There’s an old joke that Canada, a multi-cultural melting pot overflowing with history, could have had American technology, French cuisine, and British culture, but instead got stuck with American culture, French technology, and British cuisine.
Sadly, this idea is very accurate. It explains why Canadians must turn to sport to cope with all the doom, gloom and lost potential. It is in this realm, finally, where foreign influence has made a lasting and positive impact.
According to one telling of the story, Scottish immigrants who settled in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia (meaning ‘New Scotland’ in Latin) invented ice hockey. Drawing on the rules of ‘shinty,’ these shivering Scots gave Canadians something to do, talk about, and obsess over. Since that first game, played with wooden pucks and straight sticks, hockey has only gotten more popular in the Great White North.
But native Scots have all but ignored the sport. Sure, there are leagues around—the Scottish National League (SNL) and the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) most notably—but games feel more like spectacles, and the players, unsurprisingly, are mostly Canadian. When the Edinburgh Capitals got bounced from the EIHL last year after losing 51 of their 56 games, seven Canadians — one-third of the entire team —found themselves out of a job.
That’s not to say there aren’t passionate players and fans skating around Scotland. It’s just that hockey has taken a back seat to bigger sports like rugby and football.
It’s sort of surprising given that Canada and Scotland have so many similarities. Both countries love sport, both are forced to struggle through cold, dark winters and both must deal with overbearing southern neighbours. Despite these similarities, Canada and Scotland have come out on opposite ends of the sports spectrum. Why is this?
The main difference is temperature. Scottish winters can be blisteringly cold, but they don’t match up to the hellish Canadian experience. February in Scotland has an average temperature of around six degrees Celsius whereas in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the average temperature is around zero, or the exact point at which water becomes ice. These subtle differences can have a huge impact and can be the difference between deciding to skate on a pond or run around a rugby pitch.
Additionally, when hockey was introduced, the Scottish people already had sports that they were good at and enjoyed playing. In 1871, over 4,000 spectators showed up to see Scotland play England in the first international rugby match. At least 66,000 will watch Scotland’s upcoming rugby matches at Murrayfield as the Six Nations kick off next month.
On the other end of the spectrum, at an Edinburgh Capitals game, attendance averages at 800 people. Hockey found an audience in Scotland, but it did not, and will never, unseat rugby or football.
Finally, though it’s a cliché, polite Canadians might just need an outlet, an arena where they can display passion, anger, and emotion. Hockey — with all its fights, hits, battles, and rivalries — embodies the intense, free-flowing emotion that Scots may already possess, or don’t need to exhibit in the first place.
Thankfully, Canada and Scotland have put aside these differences. The two countries, bound together by centuries of friendship, will most likely continue to get even closer — as long as they don’t meet on the ice, that is.
Image Credit: E Pluribus Anthony via Wikimedia Commons