- Game Plan: A Social History of Sport in Alberta by Karen L. Wall
Culture, sport, and spectacle in oil-rich Alberta, Canada's wealthiest province, have always been entwined, and there is an ongoing love of carnival, excess, and excitement. Rodeo comes immediately to mind, and the world-famous Calgary Stampede has been a tourist draw for more than 100 years. There is, however, much more to sport in Alberta, and the province's history, demographics, geography, and climate are keys to understanding its sporting history. [End Page 517]
Game Plan is a very welcome addition to Canadian sport history, which for the most part has been focused at the national level, and particularly on the development of organized sport in central and eastern Canada. This book is the first, comprehensive, academic history of sport in a Western Canadian province. Karen Wall, a professor in the Communications Studies Program at Athabasca University, writes not as a dedicated sports fan but as someone fascinated by the power and endurance of sport in Alberta's culture and its ongoing claim on our attentions. She had two goals in writing Game Plan: to provide a broad chronological narrative as a foundation for understanding how core sports and sporting cultures in Alberta evolved and to expand the edges of this developmental chronology by introducing the people, teams, spectators, and lesser-known games that remain on the margins of most sport histories.
Game Plan is organized into three parts. The first section lays out the premise that sport is a human social and cultural product created over time that reflects important truths about, and insights into, a particular society. Sport is more than simply a collection of pastimes, or a mythic expression of national or local character, or a profitable industry. Wall sketches this chronological framework illustrating how sport has played a significant role in constructing and defining Alberta society from the early Indigenous, trading, and settler communities to a province of ever-increasing urbanization and oil wealth. The final chapter of this section examines the role of sport in developing a cohesive modern culture out of a dynamic and evolving new society. For the most part, the coordination of sport was anchored by family life, churches, schools, and leisure organizations such as YWCAs and YMCAs, Scouting and Guiding movements, and community leagues.
In the second part of Game Plan, Wall provides a broad survey of the organizational period, roughly from the late nineteenth century onwards, as sport in Alberta moved from early recreational activity to the organized amateur and professional levels. Major summer team sports like lacrosse, polo, cricket, basketball, baseball/softball, rugby, soccer, football, and winter sports like curling, and of course ice hockey in all its many organizational forms, are thoroughly discussed. Wall suggests that several themes prevail during this period. The amateur ideal was valued over professional organization and marketing so that sport was viewed as a cultural vehicle rather than a commercial product, although certainly in some sports (e.g., ice hockey), the industrial production of players as commodities became the norm. Along with an expanding mass media came the growth of audiences that gave scope to an intensified imaginative identification with players and teams. Finally, while sports teams (e.g., the Edmonton Grads) sometimes became prestigious vehicles for intercity and international competition, communities continued to identify with them and they remained vehicles for social cohesion.
In the final chapter in this section Wall looks at the history of individual sports in Alberta like rodeo, track and field, cycling, tennis, golf, swimming, skating, and skiing noting that the culture of sport, even solo sports, depends on the backstage performance of coaches, community facilities, clubs, and organizations at various levels. Why, asks Wall, do some sports achieve commercial success, winning hearts, minds, and wallets, while others fade as popular recreations and spectacle? Cricket is a good example since it predates ice hockey but faded as working-class Albertans rejected British-dominated sports in favor of...