Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Stephen Harper, Hockey Historian

with one comment

So apparently Stephen Harper is not only Canada’s Prime Minister, he’s also an aspiring hockey historian and is writing a book about the game’s origins and early development. I learned this from an interview he gave to to Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Farber, featured in a commemorative SI issue for Team Canada’s recent Olympic Hockey gold (the existence of this issue struck me as rather odd). Apparently Harper’s “interest is in the early decades of the modern sport 1870s until the First World War” (Hockey was first played indoors in Montreal in 1875). Harper went on:

The rage and the excitement with which this new sport swept the country was really a phenomenon. You see the development of a national consciousness that did not exist before. People forget that in 1867 Canada’s national consciousness was very fragmentary. There was a strong set of regional identities because these had been separate colonies. And there was a wider attachment to the British Empire, especially for English Canadians. The development of hockey is an important part of the development of a uniquely Canadian identity and a uniquely Canadian sense of belonging in a community across the country.

Harper may be overstating things. Earlier in the interview, when asked what hockeys tells us “about Canada and the Canadian character,” he replied, “It says, first and foremost, we’re a northern country.” Canada is cold. As a result, we like hockey. Harper notes that immigrant kids in Canada use hockey to assimilate, and then help integrate their parents. But this is probably only a superficial difference in form to how immigrants to America employed baseball for similar assimilatory purposes.

Still, there seems to be something different about a country that puts words from Roch Carrier‘s famous short story, “The Hockey Sweater” (in English and in French), on its five-dollar bills:

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.

And so, though I don’t care much for Harper’s politics, I’m glad that he shows an interest in history, and this seems like a rich topic for historians to tackle to help explain the differences–and similarities–between Canadians and Americans, differences that Canadians have been obsessing over for generations.


Written by David Weinfeld

March 10, 2010 at 10:24

One Response

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  1. Roch is a far better wordsmith. In fact, I might grade Harper’s passge a soft B.


    March 16, 2010 at 14:35

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