It’s probably 1987…
The Calgary Flames are two years away from winning the Stanley Cup and I’m learning how to skate deep in the suburbs of South Calgary. I don’t know why, but my parents (namely my dad) thought I should learn. What’s funny, both my dad and I are from Trinidad. Ice only comes in bags, although we did manage to field a team in the first Mighty Ducks…. As I reflect back it was somewhat of a marvel that my dad, who could barely skate himself, taught me all I needed to excel. And that I did, playing competitive hockey until my early teen years. Although I didn’t pursue hockey full time (when you hit your teens you have to play year round to keep up), I did come back to the game in my early 20s and have played weekly every since.
I love to blast around the ice every Tuesday at noon. It helps that I play against men 20 years older–makes me look pretty good. Although I’ve only heard one racist remark in my 20 years playing as an adult (lots as a kid), it can get weird at times listening to all the anti-Trudeau oil-loving Nenshi bashing rhetoric.
Hockey is a defining cultural artifact that my childhood was immersed in. As an immigrant kid I caught the magic of the Stanley Cup run, watched the weekly Hockey Night in Canada on m basic TV, had the Russian hockey player posters (Pavel Bure) on my wall, and spent endless after school evenings on the street or on the community ice with stick in hand. I still remember the Christmas somehow Santa afforded a new Easton aluminum stick under the tree.
Hockey also claims to draw the country together. It certainly seems so during the Olympics. Yet it’s also a space that I’ve never truly belonged. When you look across the rosters of any competitive team, visible minorities are a rare sight. I still don’t know how we afforded my games and tournaments, and this was in the 90s. The sport is for the rich, usually white, and usually male. It shouldn’t be a surprise who then dominates and sets the “standards” of culture for the game–and subsequently this part of Canadian culture.
Hockey doesn’t represent Canadian culture, rather a particular kind of culture that upholds certain worldviews and values. A portion of culture that’s now fading away.
To get to know those values just listen to the tirades of the now maligned weekly edition of Coach’s Corner, featuring Don Cherry and his prejudiced rants. Cherry represents what he holds dear, and others like him who share his gaze of the world love him for it. Which is fine I suppose, less all the prejudice, but when it’s expected everyone else must match the same gaze in order to fit in, here’s where we run into problems. Deep problems that pose a risk to upend cultural assumptions about what Canadians apparently hold dear….
The remainder of this post is over at Medium.com