Alright folks here it is! So I wrote this paper for my Canadian Nationalities course. It was super fun to write and I could have honestly wrote so much more but I was limited to 5 pages (but this ended up being 7). I’m a historian by trade and writing something this contemporary is strange to me but I do hope you guys enjoy it!
Also, please for your own good, obviously do not plagiarize my work. This paper was submitted through TurnItIn and you will get flagged. I’ve included Endnotes and Bibliography if you guys are interested in using any of my research sources. Enjoy!
On September 26, 2015 the Jumbotron in the Roger’s Centre announced to a sold out crowd that the Toronto Blue Jays secured a postseason berth, finally ending twenty two years draught. I was fortunate to be part of that crowd that numbered just under 50,000 people, and shared with them the euphoria of seeing history in the making. Similarly, when different media outlets are examined, this feeling of excitement seemed to spread wider than just the Greater Toronto Area, and crossed the nation from sea to sea. Scott Bauer of Vancouver explained, “I’m totally a bandwagon fan, I bet on them winning the World Series and found myself drawn in to supporting them.”[i] While, at the same time, there also seemed to be a Maritime province flag being waved at every Jays’ game I attended. The national support helped propel the Jays as a Canadian national symbol that embodied parts of Canada’s national identity. Alongside my own personal experience of attending and watching games and Amy J. Ransom’s chapter “Hockey as Nationalist Marker in Quebec Film, but which Nationalism?” in Hockey PQ: Canada’s Game in Quebec’s Popular Culture I will explore the implications behind embracing sports as a national symbol by Canadians. Firstly, the Jays and the game of baseball became a stage for Canadian sovereignty and pride. Similarly, it reflected a key distinct aspect of the Canadian identity, distinguishing what we are not, Americans. However, as discussed in Ransom’s article I will also explore the limitations of the collective experience, especially in Quebec. Therefore, the game of baseball and the dramatic sudden successes of the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2015 season provided an avenue for the imagined community to share an experience of communal support and adoration for the team. This communal experience is a model representation of a part of the Canadian identity, the internalization of Canadian supposed inferiority to their southern neighbours, the United States of America.
Ransom’s article does not deny that hockey is Canada’s national sport but does distinguish that sentiments behind it differs between English and French Canada. For English Canada it often symbolized class, nationalism, masculinity and race, all under the umbrella of English Canada being the dominant culture.[ii] However for Quebec, it is the embodiment of the French Canadians history as a conquered people. Through hockey, Ransom argued that French Canadians found a stage to not only fight those who oppressed them but also show that they are still a strong and proud people.[iii] Therefore, hockey for French Canadians is a way to distinguish themselves from what they are not, English Canada and used the hockey rink as their battlegrounds.
Similarly, the baseball diamond has also become a way for Canadians to find their voice against the USA. Much has been made in how little American knows about Canada, and the Jays space within Major League Baseball (MLB) only furthers this case. Canadian baseball fans are constantly reminded that the Jays, as the only Canadian team in the MLB, and may not have place in the baseball world. During the live broadcasting of the American League Division Series, Harold Reynolds, an American broadcaster, made the assumption that baseball was not a popular sport in Canada and therefore Canadians did not know how to catch a ball fouled into the stand.[iv] This seemingly ignored that the Jays’ everyday catcher, Russell Martin, was not only one of the best in the league, but was a Canadian. I was instantly offended by such comment and was stunned how much my feelings were shared by people across Canada on social media. Retired Canadian baseball player Larry Walker tweeted, “I won 7 gold gloves. I think part of winning them was cause I could catch.”[v] Without realizing it, I became part of the imagined community. There’s no question that such a comment was made as a joke, however the collective disgust felt by Canadians sprouted from the fact it came from an American broadcaster on an American broadcast company who seemed oblivious about Canadians and the Jays in general. Combined with the fact that the Jays were continuously scheduled on weekday afternoon games made many fans feel marginalized.[vi] Through the Jays success there seemed to be a desire to prove not just the broadcaster, but all of America, wrong. Not only can Canadians play harder, but they cheered louder, and were better than the Americans at their own sport. The animosity so many Canadians felt towards such a comment, especially one that was intended as joke, only symbolized the internalization Canadians felt towards their position in contrast to the Americans. Such a small and simple jab was met with such great fury from the Canada’s imagined community and made the baseball diamond a battleground for the reputation of Canada.
Likewise, Canada’s support for the Jays was a choice to distant itself from the USA by identifying what we are not and the differences between the two nations. Identifying what a nation is not is an important aspect of its identity, and in this instance it represented the subservience Canada experienced with the USA. Canada had always prided itself with a unique history with baseball. The imagined community in Canada sees itself as being more progressive than the USA and therefore celebrates that it provided African Americans, like the great Jackie Robinson, a place to play in organizational sports at a time when USA still found it a taboo.[vii] Canada also distanced itself from aggressive representation of patriotism like the USA with the traditional rituals of a Jays’ game. Although O Canada is played at the beginning of every game, there is no equivalent of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. Instead OK Blue Jays, a fun and entertaining song, is played and danced too. On the surface the song does not seem to be an explicit symbol of Canadian nationalism, but the jabs on the great American teams of the time the song was created and the choice to play such a differently sounding song over the God Bless America suggests how much Canada wanted emphasize its non-American identity. Prior to start of the postseason Twitter users seemed to collectively agree that God Bless America had no place it a Jays games and looked for confirmation from Stephen R. Brooks the Senior Vice President of Business Operations for the Toronto Blue Jays that it would not be played during postseason home games even though they were to be broadcasted nationwide in the USA.[viii] The importance for Canadian to distinguish themselves, again were over fears of being overshadowed by their more powerful neighbour. Canadians want to maintain the little Canadian connection they have to baseball and this connection is being threatened by the USA. Similarly, such sentiments are seen in the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop, where the fear of American taking over Canada’s national sport is so great that it had the power the bring together the unlikely paring of an Ontarian and Québécois cops.[ix] The national embracing of the Jays as part of Canada’s national identity is an answer to the fear of an American overshadow and draws a distinct line between Canada and the USA as two distinct cultures.
Despite the unifying ability of the Jays, it also important to examine whether it has the ability to divide French and English Canada as argued by Ransom. It is important to note that the Jays as a symbol of Canadian nationalism is still a social construction, and although has the support of the imagined community, it does not reflect the sentiments for all Canadians. During the last regular season game I attended in September 2015 I sat beside a man that was clearly not a Jays fan. When asked what team he did cheer for he replied the Montreal Expo. This surprised me because the Expo’s are a defunct team that had been relocated to Washington D.C. in 2004. He explained that it just felt wrong cheering for the Jays. This feeling seemed to be popular for many French Canadians. Thomas Daigle’s article for CBC quoted sports writer David McGimpsey, “Just sticking a maple leaf on the team’s logo doesn’t mean it represents Canada. For a Montrealer to cheer for the Jays, that’s just unacceptable.”[x] But what makes it so unacceptable? John Meagher of the Montreal Gazette implied that hesitation to support the Jays is largely due to their Toronto connection. Those he interviewed understood that the Jays success is good for Canadian baseball and may even bring back the Expos to Monteal, he added that, “It’s Toronto, we’re Montreal. The rivalry, to me, is there. It bleeds over from hockey.”[xi]As stated above, Ransom argued this rivalry is rooted from French Canadian’s history of a conquered people, and Torontonians has become the symbol of the colonizing English.[xii] This continued rivalry is seen in one of the best play-by-play call this season by TVA Sports announcer Rodger Brulotte on Russell Martin’s three run homerun against, probably the most iconic American team, the New York Yankees. He screamed, “Le Québec danse! Le Canada danse! Et Russell quel chef d’orchestre. Bonsoir, elle est partie.”[xiii] The distinction of Quebecois dancing and Canadians dancing for the same magnificent homerun only further implied that there is a division.
Bitterness towards the Jays may still be felt towards the team by many French Canadians. However, the sold out Spring Training exhibition game in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium since 2014, and the countless numbers of Expo hats I still see worn by fans cheering for the Jays during a game may argue that the support for the Jays is growing in Quebec. The acquisition of Montreal raised catcher Russell Martin and the former General Manger of the Blue Jays, Montreal born Alex Anthopoulos, may have also helped dispel some animosity towards the Jays. Not only did both grow up in Montreal but both are able to speak French and thus engage with both French and English media and fans. Hence, there may not be the same level of division between French and English Canada as found in hockey. However, what’s present is the similar concern of a dominant culture overrunning one’s own. As Canadians support for the Jays helped counteract American influence, so did French Canadians’ choice not to support the Jays help counteract the influence of English Canada.
In conclusion, the heavy support that the Toronto Blue Jays got from Canadians and their status as national symbol gives the implication that part of the identity of the imagined community of Canada is the internalization of the over influence of American culture on Canada. For Canadians, the game of baseball became a medium to assert their Canadianess. Similarly, it provided a way to distinguish difference between American and Canadian cultures and assert Canadian uniqueness in comparison. However, despite the ability of baseball to unite Canadians, like hockey, there still remains a divisive factor between English and French Canada. Strikingly, this factor seems to be identical to those between American and Canadians, a way to refuse the influence of an over dominant culture. The Jays 2015 season was one that was celebrated across the country, but Canada’s national identity is constantly changing and one wonder if the Jays fail to match its success in 2016 whether it will be held in such high regards by Canadians. Much of its power as a national symbol relies on the Jays’ ability to win against their American counterpart and without it the internalization of Canadian hypothetical inferiority to Americans seems to come into fruition.
[i] Nick Wells, “Blue Jays Fans Across the Country Come Together to Cheer Comeback Bid,” CTVNews, accessed on November 27, 2015, http://www.ctvnews.ca/sports/blue-jays-fans-across-the-country-come-together-to-cheer-comeback-bid-1.2605949.
[ii] Amy J. Ransom, “Hockey as Nationalist Marker in Quebec Film, but which Nationalism,” in Hockey PQ: Canada’s Game in Quebec’s Popular Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 5.
[iii] Ibid, 6.
[iv] Ramisha Farooq, “Fox Sports Commentator Harold Reynolds Feeling the Heat Over Canada Comment,” Toronto Star, October 12, 2015, http://www.thestar.com/sports/bluejays/2015/10/12/fox-sports-commentator-harold-reynolds-feeling-the-heat-over-canada-comment.html.
[vi] CBC News, “Blue Jays to Play Afternoon Playoff Games to Anger, Dismay of Fans – Toronto,” CBC, last modified October 5, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/blue-jays-to-play-afternoon-playoff-games-to-anger-dismay-of-fans-1.3257803.
[vii] William Humber, Diamonds of the North: A Concise History of Baseball in Canada (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1995), 114.
[viii] Brooks, “No It Will Not Be Played in TO.”
[ix] Ransom, 17.
[x] Thomas Daigle, “Blue Jays Find Lukewarm Support in Montreal, Former Home of Expos – Montreal,” CBC News, accessed on November 27, 2015,http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/blue-jays-montreal-lukewarm-support-1.3262435.
[xi] John Meagher, “Blue Jays Fever Stops at the Quebec Border,” Montreal Gazette, last modified October 8, 2015, http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/blue-jays-fever-stops-at-the-quebec-border.
[xii] Ransom, 6.
[xiii] Agence QMI, “Martin Assomme Les Yankees,” TVA Sports, September 23, 2015, http://www.tvasports.ca/2015/09/23/qui-aura-le-dernier-mot.