What role do sports play in the expression of Canadian cultural identities? In sports, we celebrate inclusion and common purpose, but the history of sports has been marked, much of the time, by prejudice and exclusion. From lacrosse through women’s hockey, Canadian sports have expressed collective resistance, protected endangered community traditions and been key sites of conflict over the character of Canadian society.
On Tuesday, May 5, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), holds a half-day symposium, Sport and Identity, to examine the complex role of sports in Canada.
Meg Hewings will be one of the event’s speakers. Hewings is the General Manager of The Montreal Stars, with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Winks began her hockey career at age 11 as a Leaside Angel. A McGill grad, Hewings later played varsity hockey for the McGill Martlets (#13), and one season in the women’s semi-pro circuit with the Montreal Wingstar. In addition to her work as GM of the Montreal Stars, she is the founder of The Lovely Hockey League.
Hewings took some time to share her views on women in hockey and other topics with the Reporter.
Long before you were General Manager of the Montreal Stars, you played hockey here at McGill for the Martlets. How did your time playing sports at the varsity level prepare you for what you do now?
I played varsity hockey for the McGill Martlets during an incredible growth period in the program. When I started, we sold chocolate almonds in order to fundraise for our operation’s needs, had a tiny locker-room on the opposite side from the Redmen and were lucky to get a team t-shirt. Mid-way through my varsity career, Peter Smith became the Head Coach of the program and Kim St-Pierre joined our roster. We went from losing games 14-0 to making the CIS championships in my graduating year and witnessing the renovation of the McConnell arena to better accommodate the women’s program. I was lucky to be a part of this incredible transition and to see the program flourish. As a gender studies graduate, I also developed critical faculties, was learning about the rich history of the women’s game in Quebec, and at McGill, and starting to wonder why women’s hockey lacked resources, visibility and funding. I questioned why my artist friends didn’t care about sport, and began to see hockey not only as great place to learn about myself and others, but also as a site of radical potential.
The Montreal Stars are very supportive of amateur girl’s hockey. What is your message for young girls who want to become involved in the sport, and do you think the day will ever come when women’s hockey gets as much attention as men’s does?
Most of the new growth in hockey is happening because young girls are taking up the sport in unprecedented numbers, and they love it. The Stars now offer camps, clinics and consulting services to minor hockey associations and our programs champion fun, skills development, teamwork and empowering our youth. We want young girls to grow up to be strong, confident and believe they can do anything. Every athlete in our club is an incredible ambassador for our game, most of them have been captains of their university teams and hold a degree (or two). They are juggling full-time jobs like men did in the early days of the NHL, and we are working together to build a professional league of our own. Our goal is for young girls growing up today to believe they can have a future, and a career, in hockey.
You’ve also written your own blog, “Hockey Dyke in Canada.” The Canadian Olympic Committee recently held an international roundtable to address LGBT issues in sport, and more and more athletes are coming out as members of the LGBT community. What do you think of the current status of the LGBT community in Canadian sports, and what, if anything, do you think needs to change?
The CWHL is a pioneering league in many respects, having been the first professional hockey league to partner with You Can Play, and to have a policy that welcomes Transgender athletes. I think that female athletes have an important role to play in changing and challenging the values of men’s professional sport, and in making hockey more inclusive, accessible and respectful. I’ve been incredibly impressed with the confidence and leadership shown by our Montreal Stars’ goaltender Charline Labonte, who came out publicly as a lesbian after Sochi, and was voted by over 75,000 fans to Captain the Red Team at our inaugural CWHL All-Star game at the Air Canada Centre this season. She’s hitting her stride as an athlete, and person, and is representing our sport with charisma and poise. This is exactly what you want to see happen for athletes and ambassadors in your sport. As for what still needs changing? I’d like to see athletes and fans become more politicized and critical of the Olympic movement, for example, and for mainstream audiences and more corporate entities to start supporting women’s team pro sports.
The presentation you’ll give at the MISC Sport & Identity event is titled, “Women in hockey: A question of belonging.” Give our readers a preview of what you’ll be discussing.
I’ll be asking a lot of questions about hockey as “our game,” and women’s place in the sport. I’m fascinated by who gets to belong in hockey, and on what terms. Women have played hockey since the sport’s very beginning, largely in the shadows. The female game has grown exponentially since becoming an Olympic sport in 1998, and despite the growth, it remains fragile in many respects, constantly undergoing growing pains and threats to its legitimacy. Like all sport, it’s intimately tied to the morals of the day. I’m interested in all these contradictions at play when women do hockey.
The recent partnership signed between the Canadiens and the Montreal Stars is big news for the development of women’s hockey in Quebec. How did you go about securing this partnership and what will it mean for the club, and the growth of the female game in Quebec?
We’ve been working with the Canadiens for the past few years to develop this agreement. The Montreal Canadiens are one of the most respected professional sport franchises in the world, and we’re extremely excited by the possibilities this partnership presents. We’ll be undergoing a re-branding of the Montreal club this summer to align more closely with the Canadiens, and access to their marketing team. The Canadiens are very committed to growing the female game at all levels, and this presents some interesting possibilities for how we can promote the sport generally. From a spectator perspective, we know that the audience for the women’s game is different than the NHL – and has gone largely untapped, since women’s hockey is more affordable and appeals to girls and women, and families. From a participation perspective, only 6,000 girls participate in girl’s hockey in Quebec, next to 40,000 in Ontario, so there’s also a lot of work to do to nurture the growth of the game in this province. The partnership with the Montreal Canadiens will help our club gain visibility, recognition and to leverage important sponsorship dollars, all critical factors in building a pro league, and developing a program of excellence for our elite athletes.
Sport & Identity will take place at the McGill Faculty Club (3450 McTavish), on Tuesday, May 5, from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. For a complete list of speakers and to view the programme, visit www.mcgill.ca/misc.
The event is free and open to the public, reception to follow. RSVP required: firstname.lastname@example.org