If you live in Canada and read the Globe and Mail, you may have seen Lawrence Martin’s column on June 14, 2016 entitled “Sport belongs at the core of Canada’s story.” He argues that you don’t find the story of Canada’s sporting heritage in traditional history books because historians see sport as an afterthought and ignore its wider impact. He goes on to provide examples of sport’s role in building and binding the country: ice hockey achievements such as the men’s gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics; Terry Fox’s marathon of hope; CFL Grey Cup games; and the role of lacrosse, football, and hockey in the making of a truly Canadian sporting culture. There is also a brief nod to the role of sport in the empowerment of Canadian women and Aboriginal peoples. Martin’s plea is that as Canada’s 150th anniversary approaches, we need to get our history right and include sport.
Although Martin has a point, he obviously has no idea that sport historians have been consistently researching and writing about Canada’s sporting heritage since the early 1960s. It’s also not difficult to find many articles and books dating from the mid-to-late nineteenth century written by our ancestors. Today, Canadian sport history is thriving with active scholars in most universities across the country, interesting articles in specialized journals, and the publication of meticulously researched and readable books.
Where Martin is correct is that often this history is ignored (and rarely used) by historians in university history departments across Canada, indeed North America. It is still rare to find a historian in a traditional history department with an interest in sport. Most sport historians are located in faculties of physical education, which is now more commonly called kinesiology. What is also true is that with an increasing focus on the science of sport performance in these same faculities and departments, the importance of sport history is downplayed or simply not recognized.
Finally, there are projects in the works that will focus on sport in Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, for example, in partnership with several organizations, is currently developing an online exhibit entitled “Canadian History and Society: Through the Lens of Sport.” The exhibit will include five major themes covering the period from 1867 to the present. They are: Military and Sport, Major Sporting Events, Cultural Diversity, Women in Sport, and Canadian Firsts in Sport. The exhibit is being created to be used mainly by high school and university students, but it will also have broader appeal. Watch for this!