- Hockey in the Canadian Imagination: Three Books on Hockey in Literature, Culture, and History
Three recently published books on hockey in literature, culture, and history show that hockey has finally entered into academia as a subject worthy of study. It is about time: hockey has been consistently invoked as a symbol of the nation arguably since its conception in the late 1800s. Andrew C. Holman’s edited collection of essays, Canada’s Game: Hockey and Identity (2009), Jamie Dopp and Richard Harrison’s edited collection of essays, Now Is the Winter: Thinking about Hockey (2009), and Jason Blake’s monograph, Canadian Hockey Literature (2010), all engage in rigorous academic analyses of hockey and delineate hockey’s complex and troubled relationship with the nation. The editors and authors of these books clearly have a passion for the sport, but the studies are not merely celebratory. The diversity of topics in these books is admirable, as is the decidedly interdisciplinary nature of the two edited collections. While topics range from women’s shinny in Toronto parks, to representations of First Nations in hockey media, to fans’ responses to trades, three themes emerge as prominent. First, hockey is mythologized, idealized, and imagined as intimately intertwined with Canadian nationalism. Second, representations of hockey are embedded in often problematic cultural and historical understandings of gender and race. Third, hockey [End Page 241] is understood as being in peril, lost or in the process of being lost to corporate America, commercialization, economic interests, and spectacle. Anxiety over this perceived loss is coupled with a longing to regain a mythic past, a nostalgia for what once was—children skating on open ponds, a joining of community in what Blake calls “the play spirit” (2010, 177).
Holman’s Canada’s Game includes essays from scholars in fields as diverse as history, kinesiology, sport management, English, and communications. The book is divided into three parts: the first part questions hockey’s relationship to regional and national identities, with a historical and cultural studies focus; the second part addresses hockey in relation to English-Canadian literature; and the third part considers hockey as a commodity, “something to be sold and bought, consumed and internalized” (2009, 7). The structure of the book leaves the reader with a comprehensive understanding of various representations of the sport: the book addresses hockey from different disciplinary angles, and is not narrow or limited in scope. In his introduction, Holman explains that we must not just watch the game of hockey, but read it: “And to read it, scholars need to understand the sport as a text that contains many narrative possibilities” (6). The book explains how hockey “can provide meaningful and useful texts for understanding who we [Canadians] are” (7), but also that it can be read in ways that make us uncomfortable, challenging us to view it anew.
That hockey is intertwined with Canada as an imagined nation is clear in the essays in Canada’s Game. In “Big Liners and Beer Gardens,” for example, Greg Gillespie implies that the myth of the small town was central to how hockey was understood in 1936 Canada. As Gillespie explains, the team that represented Canada in the Olympics that year was the Bear Cats, from Port Arthur, Ontario—a team that reflected the community’s “values and small-town identity” (2009, 13). “With the team went the aspirations of a Northern Ontario community” (13). In “Confronting a Compelling Other,” Brian Kennedy analyzes the 1972 Summit Series as an event intimately intertwined with Canadian nationhood. Through the series, Canadians “could create a sense of self-identity and a set of cultural symbols that would...