- Canada’s Game: Hockey and Identity
In 2005 the Canadian Studies Program at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts hosted a conference on the general subject “Canada’s Game? Critical Perspectives on Ice Hockey and Identity.” Andrew C. Holman organized the conference. Now he has selected ten of the papers and presented them along with his own introduction in an attractive volume from McGill-Queen’s University Press.
All the articles consider “hockey as a lens for understanding and articulating Canadian identity” (p. 7). However, the essays tend to confirm that there is no such identity. As Holman says, hockey actually “reveals” the “multiple identities” that Canadians have always possessed (pp. 6–7). One could use the famous phrase of the late historian J.M.S. Careless and say that hockey creates and reinforces Canadians’ “limited identities” based on region, class, and ethnicity, as well as (to go beyond the categories actually mentioned by Careless) those based on religion, race, age, and gender.
If the articles are not convincing on the existence of a Canadian identity, some make very worthwhile reading nonetheless. I was impressed especially with the contributions by Craig Hyatt and Julie Stevens, Karen E. H. Skinazi, and Russell Field. In their article entitled “Are Americans Really Hockey’s Villains?...,” Hyatt and Stevens remind us that Canadian owners of professional hockey teams have been just as reluctant as American owners to place community interests over corporate profits, and that fans in American cities as well as Canadian ones have been “left behind by franchise relocation” (p. 35). [End Page 507] Skinazi’s article on Leslie McFarlane, the father of broadcaster and author Brian McFarlane and the man who wrote “more Hardy Boys books than any of the series’ other ghostwriters” (p. 99), is very informative on both Leslie McFarlane and the history of hockey fiction. Field’s paper on pro hockey spectators in the interwar period makes the important points that we know very little about the people who have watched hockey games over the years and probably we know even less about what the “experience of spectating” (p. 127) has involved.
Several articles make valid points but for one reason or another seem less stimulating than the three mentioned above. In this category I place the papers by Greg Gillespie on the controversy over the team that would represent Canada at the 1936 winter Olympic games, Jason Blake on depictions of violence in hockey prose, Jamie Dopp on the “Good Canadian Kid” in hockey fiction, Robert Dennis on the Montreal Canadiens’ 1996 move from the Montreal Forum to the Molson Centre (now the Bell Centre), and Julian Ammirante on the political economy of pro hockey and the 2004 NHL lockout. I do not have the space required to offer detailed opinions on these contributions. Any person interested in my observations on one or more of them can contact me directly.
Two articles are thought-provoking but rely on arguments that do not persuade. They are the submissions by Brian Kennedy and Richard Harrison. Kennedy writes on the famous 1972 Summit Series between teams from Canada and the Soviet Union. In my view, he over-estimates the degree to which Canadians felt united in the early 1970s. He also under-estimates the interest in this Series, and in other “touchstone moment[s]” (p. 45) of Canada’s history, that prevails among Canadians who were not yet born in 1972 or who migrated to the country after that year. Harrison’s article is on the differing responses to hockey (or the absence of hockey) in Canada and the United States. He says that sports are “metaphors for the societies in which they are played …” and reflect “values deeply held by the audience” (p. 155). Any particular sport “broadly appeals to the people of one nation and not to the people of another” because it “embodies, or fails to embody…, what each culture means and chooses to see represented to itself in a flattering light” (p...