Updating the History of Women’s Sport in Canada

Girl and the Game 2e_webThis month, at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities in Calgary, Alberta, we will be releasing the much-anticipated new edition of M. Ann Hall’s ground-breaking work, The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada. First published in 2002, this book has had a profound impact on a generation of students, scholars, researchers, and athletes. We are honoured to be involved in the updating of this classic work. In the paragraphs below, M. Ann Hall, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta, explains how the first edition came into existence, as well as the process of updating her work for an entirely new generation of readers.

Why study sport? It’s a question I ask myself even after spending a lifetime participating in sports or teaching, researching, writing, and publishing about sport. As a kid, I was your classic tomboy, happiest when playing with the neighbourhood boys, usually baseball in summer and street hockey in winter. I was a committed athlete (though never outstanding), which led me to train as a physical education teacher. I taught in a high school for a short while but soon decided my vocation was to study sport in a serious way. It was the mid-1960s when physical education (now called kinesiology) was in the process of transforming itself from a teaching profession into an academic discipline. New areas, such as the sociology and history of sport, were being defined and developed. I went back to school, obtained post-graduate degrees, and settled into a university teaching and research career.

When the first edition of The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada was published in 2002, I had been retired from the University of Alberta for several years. The project began initially as my master’s thesis, but it took almost 30 years for me to return to it. While still employed, I had the assistance of several graduate students (funded through a substantial SSHRC grant) whose diligence and ingenuity saved me countless hours of research. Even still, the first edition required almost 10 years to complete.

After publishing The Girl and the Game, I wrote two other books stemming from the original project. Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport (James Lorimer, 2008) was an illustrated history designed for a younger audience. The Grads Are Playing Tonight! (University of Alberta Press, 2011) told the story of the legendary Edmonton Commercial Graduates basketball club and the women who played on the team between 1915 and 1940.

There are several reasons why I felt it was important to write The Girl and the Game in the first place, and why I believe it is still relevant today. Sport, from my perspective, is an undervalued area of study because many people view sports as being removed from the more serious pursuits in life; in other words, sport is something you do or watch when you need a break. Academics often dismiss sport as unworthy of study. For many women, and especially feminists, the highly competitive, sometimes violent, overly commercialized sports world represents distinctly non-feminist values and a field of study they generally ignore. However, at the same time, women often seek ways to experience their physicality, or at the very least they want their daughters to be strong and fit. Another reason for this book is that even today girls and women often come up against widespread masculinist resistance to their equal access to sports. Why this is so, and how it can be explained historically, is the subject of The Girl and the Game.

I thought that a second edition of The Girl and the Game was necessary because of what has happened regarding women’s sport in Canada over the past decade and more. I am grateful to Michael Harrison, and especially Natalie Fingerhut, for their advice and support from the early proposal stages through to the completed manuscript. In retrospect, had I realized how much work would be involved in producing a revised edition, I might not have taken on the project. Nonetheless, it has been a rewarding experience, and I have been encouraged by the amount of new historical research about women’s sport in Canada that has emerged over the past 15 years.

Aside from simply updating the first edition, and including much of this new research material, I set several objectives to be accomplished through the new edition. One was to make a concerted effort not only to include more about Aboriginal women’s sport, but also to point out how their experiences were (and in many ways continue to be) significantly different to their white counterparts. The history of Aboriginal women in Canadian sport cannot simply be grafted onto a traditional history of Canadian women’s sport, especially one that uses major turning points, such as two world wars and second-wave feminism, to frame the story.

Although important to the experiences of white Canadian women, these are not the dominant historical events and movements of significance to Aboriginal women, and furthermore they obscure how their identities have been simultaneously gendered and racialized throughout history. Much more important to the lives and experiences of Aboriginal women, especially over the past two hundred years, are their first encounters with Europeans, their role in fur-trade society, the Indian Act of 1876 and its various revisions, the establishment of reserves and forced residential schooling, and more recently, the confluence of sport and Aboriginal policies.

Although the second edition retains the chronological structure of the first, it begins with an entirely new chapter, entitled “Aboriginals, Colonization, and Early Victorian Sport,” which examines traditional Aboriginal games and sports before contact occurred with European explorers and settlers. Also discussed are women’s lives and active leisure in New France, during the fur trade, and after the mid-nineteenth-century British Conquest. Increasing government control over Aboriginals at this time restricted their traditional Indigenous activities and ceremonies. The remainder of the book contains much more information about the history of Aboriginal women’s sport including a discussion of gender and the residential school system, overlooked Aboriginal champions of the past, and the issues faced by today’s proudly Native sportswomen.

A second objective for the new edition was to update content by thoroughly reworking current chapters and adding another new one. The chapter now entitled “Feminist Activism for Equality” has been substantially revised by consolidating information, bringing it up to date, and including a section about contemporary Aboriginal sport within both the Native and the mainstream sport systems. The last chapter, “The Present Reflecting the Past,” is entirely new. It asks and tries to answer a series of questions: Why is it difficult to make physical activity and sport more inclusive among females, especially for newcomers, Aboriginals, and those experiencing disability? How does the LGBT social equality movement challenge homophobia and transphobia? Why have team sports for girls and women seen a resurgence in recent years? Why do women continue to be under-represented in Canadian sports leadership? Why are there so few professional sport opportunities for women? Why are women athletes mostly missing from mediasport? And why doesn’t sex sell women’s sport? This chapter ends with a brief examination of advocating for change both in Canada and on the global level.

A third objective was to make the book more appealing to readers, and especially to students using the text as either required reading or as a reference. For example, chapter titles are more descriptively clear; additional sub-headings have been included within the chapters; endnotes have been simplified and placed at the end of each chapter; and over 50 archival photographs are distributed throughout the text.

I hope this revised edition of The Girl and the Game continues to be a “go to” reference for students, scholars, researchers, and general readers who wish to know more about the rich sporting heritage of Canadian women.

-M. Ann Hall, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta

Note: The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada, Second Edition is now available. If you are scheduled to teach a course in which this book might be useful, please email requests@utphighereducation.com for an examination copy.


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