A Unique Canadian Hockey History Trip

Hockey Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History

It’s been quite a while since I’ve jotted any original thoughts here, mostly due to the fact the Boy and Devil’s minor hockey careers are regrettably well behind us. We may still get to see the occasional university intramural game (which all will admit lacks the competitive drive and drama of a rep game). And even these occasions will now be limited to the Devil as the Boy’s university days are shockingly behind him. When the hell did those 4 years go by? A question I’m sure he’s likewise puzzled by as he officially enters the world of working adults.

However, while the tug of minor hockey has subsided, my love of the game certainly has not. In fact, Momma, the Devil and I probably spend more time watching NHL games together now than we ever did before (#GoSensGo and #GoPredsGo for those likewise following the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs), since we were always to busy with our own games. Hockey was and is seemingly ingrained in our DNA, as the six years worth of posts and over 15 years of memories transcribed here will attest.

So I was very excited to have received an invitation a few months ago to visit The Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec for a guided tour of a newly launched Hockey Exhibition. The exhibition, which runs from March 10th – October 9th, is a celebration of hockey’s place in Canadian history and its effect on our culture. Fitting such an exhibition is held in the year of our nation’s 150th birthday celebration (and the NHL’s 100th anniversary) as the game has been central to our cultural evolution. The exhibition’s tag line properly and succinctly states, “Hockey in Canada: More than just a game!”

This past weekend, Momma and I had the distinct pleasure of being guided around the exhibition by one of its co-curator’s, Jenny Ellison. She pointed out the project was three years in the making with 280 unique and rare hockey artifacts from the museum or purchased/borrowed from other collections and private collectors; many of which have to be seen to be properly appreciated.

Old Indigenous Hockey Stick and Women's GameThe exhibition begins appropriately at the beginning of Canadian hockey time with one of the first hockey sticks ever used, which is really no more than a somewhat stick-shaped tree branch, juxtaposed against a photo of pioneer women fighting over a “puck”.  I should not have been, but was a little surprised to learn manufactured rubber pucks were preceded by those made of rock, wood and occasionally frozen cow dung. I guess yelling a player had a shitty shot may or may not have been considered a chirp back in the day (insert GROAN here). Dr. Ellison noted the exhibit aims to highlight the importance of both indigenous peoples and women on the game, which is borne out and prominent in many of the installations.

Goalie Mask EvolutionJerseys and gear are naturally a big part of the displays as well, with the older pieces naturally garnering the most attention as they differ so much in terms of their quality and size. Jacque Plante’s pretzel mask is quickly recognizable by any true hockey fan; though even calling it a mask is a stretch. Anyone who knows a little hockey history, knows there’s a radical difference in goalie equipment from past to present. Hell, there was a time when goalies didn’t even wear masks, though there was also a time when you weren’t allowed to raise the puck off the ice. By comparison, today’s goalies are sufficiently padded and armoured to withstand slapshots in excess of 160 km/h. The hooked tree branch you see at the outset has been replaced by graphite composite designed to generate the force behind those shots.

Other iconic gear of note includes Gretzky’s Jofa helmet, Teemu Selanne’s rifle aka his stick, five-time Olympic medalist Hayley Wickenheiser’s skates and Sidney Crosby’s game-worn jersey from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics gold medal game against the U.S. (a noted coup for Dr. Ellison and her team).

I was pleased to be able to make a couple of friendly suggestions for Dr. Ellison’s “future file” as I suggested both the aluminum stick and Cooperalls were, for me, noticeably missing from the range of historical gear on display. I used both in my brief, but brilliant, minor hockey career. Perhaps their omission is on purpose as, in retrospect, neither was a particularly good idea and both went the way of the dodo bird in the late 80s and 90s respectively. You need only get cross-checked by an aluminum stick once or twice to appreciate the error in the metal’s application.

The central highlight of the exhibition is a mock hockey rink housing static reenactments of arguably the most significant events in Canadian hockey history:

  • Paul Henderson’s game winning goal in game eight of the 1972 Summit Series
  • Sidney Crosby’s goal in the aforementioned 2010 Winter Olympics
  • Marie-Philip Poulin’s game tying and OT winning goals in the gold medal game against the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (btw, she also scored both goals in the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics.)
  • Mario Lemieux’s game winner in the 1987 Canada Cup. The goal assisted was Gretzky, but the play was started by Dale Hawerchuk (a certain someone’s favourite player of all time) with a defensive zone face-off win where he tied up two Russian opponents to create the historic opportunity for his teammates.

Feel free to argue amongst yourselves as to which of the moments listed above is indeed the Canadian capstone. I’m sure you’ll find equal numbers of those who will agree and disagree.

Frank Finnigan Jersey and the Winnipeg Falcons pennantThere is, of course, also an area dedicated to hockey fans and fandom, which contained several interesting and unique bits of memorabilia (a few too many of the Toronto Maple Leaf variety, but who am I to complain.) There are all manner of hockey trading cards, vinyl records and even NHL cookbooks, which were apparently a thing back in the 80s. One particularly interesting piece from the Mike Wilson (Ultimate Leafs Fan)’s collection is the game-worn and blood-spattered jersey of one Frank “The Shawville Express” Finnigan who won the Stanley Cup with the Leafs back in 1931-32. Next to it lays a pennant from the 1920 World and Allan Cup Champion Winnipeg Falcons (#GoWinnipegGo). No Canadian exhibition would be complete without an homage of the famous childhood story of “The Sweater” by Roch Carrier or the opportunity to play a game of bubble hockey; both of which have their respective spots.

Circling back to the effect of the game on society, Dr. Ellison shared one of her favourite pieces is an actual hunk of a plywood used to cover broken windows from the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup hockey riots. The wood is covered in messages detailing what people were feeling about the game, the city and the riots; a mixture of sadness and anger. The piece is another clear reminder of just how hockey is more than a game in this country.

Now, rather than continuing to steal the museum’s thunder with my virtual trip down memory lane, I highly recommend any fan of hockey or Canadian history buff visit the museum and the exhibition before it closes. I guarantee you will not be disappointed and will likely learn a thing or two.


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