Famous for a Time: Forgotten Giants of Canadian Sport

Dundurn. Aug. 2023. 264p. ISBN 9781459749955. pap. $23.99. SPORTS
Historians Wilson (Univ. of Guelph; King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land) and Reid (emeritus, Univ. of Guelph; African Canadians in Union Blue) focus on late-1800s Canada, when the newly independent nation wanted to create a distinctive national identity. One way of achieving this was through sports. Snowshoeing, ice hockey, and skating were embraced due to their link to fur traders and their supposed association with Northern virility. Lacrosse, originated by numerous Indigenous peoples, was also adopted by Canadians, but racism relegated the Indigenous progenitors of the sport to the sidelines. This book points out that social class played a key role in how some sports caught on. Shortly after Canada’s Confederation in 1867, cricket and baseball were equally popular; eventually, however, more people grew to prefer baseball. It was a faster-paced game open to all, while cricket remained slow and in the realm of the upper classes. Wilson and Reid’s book also delves into how the sporting prowess of individuals—the 1920s two-time Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Percy Williams, for example—captured the ardor of the nation and engendered much national pride. But he was also subsequently forgotten.
VERDICT An engaging book that looks at the link between sports, race, class, and nation building.
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