Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Canada’s Cold War Identity…on Ice


With the conclusion of the World Cup of Hockey Canadian identity is as strong as ever, with team Canada taking a dominating 2 game series win over Team Europe. Team Europe might be a new opponent for Team Canada but they did not stop them from taking the title of World Cup Champions. Team Canada went through some older and familiar teams where the rivalry today is distinctly different than it was during the famous 8 game Summit Series with the former USSR.


Canada is still known across the world and especially within Canada’s diverse population as a hockey nation with dominating performances in the past several international events and tournaments. The chapter by Scherer, Duquette, and Mason (2007) in the book East plays West, Sport and the Cold War provides us with the “(re)articulation of the Canadian National Identity” through the 1972 Summit Series.[1] The chapter provides us with a unique perspective of the Summit Series by setting the stage. Most documentaries begin with game 1 of the series and conclude with the iconic Henderson goal. By providing the unique circumstances that established this event we can obtain a new perspective and appreciation for the significance of the series to the Canadian identity.

The 1960’s and 1970’s was a time that the USSR national team was dominating the international stage. Canada was unable to send professional athletes to international competitions and with the rise of other hockey programs in the world Canada lagged behind. Canada withdrew from international events previous to the 1972 series with the USSR. The series was established with the ability for Canada to send NHL professionals to represent the country. Canada’s identity would form through two different and distinct avenues. The first being Canada’s identity to the world as Canada was forming diplomatic ties with the USSR without major western allies. Canada would open up to the USSR forming a diplomatic tie that would share aspects of the two countries, which included hockey. The second would be through the fractured Canadian self identity with the debate of Anglophone vs. Francophone taking place in the country at this time. Through these two avenues Canada would (re)articulate its identity to the world but also to itself.

Today Canada is a unique Country with a wide range of demographics through the increased numbers of immigrants in many Canadian cities. With this shift in Canadian demographics the popularity of hockey has been threatened. Not many immigrants participate in hockey but instead play basketball and soccer. The participation rates of hockey are declining in many major metropolitan areas. What does this do to the Canadian identity, especially during international hockey events? It is interesting to know that many immigrants give hockey a try either through actually playing or watching with other Canadians. Immigrants see this as an essential way of entering into Canadian society and being a part of the Canadian identity.[2] The relevance of this was shown in the gold medal game of men’s hockey during the 2010 Vancouver winter games where nearly 80 percent of Canadians tuned in for some portion of the game, which comes out to nearly 26.5 million people.[3] Hockey in Canada is still seen as an essential part of its identity. Even with the changing demographics of Canada individuals new to the country still make an effort to enter into the Canadian hockey world to experience part of our identity as a nation. The social component of hockey among new immigrants to Canada is essential to a portion of their integration and inclusion.

The image of Canada to the world has shifted since the 1970’s but what has stayed constant is the identity Canada has through its hockey. Canada is once again on top of the world as 2016 World Cup Champions.

[1] Scherer, J., Duquette, G.H., & Mason, D. S. (2007). The Cold War and the (re)articulation of Canadian national identity, The 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series. In S. Wagg & D.L. Andrews (Eds.), East plays West, Sport and the Cold War (pp. 163-186). London: Routledge.

[2] The Institute for Canadian Citizenship (2014). Playing together – new citizens, sports, and belonging.

[3] Dan O’Neill –

2 thoughts on “Canada’s Cold War Identity…on Ice

  1. Hi Ben,
    First and foremost, your analysis is quite insightful on a piece of our national history. One major your point that you brought up, in regards to the decline rates of hockey enrollment, establishes a great connection for an issue that is plaguing today and how looking to the past can help guide our solution. The cold war era brought out feelings of uncertainty, impeding doom, and overall a loss of the self from a national or cultural standpoint. As you mentioned in your analysis, the summit series really cemented which competing narrative Canadians where to form, given that they essentially were viewed as observers because America and the USSR were butting heads. Oddly enough, it was through a on non-conventional political theater that Canadians fought and established an identity of hubris, hard work, and dedication. The Summit series truly formulated the Canadian identity we all highly value today, thus many organizations in hockey use those same exemplary qualities our players showcase in their teachings to not only develop hockey skill but hopefully the character of their players as well. Thus, it becomes crucial to incorporate our new members of society into hockey, as some would argue, as a learning experience of what being a Canadian is all about. That being said there is evidence from the literature warning about adopting a forcing assimilation approach for immigrants to be in sport or active. Forde et al (2014) notes that an assimilation approach is similar to a barriers approach and the dangers of this, “barriers are often seen as resting within marginalized groups rather than representing problems in how community sport and recreation is delivered” (p. 129). So, use of a dynamic model where being inclusive if the pinnacle is highly recommended.

    My only true critique that I have for your analysis I suppose relate the type of identity that Canada developed during this summit series. Would you consider that our traditional view of a peace keeping country was dropped and adopted more of an American identity in creation of an us vs. them mentality and we are fighting a war for freedom. The challenge that I bring to you is that, the identity Canada developed through the summit series was not novel, but appears to be a form of Americanization simply with skates on. Thus, our Canadian self really is not existent and we may have been lying to our selves all of these years. I would love to hear your take on this. Overall, the analysis you presented offered a great read on an event that is culturally significant for us as Canadians!
    Forde, S. D,, Lee, D.S., Mills, C., & Frisby, W. (2015). Moving towards social inclusion: Manager and staff perspectives on an award winning community sport and recreation program for immigrants. Sport Management Review, 18(1), 126-138.


    • Thank you Austin for your perspective and inquiry into my critical analysis. You bring a unique perspective and view to the National Identity established through the Summit Series.

      To address your fist observation about the assimilation of immigrants into hockey I would agree that forced assimilation is not the format to take when developing and implementing sports, recreation, and leisure programs. The idea I presented here was that immigrants or new comers to Canada make an effort to partake in the Canadian Culture by engaging in hockey. This should not be the only intention of programs and it should be a matter of integration, which could include aspects of their own culture. In conclusion to this point I would agree with your assessment that forced assimilation is not the answer but integration is a valuable tool to be implemented. Hockey culture in Canada can provide a unique perspective into the nation that immigrants now find themselves residing in.

      To your second point and question about the development of a Canadian Identify through the Summit Series not being novel but a form of Americanization I can understand this take on the Series, but a larger part of the Canadian Identity was established through the larger context of the event. Looking only at the Summit Series there does seem to be a lot of similarities with the us vs. the mentality of Americanization but the diplomacy that took place before the Summit Series is what helps solidify this event as a Canadian identity internationally. The context before the series was a stand off of ideologies of communism vs. democracy and Canada was identified with western countries and ideologies. Canada and the USSR began diplomatic conversations that would eventually lead to the sharing of culture, sports, etc. This diplomacy is what helped establish the Canadian identity on the world stage and apart from other western countries like the United States. The summit series itself helped create a national identity within the country as a unified front. The Summit Series was at a time of heightened tensions between Anglophones and Francophones in the country. The Summit Series provided a unified front for the country and for the countries own national identity. Incorporating the larger view of the Summit Series is important when understanding the difference in Canadian Identity internationally and nationally.
      Thank you for your depth analysis and inquiry into the chapter of the (re)articulation of the Canadian National Identity. (1)

      (1) Scherer, J., Duquette, G.H., & Mason, D. S. (2007). The Cold War and the (re)articulation of Canadian national identity, The 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series. In S. Wagg & D.L. Andrews (Eds.), East plays West, Sport and the Cold War (pp. 163-186). London: Routledge.


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