Mary (née Haydon) Provost
Born: July 29, 1920 (Ottawa)
Died: September 25, 2013 (Ottawa)
Member: Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (2003)
Mary Haydon was Canada’s top female high jumper in the late 1930s and a favourite to claim a spot on the 1940 Canadian Olympic team. Her aspiration to compete against the world’s best ended when the Games were cancelled following the outbreak of war in Europe.
She first attempted the sport at a neighbourhood park with the encouragement of a park supervisor. She quickly learned the traditional scissors jump, enjoying immediate success.
“I had long legs,” she once said, “and I just jumped over.”
At Glebe Collegiate Institute in her native Ottawa, coach R.D. Campbell taught her the more modern Western roll technique in which the leg closest to the bar is used as a takeoff point.
Haydon was a 17-year-old student when she set a national junior high-jumping record of 5-feet, one-half-inch. She also claimed broad jump titles.
She was sometimes escorted to out-of-town track meets by her father, Capt. J.A.P. Haydon, a well-known local newspaperman and decorated veteran of the Great War who had won a Military Cross for having captured six prisoners while on a scouting patrol in France’s Jigsaw Wood in 1918.
In 1938, she won the senior Dominion high-jumping championship at a meet in Halifax. She retained her title the following year with an impressive clearance of 5-feet, 1-and-a-half inches at the national championship at Hamilton, Ont. Ottawa city council awarded her a civic crest in honour of her success.
A top Olympic prospect, Haydon’s dream was dashed when the 1940 Summer Games, originally awarded to Tokyo but transferred to Helsinki, were cancelled.
“I didn’t feel cheated,” she told the Ottawa Citizen in 2003. “The war was on, and I never thought of it. When the war was over, I was into basketball. I don’t linger on things that have gone.”
She married Sgt. Peter Provost of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. A son was born two years later.
In 1942, her father was convicted of seven counts of fraud regarding the awarding of war contracts. He was sentenced to eight months in jail and a fine of $700.
The Olympics returned in 1948 after a 12-year hiatus. She returned to high jumping, winning meets prior to the Olympic trials while falling short of the qualifying standard of five feet.
At the trials in Montreal, she finished tied in third place in a competition won by Doreen Dredge of Kelvington, Sask.
Away from track and field, she was also a notable club athlete at tennis and golf, while winning league titles in basketball. She also bowled five pin.
“Everything just came easy to me,” she told the Citizen. “Don’t ask me why. I haven’t a clue.”
The newspaper credited her with 24 provincial and national titles in high jumping and long jumping. Her junior record lasted a decade.
She was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Afflicted with advanced Alzheimer’s, the former athlete was placed in a long-term care facility three years ago. She earned $43,000 in pensions, which was not enough to cover the cost of her care, creating a burden for her children, both of whom are retired. The family’s plight was recorded in the same daily newspaper which once so enthusiastically recorded her athletic triumphs. She died peacefully, aged 93.