Wheelchair basketball is one of the most popular team sports for athletes with disabilities. In 2014, over 2,500 Canadians were active in the sport as athletes, coaches, officials and administrators. The national men’s and women’s teams are among the best in the world, and since 1992 have won several Paralympic and world championships.

History of Wheelchair Basketball in Canada

In 1891, James Naismith of Almonte, Ontario, invented the sport of basketball. About half a century later, American Second World War veterans played the first documented wheelchair basketball game in 1946.

Two Canadian teams soon formed — the Vancouver Dueck Powerglides in 1950 and the Montréal Wheelchair Wonders in 1951. As the only established wheelchair teams in Canada at the time, both the Montréal and Vancouver teams travelled to the United States and Great Britain in order to compete.

However, the game quickly grew in popularity, and in 1968 the first Canadian championships were held in Edmonton, Alberta.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the national championships were dominated by the Vancouver Cable Cars (formerly the Powerglides). Both Rick Hansen and Terry Fox were members of the powerhouse team.

In 1986, the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League was founded. There are currently two divisions — an open division and a women’s division. There are teams in five different conferences: the British Columbia Conference, Prairie Conference, Great Lakes (Ontario) Conference, Québec Conference and Maritime Conference. The Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League National Championships are played every spring.

Rules of Wheelchair Basketball

Many of the rules of stand-up and wheelchair basketball are the same, including height of the basket, court dimensions, placement of the three-point lines and foul lines, and the 24-second shot clock (the maximum time for a team to complete its scoring attempt).

However, some rules are specific to wheelchair basketball. If any part of a player’s wheelchair is out of bounds, the player is out of bounds. Charging and blocking depends on an athlete’s wheelchair location in relation to the opponent, not just the athlete’s location on the basketball court. Players can have the ball on their lap (or in their hand) and push their wheelchair twice before they have to dribble. Also, players cannot raise themselves from their seats to gain an advantage.

Team Canada in International Competition

Canadians have been competing internationally in wheelchair basketball since 1953, when the Montréal Wheelchair Wonders participated in the International Stoke Mandeville Games (the predecessor of the Paralympic Games).

Canada’s first international medal came in 1967, during the inaugural Pan American Wheelchair Games. At the Games, which were held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Canadian men won a silver medal.

Wheelchair basketball was included in the program of the first Paralympic Games, held in 1960 in Rome, Italy. The Canadian men’s team participated in the Paralympic Games for the first time in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1968. Team Canada had a Group C record of 1–1, beating Sweden 35–15 in their one victory. Canada advanced to the quarter-finals, but lost to host Israel 59–18.

The 1968 Paralympic Games were also the first to include women’s wheelchair basketball. The Canadian women’s team participated for the first time in the Games in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1972. Canada finished the round robin at 1–2, with their only win coming against Yugoslavia (18–8).

Paralympic medals continued to elude the Canadian men’s and women’s teams in the 1980s. Despite going undefeated in group play at the 1984 Paralympic Games in Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain, and the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, the Canadian men lost each time in the quarter-finals: 57–51 to France in 1984; and 51–49 to West Germany in 1988.

The Canadian women advanced to the semi-finals of the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul after beating Sweden and Japan, but lost 32–21 to West Germany in the semi-final and 44–30 to the Netherlands in the bronze medal game.

Team Canada on the Podium

The 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, was a milestone event for the Canadian women. Team Canada won all their matches in Group B play, outscoring the opposition 123–66. They then beat the Netherlands 46–43 in the semi-final and won the gold medal game against the United States (35–26). The Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball program had come a long way in four years. At the 1988 Games, they had been hammered 55–21 by the American team.

1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, Canada defended its gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball with a 46–37 win over the Netherlands in the final. They won the gold medal again at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, by beating the host team 46–27.

The Canadian men reached the top of the podium for the first time in wheelchair basketball at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, beating the Netherlands 57–43 in the final. They won Paralympic gold again in 2004 by defeating Australia 70–53 in the final in Athens. After winning silver at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, the men’s national team once again returned to the top of the podium at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London with a 64–58 win over Australia in the gold medal game.

However, for the first time in 24 years, neither the men’s nor the women’s wheelchair basketball team made it to the podium at the 2016 Paralympic Summer Games in Rio.

Team Canada Medals at the Paralympic Games (Men)

2000 (Sydney, Australia)
Gold
2004 (Athens, Greece) Gold
2008 (Beijing, China) Silver
2012 (London, Great Britain) Gold

Team Canada Medals at the Paralympic Games (Women)

1992 (Barcelona, Spain)
Gold
1996 (Atlanta, United States) Gold
2000 (Sydney, Australia) Gold
2004 (Athens, Greece) Bronze

Team Canada at the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships

Like the Paralympic Games, the World Wheelchair Basketball Championship takes place once every four years. The Canadian women’s national team are the reigning world champions, having defeated Germany 54–50 in the final of the 2014 championship in Toronto, Ontario.

Previously, the Canadian women had also won four straight gold medals from 1994 to 2006, while the Canadian men won their lone world championship in 2006 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Team Canada Medals at the World Championships (Men)

1986 (Melbourne, Australia)
Silver
1990 (Bruges, Belgium) Bronze
1994 (Edmonton, Alberta) Bronze
1998 (Sydney, Australia) Bronze
2002 (Kitakyushu, Japan) Bronze
2006 (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) Gold

Team Canada Medals at the World Championships (Women)

1990 (Saint-Étienne, France)
Bronze
1994 (Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain) Gold
1998 (Sydney, Australia) Gold
2002 (Kitakyushu, Japan) Gold
2006 (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) Gold
2010 (Birmingham, Great Britain) Bronze
2014 (Toronto, Ontario) Gold


Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Athletes and Coaches

One of the stars of the men’s national team in recent years is Patrick Anderson (born in Edmonton, Alberta, and raised in Fergus, Ontario). In Canada’s gold medal victory over Australia at the 2012 Paralympic Games, Anderson scored 34 points. Since 2000, he has scored 1,007 points in 48 games at the World Championship and Paralympic Games.

On the women’s side, Janet McLachlan of North Vancouver, British Columbia, made 19 rebounds and 15 points in Canada’s win over Germany in the gold medal game of the 2014 world championship. McLachlan scored an average of 17.1 points per game for Team Canada at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games, and led all players at the 2010 world championships and the 2012 Paralympic Games in points scored and rebounds.

Team Canada’s success is also due to the outstanding work of such coaches as Tim Frick. Frick was the head coach of the Canadian women’s team from 1990 to 2009, and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.