Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

The Declining Sense of Community in Canadian Women's Hockey

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

The Declining Sense of Community in Canadian Women's Hockey

Article excerpt


For over a century, women's hockey in Canada functioned as an isolated and independent collection of volunteers and players who were embedded within local Canadian communities (Avery and Stevens, 1997). That is, women's hockey involved an extensive grassroots forum even though it operated separately from the larger male-dominated hockey network. The past decade has brought a rapid escalation in participation and public profile, however, this growth has focused primarily upon highly competitive activities. New opportunities in the game generally emphasize individuality, espouse elitism, and are based within national and international forums. This sharply contradicts the values of collectivism, collegialism and boosterism traditionally held within the women's hockey forum. This paper is a critical commentary on change within Canadian women's hockey. It presents a critical reflection of the declining role of community in women's hockey as antagonisms grow between grassroots, high performance, and commercial for ces. It is argued that the acceleration of the sport into the Olympic Games has emphasized commerce and professionalism while at the same time undermined locality and voluntarism.

The development of women's hockey in Canada is an evolution driven by various battles over opportunity and recognition. Since 1891, when the first documented version of the game was held on the Rideau Canal outside Ottawa, Ontario, women have struggled to play the most popular sport in the country (McFarlane, 1994). Early beginnings of the game involved women of upper class standing who participated in the sport as a fundraising activity for local communities (Avery and Stevens, 1997). Only through the guise of serving a social good was women's participation in hockey justified. However, the desire and expertise of the players carried the momentum to create teams within educational forums, especially at universities in the central and western areas of the country. The formalized and structured characteristics of inter-university athletics provided the first arena for regular competition among women's hockey teams.

Gradually, women's community and commercial teams were created throughout the country. By the 1930s, women's hockey included independent governing associations at the national and provincial levels, staged formalized league and regional competitions, and held a sanctioned national championship. A key factor in this expansionary stage was self-governance, as many of the hockey associations were spearheaded by women involved in the sport. Bruce Kidd (1996) claimed the 1920s to be a period of remarkable advances for women in Canadian sport and argues that the issue of control, coined by the term "girls sport run by girls," was pivotal to the success. Indeed, women's hockey was a sport of fair prominence as it flourished within three domains; community, education and commercial, and at three levels; local, provincial and national.

Unfortunately, post World War II was not a favourable time for the game as the social momentum of the 1930s was soon lost in the retrenchment of the 1940s and 1950s. Etue and Williams (1996) claimed that the "Ozzie and Harriet" social attitudes coupled with the strong conservative wave from other social sectors created huge limitations for women in the game. Women's hockey participation declined with the demise of community competition and the national championship. It wasn't until the mid 1960s, when fledgling community groups in Ontario began to stage small tournaments and university teams resurfaced that women's hockey, once again, rose from obscurity. However, this time the expansion took a solid hold and the sport has enjoyed steady growth to finally emerge onto the scene of elite amateur Canadian sport.

The Changing Nature of the Women's Hockey Community

In order to discuss a lost sense of community in Canadian female hockey, it is necessary to first situate female hockey as a community. …

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