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The Struggle for Canadian Sport
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First conferred in 1989, the book award of the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) has, with its recognition in 2013 of Brian Ingrassia’s The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education’s Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football (2012), honored twenty-five leading monographs in the field since its inception.1 However, The Struggle for Canadian Sport by Bruce Kidd (NASSH Book Award 1997) is the only monograph on the history of sport in Canada to have received NASSH’s highest honor for published scholarship. To be fair, two other Canadian-authored texts have won the award—Selling the Five Rings: The International Olympic Committee and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism by Robert Barney, Stephen Wenn, and Scott Martyn (in 2003) and, more recently, Mary Louise Adams’ Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport (2012)—both of which include some Canadian content.

This is not to suggest a dearth of important analyses into the nature and evolution of organized sport and physical activity in Canada. Alan Metcalfe’s Canada Learns to Play: The Emergence of Organized Sport, 1807–1914 (1987), Helen Lenskyj’s Out of Bounds: Women, Sport & Sexuality (1986), and Don Morrow’s institutional history of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, A Sporting Evolution (1981), for example, were all published before NASSH instituted the book award. Significant contributions, if not recognized by prizes, have been made subsequently, including Colin Howell’s Northern Sand-lots: A Social History of Maritime Baseball (1995) and Nancy Bouchier’s For the Love of the Game: Amateur Sport in Small-town Ontario, 1838–1895 (2003). And scholars at Canadian institutions have made important contributions on subjects of international breadth, such as Patricia Vertinsky’s The Eternally Wounded Woman: Women, Doctors, and Exercise in the Late Nineteenth Century (1989).2

In intentionally highlighting the notion of a specifically Canadian sport history as a way of framing the honor bestowed upon The Struggle for Canadian Sport, I am not suggesting any institutional bias within NASSH. Rather, by way of reconsidering Kidd’s work, I conclude my comments by briefly reflecting on the place of the nation within our conception of sport’s historical narratives. As the most influential examination of the nature of Canadian sport in the interwar years, The Struggle for Canadian Sport highlights the “struggle” among sporting organizations to hold sway over both participants and consumers in sport (in ways, as noted below, that previous analyses had neglected). The efforts of some of these groups to define their efforts as “Canadian” should not deflect attention from the need to continue to debate the primacy of the “nation” as an organizing principle within sport.3

The Struggle for Canadian Sport examines the debates that occurred over the role of sport in a nation recovering from war and then confronting the fiscal and social realities of the economic and agricultural depression of the 1930s as well as the form that sport would take during this period. The dominant tensions existed between amateur sport, whose leaders attempted to reassert their vision of sport in response to post-war conditions, and the commercial enterprises that saw in sport an entrepreneurial opportunity in the flourishing consumer entertainment economy of the 1920s. Kidd’s focus is primarily the classed and gendered dimensions of these debates, but his emphasis on the “Canadian” nature of the “struggle” puts the nation front and center and suggests how his analysis, while rooted in the interwar years, anticipates the emergence, first during the Second World War and subsequently with greater permanence in the early 1960s, of the Canadian federal state involving itself in the promotion and funding of sport and physical fitness.

Kidd’s analysis centers on four case studies that reveal the gendered and classed nature of organized sport in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. Building upon examinations of nineteenth-century sport that chronicle the rise of organized amateur sport, the men who codified sports and created the organizations that would govern and administer these rules, and the ideological values that informed their efforts, The Struggle for Canadian Sport considers efforts by amateur leaders to consolidate their national sporting hegemony in the wake of the First World War...


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