Canadian sports attract large numbers of participants and huge audiences; ice hockey, played by 1.4 million Canadians, has become part of the national identity.
British soldiers and immigrants imported games such as football, rugby, curling, and cricket; sailors brought rowing competitions. Britons found sports were conducive to relieving boredom on remote outposts, and more generally produced team spirit, good health, hardiness, and manliness. They were a sophisticated alternative to "blood sports", such as cock-fighting, bull fighting or bear baiting, which never took hold in Canada.
Team sports often involves informal gambling among friends. More formal bigger-stakes wagering and prize competitions are especially important in horse racing and boxing.
In the 21st century the major team sports are hockey, baseball, softball, football, and basketball. Women, once shunted aside, are now actively competing in most of these sports; the nation celebrated the gold medal performance of Canada's women's hockey team in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
As in Europe and America, the challenges faced by sports in recent decades include violence, racism, illegal drug therapies, ridicule of women, and the increasingly disproportionate salaries of professional athletes. These evils stand in contrast to the fundamental values of sports including personal health, teamwork, striving for responsibility, loyalty, equality, winning, pleasure, and freedom.
Individual sports have long been important, including skating, skiing, golf, paddling, swimming, and track and field; in recent years there has been a surge of intrerest in more "extreme" sports such as snowboarding, rollerblading and mountain climbing, not to mention personal athletic training.
Canadians in the 19th century came to believe themselves possessed of a unique "northern character," due to the long, harsh winters that only those of hardy body and mind could survive. This hardiness was claimed as a Canadian trait, and such sports as ice hockey and snowshoeing that reflected this were asserted as characteristically Canadian. Outside the arena Canadians are peaceful, quiet and polite. Inside they scream their lungs out at ice hockey games, known for ferocity, speed, and violence, making it an ambiguous symbol of Canada. Superhero Wayne Gretzky is loved by some and hated by others for his refusal to join in the prohibited violence.
see also Ice hockey
Stick and ball games on ice had been played for decades before 1875 especially in the Maritimes and at military garrisons. In its modern form hockey was standardizes by McGill students in 1875 under rules brought to Montreal by Haligonian J.G.A. Creighton. The game rapidly spread nationwide. The Stanley Cup was created in 1893 by Lord Stanley, Canada's governor general. Almost exclusively a Canadian sport, ice hockey was seasonal, without uniform rules, played outdoors informally whenever and wherever there was available a large enough piece of ice; with its severely cold setting, the sport attracted virtually no spectators. Professional teams emerged after 1900. Five cities in the U.S. and Ontario formed the International Hockey League (IHL) in 1904. The American-based league marked the beginning of the professionalization of ice hockey. The IHL attracted high-caliber players from Canada, thus depleting that country's stock. Although many Canadian amateur teams secretly paid their players, most Canadian hockey associations still embraced the principles of amateurism. The IHL existed for only three years, but that was long enough to spark the creation of a Canadian-based professional league, the Ontario Professional Hockey League, in 1908. Though some have attributed the IHL's short life to a lack of spectators, the primary reason the league failed was a loss of good players back to Canadian teams that by 1906 played in hockey associations, such as the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, that allowed professionals to play alongside amateurs. The National Hockey League was formed in (1917).
The extremes of masculinity and violence ignited the Ottawa Silver Seven and Montreal Wanderers rivalry of 1907. Newspapers depicted the game as a combination of "brutal butchery" and "strenuous spectacle," speaking to public perceptions and different ways of experiencing the game. Ideals of respectable, middle-class masculinity and rough, working-class masculinity co-existed within accounts of fast, skilled, rugged, hard-hitting hockey.
Facing severe economic pressures during the Great Depression, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association was forced to reevaluate its purist position on amateurism in ice hockey and to rethink its relation to the amateur sports infrastructure in Canada, which was headed by the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. The poor performance of the defending champion Canadian hockey team at the 1936 Olympics, in a context of international dispute over player eligibility and the authority of national bodies to determine that eligibility, crystallized the problems Canadian hockey faced and led to substantial changes in policies and procedures.
Despite being excluded from Winnipeg's senior hockey league for the 1919-20 season, the Winnipeg Falcons, made up of the children of Icelandic immigrants, became Canadian national champions and won the 1920 Olympic gold medal in Antwerp. Combined with their willingness to serve Canada in World War I, their success made this team a symbol of Canadian manhood, unaffected by the ethnic stereotyping and discrimination that affected some other sports teams during the 1920s.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard, (1921–2000) is one of the nation's most important sports icons, especially in Quebec. Playing for the Montreal Canadiens (1942–60) he scored 544 regular season goals and 82 more in playoffs. Famed for his dashing style of play, his intensity, determination, and scoring prowess, Richard the first 50-goal scorer in NHL history in 1944-45, with a 50-game schedule. Richard was named to the All Star team 14 times, won two Hart trophies as league MVP, and led the Canadiens to eight Stanley Cups.
In September 1972, Canada's best hockey players from the National Hockey League (NHL) played the elite amateurs from the Soviet Union in a friendly series. When Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau met his Soviet counterpart, Aleksei Kosygin, in 1971, their discussions included increasing the hockey competitions between the two countries. Soon after, hockey hierarchies of both nations decided on a series of eight games, four to be played across Canada and four in Moscow. For Canadians, the Summit Series was intended to be a celebration of their global supremacy in ice hockey. The architects of Soviet hockey, on the other hand, had designs on surprising Canada and the world with their skill and claiming the Canadian game as their own. Over the course of the month, the games captured the imagination of both nations. Far beyond any hockey match, the series pitted East against West - communism against capitalism - and many of the players were swept away with the sense of history in the making that the games engendered. What was to be a friendly contest became instead a politically charged event with extensive cultural repercussions - quite literally, a Cold War.
Culture of sports
French Canadians by 1700 were influenced by native culture to the degree that they began to measure themselves and their masculinity against their native counterparts by competing against them in such activities as canoing, snowshoeing, and tobogganing and in the team sport of lacrosse. The author explores how this sport identity contrasted the Victorian gentility of sports for bourgeois gentlemen during 1850-80 and how this French/native subculture called les Canadiens expressed not only sport masculinity and identity but Canadian nationalism.
Hudon (2005) examines the history of sports education from 1870 to 1940 in Quebec's classic schools for boys from ages 11 to 18. Much of Canadian historiography on the emergence of sports education focuses on the relationship between sports education and the construction of a national identity. Hudon explores the relationship between religious pedagogy and sports education and the religious philosophy behind such education that promoted a spirituality with masculine undertones.
In Anglophone areas the ideas and ideals of English author and reformer Thomas Hughes expressed in Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857) and elsewhere, that sport provided moral education and training for citizenship, have long resonated throughout the Canadian sport community. Despite a period when Canada focused on high-performance athletes rather than widespread participation, the principles of "muscular Christianity" continue to inform the development of sports programs, particularly for Canadian youth. Outside of sports the social and moral agendas behind muscular Christianity influenced numerous reform movements, thus linking it to the political left in Canada, contrary to its right-wing reputation in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
The Amateur Athletic Union of Canada (AAU) was the most powerful sports body in Canada in 1919. It encouraged the Olympic sports among men as a training ground for productive citizenship, allegiance to the social order, and English Canadian nationalism. They tried to extend their authority through strict sanctions against professionalism and a "Canadian Parliament of Sport". During the 1930s amateur leaders split bitterly over the issue of a liberalized amateur code, and the governing bodies for ice hockey, basketball and lacrosse walked out. By 1939, the AAU was less than half the size it had been twenty years earlier, its jurisdiction reduced to track and field and the other individual Olympic sports.
Before 1919, few safety rules existed in amateur hockey. Between 1919 and 1945, thanks to organizations like the AAU, new measures protected against boarding and hits from behind, and fighting was penalized more severely. Since 1945, rules have become highly complex, as officials try to control all forms of dangerous play.
The National Hockey League, was formed in 1917 to fashion ice hockey into a profitable entertainment. NHL owners paid coaches, players and publicists so they could work full-time, and the NHL quickly became the premier professional league. By 1940 it had strong bases in Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit—the "original six". After 1923 it became a cartel that controlled all aspects of professional hockey. Expansion into the United States, the collapse of other professional leagues, the establishment of a minor league system, and affiliation with the major governing body in Canadian amateur hockey, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), all contributed to the NHL's control over the distribution of professional hockey games and the player market. The alliances made with the minor leagues and the CAHA, in particular, gave the NHL's market control mechanisms such as the waivers, reserve clause, draft, and territorial right much broader impact.
The Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union (CIAU) was set up in 1961 to coordinate and regulate college athletics into five regional associations. It struggled with differing views on sport of the various regional groups, the autonomy of powerful Ontario universities, and differing goals concerning national championships. Funding was continually problematic, despite assistance from the federal government. Questions related to student-athlete eligibility, appropriate institutional representation, and recruiting regulations also haunted the organization in its early years. In 1971, the CIAU officially agreed that it would represent both male and female athletes. By 1975, the CIAU established uniform rules and regulations and expanded its scope to include fund-raising.
Girls’ and women’s sport has traditionally been characterized by low levels of participation; absence from leadership positions in administration and coaching, at all levels and in every area; inequitable delivery systems; and scant, often demeaning, coverage in the media. Because sport has long been a bastion of masculinity, women's entry into and advances in sport met resistance from the male establishment. Many radical feminists, in turn, dismissed sport as a homophobic area unworthy of support. The notion of biologically restricted bodies was first challenged by the "new woman" circa 1900. These women took up bicycling and rode into new spheres in education, work, and suffrage.
The First World War inaugurated a golden age for women's sport, and the 1920s were the heyday of grassroots involvement, often by working-class women. The Women's Amateur Federation of Canada (WAAF) was formed in 1926 to win new opportunities for sportswomen, especially in international competition, and to protect them from the criticism that vigorous physical and intense, highly publicized competition was "unwomanly". To gain admission to the Olympic and British Empire Games, the WAAF forged an alliance with the AAU. They also created a system of medical supervision for all registered female athletes. The Edmonton Grads were acknowledged as world champions of women's basketball; the first Canadian women participated in the Olympics; and women sportswriters such as Phyllis Griffiths reported their feats to a national audience of women. Traditionalists, however, including men in the media and physical education, perhaps influenced by trends in the United States, warned repeatedly about the dangers of intensity in female competition. They recommended non-competitive athletic games as suitable recreation. With the economic problems of the Great Depression, followed by the hyper-masculinity of the Second World War and the back-to-the-family social conservatism of the 1950s, women's sport receded in visibility for a half-century, although it continued at the community level. Most liberal feminists of the 1970s saw sport as too trivial for their involvement, cultural changes went on without them and created a new way for women to empower themselves through in sports. Despite recurring stereotypes about restricted bodies, more and more women engaged in aerobics and organized sport.
Change for women in sport began slowly, and progress can be marked by several milestones — the Fitness and Amateur Sport Act of 1961 (Bill C-131) and the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1970 were important. The key event came in 1974, when Marion Lay and the federal government’s Fitness and Amateur Sport Branch (FASB) sponsored a National Conference on Women and Sport. Athletes, coaches, educators, administrators, and researchers gathered to explore the issues raised by the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The conference produced action proposals and the strategies for change. What was missing, however, was the means to monitor the process and implement the recommendations. The came the launching of Sport Canada’s Women’s Program in 1980; the Female Athlete Conference in 1981 and the establishment by Sport Canada of a Women in Sport program; and the Constitution Act of 1982.
Increasing participation rates brought the gender issue centre stage as a political issue by the 1980s. In 1981 Abby Hoffman, a former Olympic athlete, became director general of Sport Canada, which issues a "Policy on Women's Sport" that called for equality. The AAU, which had been hostile to women's participation, was forced to reverse positions. Women went to court to challenge discrimination and either won or saw the capitulation of their opponents. Provincial human rights commissions addressed at least fifty sport-related cases. Political institutions began to reduce the barriers that had afflicted women's athletics from their inception as seen in the Minister’s Task Force Report in 1992; and the landmark decision of the Canadian Sport Council to include gender equity quotas in their operating principles. By the 1990s women had become more competitive and entered formerly male domains (ice hockey, rugby, and wresting are now sanctioned intercollegiate sports).
Women's success on the playing field has altered social roles and old stereotypes. To raise the profile of women's sports, however, women have inherited problems afflicting high-profile male sports - winning, raising money, and getting sponsors. In 2001 the Canadian women's cross-country ski team produced its "Nordic Nudes" calendar to gain attention and garner funds.
Harrigan, (2003) reviews the emergence of women's athletics in Canadian colleges and universities during 1961-2001. Although women's athletics dates to the late 19th century, it was the establishment of the National Fitness and Amateur Sport Advisory Council that allowed women's intercollegiate sports to gain momentum. Concomitant with the new organization, a rise in the proportion of women in the student bodies increased the visibility of women's sports. Despite institutional opposition, women continued their efforts to organize their sports and raise consciousness. In 1969, the Canadian Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Union was formed as a body to oversee events and sanction national championships, merging with the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union in 1978. Women's presence in both intercollegiate and intramural athletics continued to increase during the 1980s-90s, and the debate shifted from whether women should participate in high-profile sports to whether men or women should coach those teams.
Fans and media
As the popular daily press developed rapidly throughout Canada in the late 19th century, so too did sports coverage in these newspapers. Beyond brief mentions of upcoming sporting events, coverage soon included detailed results and some reports on entire events. This coverage built a sense of community and of local pride in cities and towns across the country, while also involving Canadians in the national and international "world of sport." Along with the telegraph and its ability to provide near-real-time coverage of sports, newspapers transformed the way Canadians viewed sporting events. More than entertainment, the availability of newspapers, telegraphic reports, and radio in the prairie provinces radically transformed people's connection to North American and world sport. By 1910, sporting events were either re-created from telegraph reports or broadcast live, often to public gatherings in towns like Winnipeg and Calgary. Participation in this world of sport also gave inhabitants of the provinces a sense of belonging to the Canadian nation and its burgeoning popular culture. Despite the distances separating them from other Canadians, they could feel that they were part of a common set of popular entertainments, as they followed the successes and disappointments of Canadian and American hockey and baseball teams, as well as such sports as rowing and boxing. 
Middle-class reformers promoted baseball, lacrosse, track and field, and cycling to enhance the selfless ideals of amateurism and rational recreation. They sought to inculcate (or enforce) a new sense of social respectability, as well as support for local institutions. Local pride swelled as they sent their athletes into competition against those from other places and celebrated famously when they won. Organized school sports, with paid coaches, are mostly played by children of middle and upper middle class parents, who make special efforts to include girls. Working class play is unorganized and boy-dominated.
Hockey fans flocked to large new arenas such as the Montreal Forum (1924) and Maple Leaf Gardens (1931), hoping to see their professional team capture the Stanley Cup. Conn Smythe built Maple Leaf Gardens to replace the Arena Gardens because he understood the need to create a space centered on fans rather than athletes in order to attract the public. Much bigger, more comfortable, and more elegant than its predecessor, Maple Leaf Gardens gave members of Toronto's middle and upper classes a space for fashionable entertainment. Large numbers of season ticket holders and general ongoing success as a sports venue show that Smythe had a winning formula for Toronto and hockey. The opening of a new arena increases attendance 15-20% in the first years of operation; the honeymoon is over after five years. For 1994-2003, 21 new arenas were constructed, the honeymoon lengthened to eight years.
Radio broadcasts, in English and French, in the 1930s became community events in neighborhood bars and small villages, making the sport an important element of Canada's national identity. The radio program, Hockey Night in Canada, made NHL hockey the best known and most influential sport in Canada. Fans could not get too much news and gossip about heroes such as defenceman Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins, forward Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens, and the Montreal Canadiens' goaltender Georges Vezina, namesake of the Vezina Trophy. Even more fame accrued in the 1940s to Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Gordie Howe, a rugged right-winger for the Detroit Red Wings, and gentlemanly Jean Beliveau of the Canadiens.
See also Lacrosse
Lacrosse was invented in the 1850s, when the Anglophone middle class of Montreal adopted the Indian game of "baggataway", which was a violent game played by the First Nation teams numbering hundreds of players. The 1860s saw the first powerhouse team, the Montreal Shamrocks; it was Irish, Catholic, and aggressive. During the 1870s and 1880s the Shamrocks had bloody confrontations with the upscale Protestant Montreal and Toronto Lacrosse Clubs. Field lacrosse spread across the country with the tide of Anglophone settlers from Ontario and Quebec. By the early 1890s it could claim to be the most popular summer game in Canada; the 1900s were the golden years, as two professional leagues were set up. Escalating violence led to the collapse of the professional leagues in 1914, and the game's base of support shrank to Montreal, Victoria, Vancouver, New Westminster, and small-towns in Ontario. Its failure to gain a firm foothold was due in part to the lack of an organizational infrastructure; for example, it was never adopted by schools or churches.
In 1931, hockey owners and promoters in Canada introduced "box lacrosse" to attract fans in the summer. Played indoors in a smaller space, competitions could be held indoors or in baseball stadiums. The game was especially violent but few cities could support teams, however, and the poverty of the Great Depression reduced the number of fans. Entrepreneurs like Joe Cattarinich and Peter Campbell, while failing at the commercial level, changed the landscape of Canadian amateur lacrosse, isolating it from the more widely contested field lacrosse played in the United States, Britain, and Australia. In 1987 the National Lacrosse League began; it has clubs in twelve cities in the United States and Canada.
Field lacrosse was revived in the late 1990s when some Ontario universities included it in their women's athletic programs; university women now play the game once associated with Canadian masculinity.
Cricket never caught on, despite efforts by an imperial-minded elite to promote the game as a way of identifying with the British Empire. Canada, unlike Australia and the West Indies, witnessed a continual decline in the popularity of the game during 1860-1960. Linked to British immigrants and class status, among non-elites cricket faced challenges from other sports, notably baseball, and suffered due to the short summer season. Despite the continued presence of teams and even leagues in many schools and cities, Canada never accepted this sport as other members of the British Commonwealth did. Indeed, in the First World War, Canadian units stationed in Britain played baseball, not cricket.
The success of the Montreal Expo in 1967 led major league baseball to give the city Canada's first franchise in 1969. The Expos started well but after 2000 attendance plunged to below 10,000 a game as fans lost interest. The owners of major league clubs bought the Expos in 2001 for US$120 million and moved it to Washington, D.C. in 2004. The Expos never recovered from the 1994 players' strike; it could not afford skyrocketing salaries, especially with a weak Canadian dollar; the poor quality and location of the Expos' ballpark repelled fans and the city refused to build a new one; the fiercely separatist politics of the Parti Québécois undercut an English-language sport.
James Naismith, a Canadian, invented basketball (in Springfield, Massachusetts) in the 1890s, and at the amateur level the game achieved popularity at upscale high schools and colleges in both the U.S. and Canada. In 1946, early in the era of professional basketball, the owners of the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team started a franchise in the newly formed Basketball Association of America. Seven thousand spectators watched the first game of the Toronto Huskies, but they lost and attendance fell off as newsmen called it a freak show. After the Huskies ended in last place in the league's eastern division, the team folded. It had suffered inconsistent management decisions and the temper tantrums of its coach. The Huskies could not compete with Toronto's successful teams and sporting heroes in hockey, baseball, football, rugby, and wrestling.
Football, rugby and soccer
The English game of rugby was transformed into Canadian football, beginning with intercollegiate matches between McGill and Harvard in 1874 and the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan in 1879. In 1898 J.C.M. Burnside established codified rules that were adopted nationwide. They differ from the American rules, particularly in the size of the field and in three rather than four down play. Governor General Earl Grey donated a championship trophy in 1907 to the best amateur team' the Gray Cup went to the professionals in 1954. Major innovations, including the forward pass, came in the 1920s and 1930s as American athletes and coaches arrived. In 1936, fearful of the drift towards Americanization, the Canadian Rugby Union placed a limit on the number of foreigners; import quotas remain in effect. After 1945 football flourished at the intercollegiate and professional levels. The Canadian Football League distributed franchises across the country, and crowds flocked to the games. The Grey Cup championship game, first telecast in 1952, calls out the largest audience for Canadian TV, over 4 million However, by the 1990s the fans were staying home and the CFL made a desperate attempt to reverse its fortunes, it added five teams in the U.S. in 1993. The CFL barely survived the fiasco, as four teams folded and the fifth moved to Montreal. After surviving the closing of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996 and bankruptcies by the Toronto and Hamilton teams in 2003, football has recovered and is in fair health in the 21st century.
Soccer has grown in popularity in recent decades, especially as a school sport for boys and girls.
Curling, a sport that earned Olympic status in 1998, arrived with Scottish soldiers in the 1750s; in 1838 in Scotland, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club standardized the rules. It involves sliding a 42-pound teapot-shaped granite curling stone by its handle toward a goal painted on the ice, with players using brooms to alter its course. By 1903 Winnipeg had become the world's curling capital of an intensely competitive winter sport played throughout Canada.
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- Stacy L. Lorenz, "'In the Field of Sport at Home and Abroad': Sports Coverage in Canadian Daily Newspapers, 1850-1914." Sport History Review 2003 34(2): 133-167. ISSN: 1087-1659; Lorenz, "'A Lively Interest on the Prairies': Western Canada, the Mass Media, and a 'World of Sport,' 1870-1939." Journal of Sport History 2000 27(2): 195-227. Issn: 0094-1700
- Nancy B. Bouchier, For the Love of the Game: Amateur Sport in Small-Town Ontario, 1838-1895. (2003). Dawn E. Trussell and William McTeer, "Children’s Sport Participation in Canada: Is it a Level Playing Field?" International Journal of Canadian Studies (2007) # 35
- MLG was replaced in 1999 by a more modern new arena, Air Canada Centre (ACC).
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- John C. Leadley and Zenon X. Zygmont, "When Is the Honeymoon over? National Hockey League Attendance, 1970-2003," Canadian Public Policy / Analyse de Politiques, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Jun., 2006), pp. 213-232 in JSTOR
- Donald M. Fisher, "'Splendid but Undesirable Isolation': Recasting Canada's National Game as Box Lacrosse, 1931-1932." Sport History Review 2005 36(2): 115-129. Issn: 1087-1659
- David Cooper, "Canadians Declare 'It Isn't Cricket': a Century of Rejection of the Imperial Game, 1860-1960." Journal of Sport History 1999 26(1): 51-81. Issn: 0094-1700; Andrew Horrall, "'Keep-a-fighting! Play the Game!' Baseball and the Canadian Forces During the First World War." "Canadian Military History" 2001 10(2): 27-40. Issn: 1195-8472
- Shane Peacock, "The Toronto Huskies: Pro Basketball's False Start." Beaver 1996 76(5): 33-38. Issn: 0005-7517 Fulltext: EBSCO
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- Charles A. Kupfer, "Crabs in the Grey Cup: Baltimore's Canadian Football Sojourn, 1994-95." International Journal of the History of Sport 2007 24(1): 49-66. Issn: 0952-3367 Fulltext: EBSCO; John Nauright, and Phil White, "Mediated Nostalgia, Community and Nation: the Canadian Football League in Crisis and the Demise of the Ottawa Rough Riders, 1986-1996." Sport History Review 2002 33(2): 121-137. Issn: 1087-1659
- The sweeping removes debris that could send a stone awry, and warms the surface, creating a hydroplane-like effect. Sweeping can send a stone straighter and up to 15 feet farther than it might have traveled on its own.
- Morris Mott and John Allardyce, Curling Capital: Winnipeg and the Roarin' Game, 1876 to 1988. (1989); Pierre Richard, "Une Histoire Sociale du Curling au Québec, de 1807 à 1980" [A social history of curling in Quebec, from 1807 to 1980]. PhD dissertation U. of Quebec, Trois-Rivières 2006. 569 pp. DAI 2006 67(5): 1875-A. DANR14138 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses