How Far We’ve Come: In Conversation with Canada’s First Quidditch Captains.
Featured photo credited to Haidee Pangilinan
As we approach Canada’s biggest quidditch weekend, we sat down with two key figures from Canadian quidditch history. Reid Robinson, the founder of McGill Quidditch in 2008, and Anna Jessop, founder of the University of Victoria Valkyries in 2010, shared their experiences, stories, and perspectives on just how far quidditch in Canada has come.
How did you first get introduced to quidditch?
Reid Robinson: I had a friend from high school that went to Middlebury College and shared videos of people playing quidditch. The first time I saw the videos I remember thinking how fun and ridiculous it looked. When I tried searching for more information I remember, there wasn’t much information online available beyond just the few videos.
Anna Jessop: I was an Resident Advisor (RA) at the University of Victoria’s residence, and for the weekend of the Deathly Hallows Part 1 theater release we organized a weekend of Harry Potter activities. While planning I discovered the IQA’a website. After that weekend everyone was hooked and asked for more.
What inspired you to start your team?
Jessop: One of the best parts of being an RA was being able to get a bunch of fellow nerds together. I had never been a talented athlete, but we practiced and did tackling drills in the rain in spite of that. When we practiced a full contact sport with other nerds, we got to feel tough, especially since every outdoor practice in Victoria would get you covered in mud.
Robinson: The McGill Quidditch Team was started in a dorm room during frosh week…so you can say it was inspired with a lot of excitement and a bit of Boréale Blonde. In all seriousness, I was inspired by wanting to do something fun with my new friends. We gathered some deflated soccer balls and I think even a basketball, a few swiffers, brooms and anything close and played a makeshift game in the quad of our dorm, Douglas Hall (which I will say looks about as close to a Hogwarts dorm as anything at McGill can).
What inspired me to keep going from that one pickup game we had was just how fun it was and how the game grew organically. The look on people’s faces when we told them what we were doing was priceless. I imagine everyone here has that face memorized. But what did it for me was the people who, after laughing, stuck around and decided to give it a shot. Next thing we knew we were yelling, “That’s not how a bludger hit works in the real world!”…and then we realized what we just said. It was those moments of joy and silliness that made me continue playing and what makes me happy to be a Quidditch fan to this day.
What were some of the challenges you faced in those initial stages?
Robinson: Equipment was probably one of the biggest challenges we faced in the early days. Getting people excited was really easy. In fact, we had far too many new people that kept showing up and tons of returning players. We even made some comical posters and hung them around campus to get people excited.
But equipment was oddly tough. The hardest thing was the brooms and the hoops. Even the balls were hard to get. I remember my first trip to Zellers and the only thing we could find for a bludger was a Dora the Explorer ball that was super light and barely throwable. Eventually we found a place online that balls that were the right size.
By far the hardest thing was the hoops. In 2008 there were no affordable hoops and very few diagrams of hoops being made. We decided to make our first set of hoops using paint buckets, cement, PVC pipe, and Hoola hoops. None of us knew how much concrete would weigh and we ended up having to hitch a ride in a van since no taxi would take us.
Jessop: For the first 6 months we only had a constant 6 players who attended every time. We were able to recruit after a clubs event (“Interested? Practice is on Saturday, party is Friday”) After that, we had around 100 players over all with 30 or so each week at practice. Little did they know I had already signed us up for the IQA world cup in the summer, before we had the players to field a team. Even just practicing in the Quad after a while drew more people in.
The other challenge we had for quite a while was being in the pacific NorthWest. For our first game against another team we could choose between the Canada Cup in Montreal that year or IQA World Cup V in New York City. Since there was no qualification required for the world cup other than showing up, we decided on that.
Favourite quidditch memory?
Robinson: In terms of one specific event – Organizing and making it to our first world cup. I think we had played for all of 2 months before attending the 2008 World Cup. To say we were a rag tag team is an understatement. You still needed to play with capes back then and we made ours just days beforehand. We took a greyhound to Vermont, hung out in Burlington for hours before finally taking the shuttle to Middlebury. The atmosphere was amazing. Even just seeing that many people that were playing and even watching Quidditch was so cool to see. People had amazing costumes, there was magic, and even an owl.
Jessop: Attending the World Cup was amazing. When at a captain meeting the night before the tournament started where the intensity of full contact was being discussed we began to fear for our team. We changed our goal from winning a game to surviving. We lost every game (in part because we didn’t really know the rules) but after each one the four other Canadian teams would storm the field and cheer us on louder than the winning team. By the end of the world cup we had many turf rashes, 2 sprained ankles, and a dislocated shoulder, changed out team cheer to “Family on 3!”, and we felt welcomed officially to the quidditch community.
How much has the quidditch landscape changed – both nationally and internationally – since you started your respective teams?
Robinson: The thing I’m most proud of is seeing Quidditch grow up and McGill’s Team continue to thrive well beyond my time there. It really blows my mind how much this sport has changed in 10 years. Then again, I remember being so happy with my Sony Walkman Phone that could hold up to 130 songs. Similarly, Quidditch today is almost unrecognizable from the Quidditch of my time. Up until 2009, we still played with capes and I emailed Alex Benepe directly for all things IQA related. McGill has grown from being a student club to one that’s now officially a club sport with two different official teams.
Jessop: So much. Quidditch is no longer something that you have to explain to people; they have seen it. Players of Quidditch look like athletes now. Before, each scrimmage featured our snitch hopping on a unicycle or running through the library. Our jerseys were spray painted and our hoops were held up with pop cans and rocks stuffed into a christmas tree stand. Now, the Uvic Valkyries are now a UVic Athletics club, practicing on a booked field and travelling to games across the Pacific Northwest. I am proud of the sport and the people who have helped it grow and spread to such a global community.
What’s something you’re excited to see at this year’s national tournament?
Jessop: The UVic Valkyries unfortunately won’t be there, but I’m excited to watch the teams play, both those who have been around since Canada first got started and the new developmental teams at their first big tournament. I’m looking for spectators to enjoy the game, and for the players to party their faces off with new friends.
Robinson: I’m always excited to see the amount of teams and people that come out to quidditch tournaments. It makes me so happy to see that people are more excited than ever to enjoy quidditch. I also love seeing the level of play improve. It seems every year that teams get better and better. The coordination between players and the sophistication of the plays is truly above and beyond what I could have ever imagined.
What would you like to see from Canadian quidditch over the next ten years?
Jessop: I would like to see it being played outside Universities, for children and adults alike. I have already taught Quidditch at the YMCA and various elementary schools and would like to see Quidditch offered to a more inclusive and diverse audience. For myself, I still want to try quidditch in a variety of methods that I hope others can play as well. My next adventure is helping to refine the rules of roller quidditch – a mix of roller derby and quidditch. I still want to play snow, glow in the dark, and water quidditch.
I love the IQA’s mission of spreading sport education, promoting equality and diversity, and love of reading. I hope that quidditch can grow and develop this outreach further. My teammates have expressed to me how much quidditch helped them through tough times, building friendships, and finding an activity they felt comfortable with. I hope that the sport always remains open to anyone who is interested.
Robinson: Besides the next nationals taking place in Vancouver? Well, back in 2008 I said on video that I hope Quidditch makes it to the London Olympics and while it never came true then maybe I can wish for 2028 Los Angeles? Let’s make that happen.