- Blood, Sweat, and Cheers: Sport and the Making of Modern Canada by Colin Howell
Blood, Sweat, and Cheers is part of the Themes in Canadian Social History series produced by the University of Toronto Press, beginning in the 1990s. This book is the fifth in the set. Although more than a decade has elapsed since its original publication in 2001, Howell’s work continues to represent an important contribution to the historiography of Canadian sport. Reprinted for the third time in 2010, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers can still be counted as one of the top choices for textbooks in a Canadian sport history survey course.
In a book that is highly readable for students as well as a general audience, Howell’s methodological approach is a blend of theme and chronology. The book’s introduction quickly addresses some of the historiographical dilemmas that have created debate in the field. Two questions are given particular emphasis in the opening, what is sport and what is it for? These questions set the table for the reader who has an opportunity to formulate and re-formulate answers as the book progresses.
After the introduction, Howell deftly weaves his way through the development of Canadian sport, tying in all of the major themes, including gender, race and ethnicity, amateurism versus professionalism, regionalism, nationalism and urbanization.
Perhaps the best chapter in the book is the fourth, titled “Cheers.” This section is devoted to fandom in its many forms. This topic has received minimal attention among Canadian sport historians. Too often those writing in the field ignore the spectator or fan, diminishing their importance in shaping the sporting experience compared to the athlete, team or those more directly involved with athletic participation or the performance. Howell addresses the stereotyping that has relegated spectator study to the proverbial sidelines. Often fans are lumped into one of two categories: 1) the cultural dope; or 2) the hooligan; both descriptors are fraught with errors. Howell looks beyond these simplistic labels to give nuance to the millions of Canadians who have added meaning to sporting spectacles. Howell demonstrates how the sporting fraternity took root in Canada and how it evolved in the age of mass media, including television broadcasts that opened a new frontier for sport and fans. The book also discusses the role of women within the sporting fraternity and how social expectations dictated their recreation and leisure choices, the spaces females could occupy within sport stadiums and parks, and the eventual courtship of female fans by team management since their inclusion to the crowd lent the sporting spectacle a [End Page 346] certain respectability. While a book about Canadian sport, Howell’s gift is his masterful weaving of athletics into the larger Canadian social context. From its existence as a colonial entity to its current place as a modern nation state, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers demonstrates that sport was not a loose thread in Canadian history but part of the larger social fabric.
Finally, this review would be remiss if it did not mention the length of Howell’s work. It is short in length and a quick read. The number of pages is a strength and weakness equally. Blood, Sweat, and Cheers is a concise volume that provides the information to the reader in short-order. For a reader looking for more in-depth analysis of some topics, however, Howell’s work leaves them wanting. That noted, however, Howell is conscientious at pointing the reader to other authors who have dedicated themselves to more specialized studies on the variety of topics he addresses.