Oh Canada! (Eh) – Justin Zipkin

All across Canada, weather it be in frozen backyard ponds, community rinks, or arenas, Canadians are playing our national sport. Hockey has ceased to be a sport in the eyes of Canadians, but a religion, a pastime, and a means to unite Canadians; its safe to say that hockey is ingrained in our lives. When we talked about Nationalism in my political theory class, we recognized several key characteristics that define a national sport. The sport should be recognized and popular among the population, widely accessible for viewing and playing at all levels, unites the nation, the national team has to be internationally competitive, and is culturally ingrained in the nation.

When we look at hockey in Canada, it goes above and beyond each criterion. Without a doubt, Hockey is the most popular sport in Canada. The sport has been passed down from generation to generation and in almost every community you can find two things, passionate players and parents (fans). As Dunning argues in Sports and Competitiveness, in sports as we rise in skill level and professionalism we see a rise in competitiveness as well. Dunning’s argument holds true in hockey as organized intercity leagues create competition and rivalries among neighborhoods but we all unite as one when it comes to our school team, and every school unites under one flag when we cheer on our hometown NHL team, we (Montrealers) even unite with our long time Torontonian rivals when Team Canada hits the ice bringing the ultimate sense of unity and pride. While our cities are very passionate about their NHL teams and may riot from time to time, so do many other cities for their respective sports. But when it comes time for the Olympics, responsibilities simply fall out the window.

This past February, during the Winter Olympics the passion and excitement was incredible. During the semi-finals Canada was set to play the United States. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, bet President Obama a case of Molson beers on both the men and women’s game, thus setting the tone for the nation being nationally recognized as an important game. I convinced our principal to allow the entire school to miss our last three classes and pile into the auditorium as I plugged my laptop into our 150-inch projector and cheered on our nation. Jerseys were worn instead of school uniforms, face paint was being passed around and flags were being waved. It was one of the greatest moments I have ever witnessed. Even for the women’s finals, we were able to do the exact same thing because regardless of gender hockey is hockey. When it came time for the finals, they were being played on a Sunday at 5 in the morning, so naturally the Mayor of Montreal bent the rules allowing bars and restaurants to be open at 430 am to prepare. The Molson commercials captured this moment in the best way possible with their advertisements, which read “We’re Sorry. The country you’ve tried to reach is watching hockey. Please try again after the game”. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Many Canadians took the day off work on Sept. 28, in 1972 to watch the final game of the legendary Summit Series, when Canada faced off against Russia and the game was broadcasting from Moscow. In the dying seconds of the game, Paul Henderson scored the series-winning goal to win the game, 6-5, and all of Canada rejoiced.

In Trollope’s British Sports, he defines Nationalism as an identification with ones country. When he talked about hunting, there was a certain connection the British had to it that made it Shooting, not hunting. There was a certain historical connection and traditional values that Trollope described that really made Shooting apart of their culture and history that helped form who they are today. There is no doubting that Hockey is part of the Canadian Culture and has helped form our current characteristics and ideals. To prove it lets look at our currency. Yes, hockey is even printed on our currency. No that was not a typo. On our five dollar bill there is a picture of kids playing hockey in an outdoor arena. This is accompanied by a quote from one of the most classic Canadian novels The Hockey Sweater and it reads, “The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places—the school, the church and the skating rink—but our real life was on the skating rink” (Carrier). This is on our five-dollar bill because Hockey is ingrained in our culture and it is representative of Canadians and of Canada’s history and tradition.

There is a certain passion and point of pride that Canadians tie together with Hockey that is indescribable. It is legally our winter National Sport and widely considered our full time National Sport because it is deeply rooted in our history, culture and is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. The game is an essential part of our national identity and is a collectively means in defining what it is to be a Canadian and is perhaps our most identifiable icon. Our nation is separated on many issues, whether it be politically, socially, or economically, but we put aside our differences for three periods of twenty minutes and unite under one flag to watch some beavers whack a rubber puck with a wooden stick.

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3 thoughts on “Oh Canada! (Eh) – Justin Zipkin

  1. I liked how your post was personal yet very representative of the broader themes of sport and nationalism. Just wanted to share that as a Singaporean, I can’t think of a real Singaporean sport. I don’t think any national sport exists here due to our small population and infrastructural limitations. Yet, watching Singaporeans excel in international competitions, regardless the sport, is definitely something that unites and invigorates us. So far Singapore has earned 4 Olympic medals- 1 in weightlifting and 3 in table tennis (although people do comment about our table tennis paddlers being naturalized citizens from China and insinuate things about that). We are immensely proud of athletes who qualify for the Olympics, given how rare it is. I remember gathering around the television in the school canteen (with hordes of other students) to watch a Singaporean swimmer in the Olympics. When Singapore was chosen to host the first Youth Olympic Games, my friends and I rejoiced and enthusiastically volunteered as helpers. The point of my comment is to share that although Singapore has no national sport (i.e. what ice hockey is to Canada), sport is still an uplifting and powerful phenomenon for us. Nonetheless, sport in Singapore has much room to expand and develop. I should write more about this; thanks for giving me an inspiration for my next blogpost too!

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  2. I agree with smithjrw that you did a great job showing the large and small-scale importance of hockey in the lives of Canadians. Also, I think that football could have a similar unifying effect in the US if there was some sort of international competition.

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  3. I had always heard people talk about how hockey was a truly Canadian sport on television. Until now, though, I never heard an explanation for why. Seeing hockey on Canada’s five dollar bill is mind blowing. Great job on connecting how important the olympic game was on a large scale (Prime Minister of Canada & President of the USA) to how important it was on a small scale (your school). I think that was a great example for how unified the nation truly becomes for hockey. It makes me wonder if the United States has a sport it can become unified for in a way similar to that of Canada & hockey.

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