increase the amount of Arctic representation among its 500-plus members, than there are plenty of deserving athletes and contributors to sport from the N.W.T. that merit serious consideration. 

Here are seven of them:

Stuart Hodgson

The argument can be made that no single person contributed to the development of sport in the territory as much as Hodgson, the territory's commissioner from 1967 to 1979. Hodgson, along with Yukon financial advisor Cal Miller, came up with the idea of the Arctic Winter Games while watching territorial athletes struggle against their southern counterparts at the Canada Winter Games.

Stuart Hodgson waves to the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, the 20th iteration since the first Games in 1970. (CBC)

The Arctic Winter Games launched in 1970, giving Northern athletes the ability to express their unique culture while competing on a more level playing field. Hodgson hosted the inaugural Games in Yellowknife and remained intimately involved in their operation for years.

Today, the biannual competition hosts thousands of athletes from Canada's three territories, as well as Northern Alberta, Nunavik, and four international delegations. Hodgson's brainchild has also become a testing ground for the North's most promising athletes: at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Team Canada boasted four Arctic Winter Games alumni.

Meika McDonald

One of the Arctic Winter Games' greatest legacies was its inclusion of Arctic Sports — traditional Inuit games — and Dene Games, exposing and popularising the sports of the territory's aboriginal populations to a wider audience. McDonald, from Fort Smith, first competed in the Games in 1988, winning numerous ulus in Arctic sports and setting a world record in the Alaskan High Kick in the process.

Meika McDonald at the Arctic Winter Games in 2008. McDonald, a former world-record holder in the Alaskan High Kick, has been part of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee since 2007. (CBC)

McDonald made her greatest impact after her playing days, though. She developed a groundbreaking technical training package for Arctic sports, and has travelled the country promoting and demonstrating the traditional games to young athletes. Since 2007, she's sat on the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, its official organizing body.

McDonald's legacy continues to be felt in the record books, as well: two of her daughters attended the 2014 Games as part of Team N.W.T. One of those, Veronica, is a junior world record holder in the kneel jump. 

Grant and Richard Beck

Grant Beck's entire family has run roughshod over the dogsledding record books. Currently, he owns Beck's Kennels, which provides dogsled excursions to tourists and would-be competitors. (CBC)

The N.W.T.'s first family of dogsledding, the Becks have assaulted the record books since Grant moved to Yellowknife in 1968. Grant is a four-time Canadian champion and one-time world champion, and brother Richard has won the Canadian championship five times, plus seven world championships.

The Becks' legacy is simple to spot: they're plastered all over the leaderboards of most Arctic races. Richard's three children all have their own teams, and his three grandaughters are all Arctic Winter Games champions. Grant's son, John, is a Canadian champion, and his grandson, Jaden, won the Caledonia Classic long distance race in 2015. Grant currently owns a kennel in Yellowknife, where he promotes the sport by introducing tourists and would-be competitors to the traditional northern sport.

Jelena Mrdjenovich

Hay River's Jelena Mrdjenovich won her first world championship in 2005. Ten years later, she's still the world's top ranked featherweight boxer. (CBC)

Born in Hay River before moving to Edmonton, Jelena Mrdjenovich has made an indelible mark on Canada's boxing scene since turning pro in 2003. Mrdjenovich, a two-time national champion, won her first world championship in 2005, the WBC super featherweight championship. 

Over the past decade, she's added four more world titles, in three separate weight classes, and compiled a 35-9-1 record while becoming Canada's mainstay at the top of the world boxing rankings. Currently, she is the world's number one ranked female featherweight and the WBC featherweight champion. Once Mrdjenovich chooses to hang up her gloves, her unassailable career record will, very likely, earn her a place in the Hall. 

Kevin Koe

Born in Yellowknife, Kevin Koe has skipped Team Alberta to two Brier wins, and won the world championships in 2010. (CBC)

Like Mrdjenovich, Koe was born in the N.W.T. but made his mark on his chosen sport — curling — after heading south to Alberta. While still living in Yellowknife, Koe skipped a N.W.T. rink to a shocking second-place finish at the Canadian junior curling championships in 1994. Koe's family has deep roots in Northern curling: his brother Jamie was on the 1994 team and become an N.W.T. regular at the Brier, while his sister Kerry has skipped the N.W.T. team at four of the last five Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

But it was nearly two decades later when Koe began to establish himself among the world's best curlers, leading a team from Calgary to wins at the Brier in 2010 and 2014, and a world championship in 2010 (he finished fourth in 2014). Koe's resume is still incomplete: he's just 40 years of age, still relatively young in curling terms. A few more years near the top of the world rankings, though, could see him solidify a case for the Hall of Fame.

1974 Yellowknife Junior Merchants

A true underdog story, the 1974 Yellowknife Junior Merchants formed just four years after Yellowknife became a city before becoming Canada's first junior softball champions. (Green Diamond Project)

Although Canada's Sports Hall of Fame doesn't induct teams en masse, if it did, the 1974 Yellowknife Junior Merchants softball team would be a shoo-in. Just four years after Yellowknife's incorporation, the Merchants headed south to Ottawa, representing the N.W.T. in the first-ever Canadian junior men's softball championship.

The underdog Merchants fought their way through the tournament, defeating Quebec 6-5 in a David-and-Goliath final that saw the Yellowknife team crowned Canada's first ever junior softball champions, as well as the territory's first national champions in any sport. Pitcher Leroy Eliason was named the tournament's MVP. Five years later, the Merchants proved their run was no fluke, finishing as national runners-up.

Yellowknife Ravens Broomball 

The 2008 iteration of the Yellowknife Ravens, who won the world championships. Lynn Fowler, who founded the team in 1981, stands on the far left. (NWT Broomball)

Founded in 1981 by Yellowknife's Lynn Fowler, the Ravens have found astounding success on the national and international level, winning the Western Canadian Championships three times in the mid-2000s and world championships in 2008 and 2014. Founder Fowler, who introduced organized broomball to Yellowknife in 1979, was elected to the Canadian Broomball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Fowler's — and the Ravens' — influence has been instrumental in making the N.W.T. an unlikely hotbed for the ice-based sport. The female N.W.T. Rebels were world championship bronze medalists in 2010 before winning the tournament in 2014. One player Tweeted "Yellowknife: broomball capital of the world" following the event. Based on results, it's a difficult statement to argue with.


Garrett Hinchey

Managing Editor, CBC North

Garrett Hinchey is a Métis journalist based in his hometown of Yellowknife, where has worked since 2014. He has worked at CBC North as a social media presenter, copy editor, multimedia reporter, and senior assignment producer. He has been CBC North's managing editor since June 2021.