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Flash from the Past: Borden pulled no punches in her boxing role
By Hugh Townsend
June 14, 2011


(JUNE 14)  Gloria Borden’s love for boxing began before she even started attending New Glasgow’s Temperance Street School in the 1940s.

Among her first childhood recollections were the nights at home on Vale Road when her parents and any number of her 17 brothers and sisters gathered around the radio and listened to professional fights.

“Back then,” she recalls, “our parents didn’t have much money, so we listened to sports on the radio. When we listened to the fights, we all nestled down in front of our radio and listened to the Joe Louis fights and all those fights.

Flash from the Past of female boxing promoter in Canada

“So it became a very, very big part in our lives as children just to listen to it. I was about five years old when I first remember that.”

Was she really interested at that young age?

“Oh my goodness, yes.”

She says her mother was pregnant with her in June 1938 when the family listened to Louis defending his world heavyweight championship against Max Schmeling.

“My mother was just as interested in boxing as my father was because she and Joe Louis were born on the same day.

“Back then, the blacks had very few notable names to get excited about in sports. So when Joe Louis came around, it was a big thing. So there was a great, great interest in Joe Louis.”

Gloria remembers those nights by the radio.  “The first Louis fight I can remember was when he fought Billy Conn (in 1946). I can remember listening to Louis against (Jersey Joe) Walcott and (Ezzard) Charles.

"There were also the Sugar Ray Robinson fights. Whatever fights were on the radio we listened. I would never miss a boxing match.”

The first fight she attended in New Glasgow was when her uncle, Russell Paris, took her to a local card.

“My uncle used to work the corners and he took me.”
Later, when she attended fights herself, Gary Simon was a headliner. There were also the Parises – Sparky, Percy and Keith.

Not long after finishing school at New Glasgow High – where she participated in track and soccer – she moved to Halifax to find work. When you’re one of 18 siblings, you don’t sit around home doing nothing.

“It was almost a demand to get out there and work. It was in 1958 that I came to Halifax.”

Boxing was still very much on her mind.

“I bought every boxing magazine on the store shelves. I still have them all.

My interest in boxing was always huge with me. I never knew in what capacity I would get involved, but I wanted to be involved.

“I knew that before I could put anything into boxing, I had to get myself a job. When I got out of school, I just couldn’t leap right into it.”

Gloria found work at Victoria General Hospital as an assistant lab technologist, a position she held while raising two sons.

“From day one, my goal was to write my exams and be registered as a laboratory technologist in haematology, which I achieved in 1976.”

Work didn’t prevent her from chasing her other goal.
“For a while, I had been sidetracked, but my ambition continued to be to form a boxing club and prepare young fellows for the 1976 Olympics.”

She talked with then mayor, Ron Wallace, a former professional boxer himself, to discuss the possibility of getting gym space where young men could train for Montreal.

“The mayor and the others loved the idea, but they wondered whether I could do it or not.

"We got space in the old industrial building. That’s when I formed the Halifax Recreational Amateur Boxing Club.”
In 1972, in what has always been a tough sport, Borden became the only female boxing promoter and manager in North America.

She was Ricky Anderson’s first manager in the early 1970s, at a time when amateur and pro boxing could not be intertwined.

“I was registered as an amateur manager and also got my professional boxing licence. The boxing commission allowed me to be part of a pro card as long as I would put any profit into the amateur boxing program.

“That was my agreement and as a result I became the first ever to promote a professional boxing card when involved 100 per cent with amateur boxing.”

Pictou County’s Art Hafey, who became world ranked, trained at Borden’s gym for one of his major fights.

“There was an article written in Ring Magazine referring to that when they interviewed Art. That made me very proud. I remember reading that he referred to me as ‘a mother hen watching over her chicks.’ That made me chuckle.”

Former world champion Archie Moore moved to Halifax and for several years worked with Borden in training youngsters.

What she was doing wasn’t always easy. Being a woman, and being black, meant there were some dissenters.
But she wasn’t going to be defeated.

“There were some people who wanted what I had, what I was doing, but they weren’t going to get it, not as long as I ran the club the way the city wanted me to. I was safe.
“It was hurtful, some of the things that happened, but it was just another hurdle. It was like stepping on a stumbling block and I knew I had to get up and keep on going. I wasn’t going to let it get me down. I couldn’t. I was on a mission, and the mission was ’76.”

Five boxers who trained at her club qualified for Montreal – a fitting tribute to her dedicated effort.

After the Olympics, Gloria decided it was time to step down.

“I achieved what I started out to do, and I didn’t feel I wanted to carry on with the pressure that the (position) demands. I felt it was time to step out of the picture, and I did.”

There were good things, also bad things, in those years in boxing.  “I look back at the good things, because that’s what keeps me positive. I acknowledge the bad things and try to correct them.”

All this time later, there’s something that should be added to this now-71-year-old’s story: recognition in her hometown by the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame, and in her province by the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

She belongs in both places.

Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and a long-time sports journalist in Nova Scotia, can be reached by e-mail at htownsend@ns.sympatico.ca 

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