Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League 1875-1936/les Yeux De Maurice Richard: Une Histoire Culturelle

By Blake, Jason | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League 1875-1936/les Yeux De Maurice Richard: Une Histoire Culturelle


Blake, Jason, British Journal of Canadian Studies


J.C.-K. Wong, Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League 1875- 1936 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 330pp. Cloth. $65 (£40). ISBN 0-8020-3725-9; Paper. $32.95 (£18). ISBN 0-80208520-2.

B. Melançon, Les Yeux de Maurice Richard: Une histoire culturelle (Montreal: Fides, 2006), 288pp. Trade paperback. $29.95 (£13.00). ISBN: 2-7621-2681-9; 978-2-7621-2681-5.

Writing about ice hockey in Canada means writing in the shadow of mythology. Although Canadians have long regarded hockey as essential to Canadian identity, until recently there was very little critical writing on the sport. Hockey books consisted primarily of hagiographies and popular histories repackaging the same old stories about the game's nebulous importance to the nation. For this reason, both John Chi-Kit Wong's Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League 1875-1936 and BenoÎt Melançon's Les yeux de Maurice Richard: Une histoire culturelle are a welcome addition to the literature.

The two books differ greatly in their approaches. Wong's book is a very detailed historical account of the early days of organised and professional hockey, while Melançon intelligently applies the tools of literary criticism to examine how a single hockey player from Montreal has been mythologised in the decades since his retirement.

For many hockey players and fans, true success means winning the Stanley Cup, and it is with the first awarding of that trophy that Lords of the Rinks begins. At that time (1894) the players were all amateurs, but there were paying spectators and a profit to be made from those gentlemen who played for the love of it. Wong notes that '[d]espite the sentimentality later generations have for the first Stanley Cup, there is one unmistakable but often overlooked facet of this first match. It was a commercial undertaking' (p. 3). Thus, Wong's historical study entails a de-mythologising of the amateur hockey structures and organisations that grew into the professional National Hockey League, Canada's preferred brand of hockey.

Wong is the first historian to have gained access to the National Hockey League's jealousy guarded archives, and it is in this regard that his book is most valuable. The result of this archival research is an often very meticulous account of early league meetings and quibbling over hot topics such as whether Canadian or US referees should officiate at games, or what percentage of the gate proceeds a visiting team should receive. In other words, this is a specialised book that will appeal primarily to the hockey historian or those interested in labour relations or other business aspects of professional sports.

This is not to suggest that Wong loses himself in boardroom minutiae. He always considers the broader context, analysing the effects of occurrences such as the Athletic Wars (where advocates of British-style sporting amateurism pitted themselves against those who preferred US-style professionalism), the First World War, and the burgeoning postwar stateside economy on where and how Canada plays hockey. …

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