• James Parry

Former Hudson High student hooked on rugby inducted into new Canada Hall of Fame


Always on the ball, speedy flanker Gillian Florence (centre) left Hudson High to become the most decorated female Canadian player of all time and has represented her country in no less than five World Cup tournaments.

As a Grade 10 student at Hudson High School when teachers were trying to muster up interest to get their first girls’ rugby team going, Gillian Florence, was 'vaguely aware' of the game and, out of curiosity and during downtime from some of her other sports activities, signed up to join.

She was immediately hooked and fell in love with the rugged rough and tumble sport - until then virtually the exclusive domain of guys - fielding for the school from 1987 to 1992. Little realizing that one day she would become the most decorated Canadian female player of all time after a two-decade career with the national team and representing Canada as a speedy flanker in five World Cup tournaments.

Also, that next month in Vancouver, B.C., she would be one of seven inaugural inductees selected for the new Rugby Canada Hall of Fame at the annual Rugby Canada Awards Dinner, and the only female player to be so honoured.

Now 41 years of age and retired from the sport, Florence lives with her partner, firefighter Aaron Graham, and is the proud Mom of two youngsters aged one and two. In an exclusive interview with Your Local Journal this week from her home in Musquodoboit Harbour just outside Halifax, Nova Scotia she said, “It really is an honour to be an inductee with this inaugural class and I am truly humbled by this nod. Especially with so many great athletes before, and after me, to choose from and considering the tremendous success that the women's programs have had recently.

“It's easy to feel forgotten and think that was me a lifetime ago. It is so nice to have these reminders and have a touch of rugby back in my life. It’s something that I feel utterly privileged to be part of.”

Recalls Florence, the daughter of Hudsonite Barbara Robinson and a McGill University graduate, “When I first signed up at Hudson High, I didn't have any specific goals or aspirations to represent Canada. All I knew was that I just wanted to keep playing more and more, as much as I could, and as hard as I could. After high school, I knew I wanted to play rugby at John Abbott College, but I also knew that they were very, very good and it would be competitive and hard to make the team. So I trained hard over the summer and that's when I found my rugby club, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where I even asked to train with the men.”

From there, Florence tried out for the Quebec Senior team, was selected for the National team and the rest, as they say, is rugby history. “But it really happened one small goal at a time,” said Florence. “The more I got involved and learned, the more I wanted to take my game to the next level. And then once I was immersed in it, I just wanted to keep playing as long as possible.

“I always played with the thought in mind that this could be my last game. Because you never know. Every game was a privilege to play. Every game you have to work your butt off and that should never be taken for granted.”

The same is true for Hudson High teachers who first got her involved with the sport, says Florence. “What good memories. It was the birthplace of my rugby career where I initially fell in love with the game. And I am so grateful to all the teachers and coaches, including Roy Harvey and Gary Peacock who introduced the game and brought rugby culture to Hudson. Also to the teachers who supported the girls’ team, would ensure that it continued, and who would put me on this path – Joel Fitleberg, Rob Shutler Cliff Wilson, and Gary Tenant.”

Asked for some of the highlights of her stellar rugby career, Florence - who retired from international rugby in 2011, coached for Ste. Anne's in 2012 and 2013, and now works as a technical writer - replied, “Sadly, I no longer play. And it is hard to pinpoint any specific best memories. I loved it all. The good and the bad. The heartache and the pain. The agonizing hard work at times. Yes, I miss playing a lot. Every day I miss it.”

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