- Specifying the Canadian:Four Books on Hockey
The idea that a sport like hockey might “explain Canada” is one that might inspire instinctive resistance, but in an era of discredited metanarratives we should come to accept that topics of broad national resonance, no matter what the topic, may have the power to explain the essential features of Canadian society. Certainly, writers have acknowledged this. Al Purdy famously referred to hockey as “the Canadian specific” (Purdy 1986, 55), and others have invariably pointed out that stories about hockey carry a national narrative—of northernness, of our social values, and of Canada’s collective nature (Harrison and Dopp 2009). It is, however, only in the last decade that scholars have begun to bring critical attention to these notions, and [End Page 268] in the new millennium a subfield that Andrew Holman (2009, 7) has called “hockey studies” has begun to flourish.
Seminal works such as Richard Gruneau and David Whitson’s Hockey Night in Canada: Sports, Identities, and Cultural Politics (1993) look more critically at the meaning and implications of Canada’s national game.1 Proponents of the subfield have followed their lead through a series of interdisciplinary conferences on hockey held more or less biannually since 2001. The first was convened by Colin Howell at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, and resulted in two conference volumes (Howell 2002) that showed the variety of work being done on hockey, from the climate of indoor rinks to the perennial question of the origins of the game. Subsequent gatherings in Fredericton, Plymouth, Victoria, and Buffalo have allowed a vibrant community of hockey scholars to emerge, and several more publications that pushed forward critical analysis, including a special issue of Sport History Review (Holman 2006) and edited collections by Whitson and Gruneau (2006), Richard Harrison and Jamie Dopp (2009), and Andrew Holman (2009).2 Many of the same scholars have contributed to other important, more focussed collections, including those examining the national spread of hockey (Wong 2009), the cultural place of the Montreal Canadiens (Laurin-Lamothe and Moreau 2011), and of course, the 1972 Summit Series (Kennedy 2014).
The last half-decade has also produced several substantial individual works that address the major concerns of hockey scholars (primarily the meaning of the game in the Canadian context) and approach the questions in a variety of ways. In this essay, I consider four books that to various degrees make compelling claims about how the study of hockey and its motivating myths illumine the interactions of major themes of Canadian society in the modern age—colonialism, national identity, ethnicity, gender, and capitalism.
It must be said that studying hockey has a few perks, and to generate Refereeing Identity: The Cultural Work of Canadian Hockey Novels (2012), Michael Buma had the enviable task of reading dozens of Canadian hockey novels and placing them in the context of Canadian literary criticism. His work followed swiftly on the heels of Jason Blake’s Canadian Hockey Literature (2010), which surveyed more broadly hockey fiction, poetry, and drama. The books share a similar approach and concern with major themes of national identity, masculinity, and violence, but...