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Gloria Borden, pioneering medical technologist, boxing and event promoter, dead at 85

In 2019, Gloria Borden received an honorary doctorate from St. Mary's University. (Submitted by Kurt Borden - image credit)
In 2019, Gloria Borden received an honorary doctorate from St. Mary's University. (Submitted by Kurt Borden - image credit)

A trailblazing Black Nova Scotian, known for her influential work in the fields of medicine, boxing, music and genealogy, and a knack for getting things done against all odds, has died.

Gloria Borden, 85, passed away last month surrounded by family at St. Vincent Nursing's Home in Halifax, N.S.

She was the fifth child in a family of 18 children, a mother of three children, and a grandmother and great-grandmother to many more.

Growing up in New Glasgow, the Borden family didn't own a TV, but on most weekends, they'd gather around the living room to listen to the latest boxing matches on the radio.

In their home, next to photos of Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill, were portraits of some of the great Black boxers of the age like Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Lewis.

Gloria fell in love with the sport, buying magazines by the fistful, and applying the lessons she gleaned from listening to boxing matches to the schoolyard — where she spoke out against bullies and played the role of protector for her friends and siblings — and later to life itself.

Opened boxing gym in the '70s

After moving to Halifax in the late '50s, she worked in hematology, and soon became one of the first Black registered medical technologists in the province.

At the beginning of the 1970s, she was seized by the idea to open a boxing gym of her own, after coming across the same dozen or so Black youth on the side of the road each day as she drove home from work.

She believed that boxing could act as a stabilizing force in their lives in much the same way it did it her own, but needed support and funding to make it happen.

Fortunately for her future athletes, Gloria wasn't the quitting type.

"Gloria was certainly a person who always stepped up to the plate," said her brother Walter Borden. "She never took no for an answer."

Gloria Borden (centre) opened the Halifax Recreational Amateur Boxing Club in 1971.
Gloria Borden (centre) opened the Halifax Recreational Amateur Boxing Club in 1971.

Gloria Borden, centre, opened the Halifax Recreational Amateur Boxing Club in 1971. (Submitted by Kurt Borden)

Armed with the knowledge that Ronald Wallace, a Halifax MLA who later became the city's longtime mayor, was a former boxer himself, she reached out to him directly and convinced him to get on board with the plan.

"Securing a city provided space, equipment and making initial contacts with already formed local boxing clubs were at the top of my to-do list," she said in 2019, adding that the boxing club opened with 152 members.

The club trained athletes for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, and Borden acted as general manager, trainer, and a promoter at the gym from its inception until its closure.

That she was Black and a woman, in a traditionally male-dominated sport, didn't stop her.

Indeed, throughout her career, it seemed little prevented her from kicking down closed doors and accomplishing what she set her mind to.

Awarded honorary doctorate

Borden's time at the club was just one chapter in a long life that made clear the wide expanse of her interests.

In 1992, for instance, she played — along with her brother Walter — an inciting role in bringing the International Gospel Festival to Halifax.

During her final decades, she became an expert in the genealogy of Black Nova Scotians, connecting countless people to relatives all around the world.

For future generations, said Walter Borden, it's paramount his sister's legacy is preserved.

"It is important ... for the little ones in the family, to know what shoulders they're standing on, where it all came from," he said.

Gloria Borden is seen here in a CBC News file photo from 1991.
Gloria Borden is seen here in a CBC News file photo from 1991.

Gloria Borden is seen here in a CBC News file photo from 1991. (CBC Archives)

In 2019, Borden was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by St. Mary's University.

After walking across the stage, and collecting her degree,  she took a moment to speak to that year's graduates, explaining what had motivated her over the years.

"A persistent nagging feeling of wanting to do something, hopefully of value and worth, gave me the initiative and drive to turn that feeling into an accomplished fact," she said.

"There will be many times where you will just want to throw your hands up and throw in the towel and walk away … but that nagging want to succeed stops you and reminds you that quitting is not what gets you over the finish line."

A celebration of Gloria Borden's life is being planned for a later date.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here. 

(CBC)

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