Canada explained, for a moment or two

Campbell Webster
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Hockey fans celebrate in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square on Sunday as Chris Kunitz scores Canada’s third goal in the Olympic men’s hockey final. Canada beat Sweden 3-0 to win the gold medal.

Our land, as with every land, is replete with sincere social scientists who pore over the question of what is our country, examining our Canadian society, how we compare to other nations and just who are we anyway?

And in recent years, during the recurring blinding obsessions about our Olympic hockey teams, this analysis reaches a fevered pitch, with our game being parsed relentlessly for what it reveals about each and every one of us.

The vast majority of the nation gets in on the act, with little airspace left for any other kind of discussion about what is important.

For even literal airspace was used to document the status of the men’s hockey semi-final when, on an Air Canada flight to Charlottetown last week, the pilot made two announcements during the flight: There will be a period of light turbulence during the flight (it’s always light, isn’t it?) and Team Canada was leading 1-0.

The passengers erupted in cheers; presumably not for a deep love of light turbulence.

And this is where the revelation, if not conclusion, about the essence of our national character is: in the fans’ behaviour, reactions and relationship to the games.

Our winning and losing athletes do not really prove much about us as a people, but what does reveal something is how we gather and how we behave while watching them compete.

It does not offer a complete analysis, but it sheds bits of light here and there, anecdote by anecdote.

During a series of quick visits to various Canadian cities last week, a few of these anecdotes found me, just as the hockey games found us all, no matter where we were.

At the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, before going into the theatre, I noticed a faux-rec-room set up in their lobby with two huge televisions blaring the Olympic coverage.

Even though it was curtain-time for two of the theatres, audience members had difficulty budging from the screens.

After a brief shot of Heather Moyse being interviewed flashed across the screen, a women from Hull asked me, “Did she win? Did she win?!”

What was striking about question was the familiarity with which it was asked, as if the woman from Hull, whom I had never met, had known me all my life.

It was an assumption on her part that we shared this common interest, because the whole country did, and so I answered enthusiastically that Heather had won a gold medal.

And then quickly pointed out that Heather is from the same province where I live, as if to suggest I was somehow connected to the speed of her sled. Yikes.

The next day I was in Toronto during the women’s gold medal game, where a junior high school teacher, who is a friend of a friend, decided to have his class watch the game.

His school is a microcosm of Canada’s emerging multiculturalism: The students have parents from 67 different countries, and in his classroom alone there are children from 31 different countries.

As the game progressed, the most startling question asked, by a number of these children, was, “Why are women playing hockey?”

Which can remind us that our gold medal team scored a number of victories, including for gender equity.

That being said, there remains a good many gold medals to be won in many sectors of our society on that front, but Wickenheiser and her entourage have made a contribution.

But the search for meaning and identity aside in any of these moments, it is fascinating how much we come to just plain care for each of these strangers (mostly) who perform in these sports.

How we are thrilled when they win and sad for them when they lose.

We sit staring at a television screen and become one familiar tribe.

That is worth something. And exciting to more than just social scientists.


Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at

Organizations: Air Canada, Team Canada, National Arts Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Charlottetown, Hull Ottawa Toronto

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