Fall talking season!

I received invites from a couple of groups to come talk about curating. How could I say no? I love my work, and I will tell anyone who will listen.

Curious about curating?
September 20, 6:30-8:00pm
Editors Ottawa
414 Sparks Street


Five Things I’ve Learned About Working in Public History

October 2, 12:30-1:30pm
Trent University
Kerr House

…and I’ll also be talking museums and sport at an upcoming conference:

Hockey: where do we place the accent?
October 14, 9:30am-11:00am
150 Ideas That Shaped Canada
York University
Check out the program!

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Writing

A few projects I’ve worked on are making, or have made, their way into the world.

Last month the Champlain Society shared a short piece I wrote about Justine Blainey. This documentary analysis looks at a letter to Blainey from her lawyer about a telephone conversation with a hockey official. Part of a larger project I’m chipping away at situating Blainey’s case in Canada in the 1980s.

In March the catalogue for Hockey, an exhibition I co-curated, was released. Much of the credit for this beautiful book goes to Dr. Jennifer Anderson. If you did not get a chance to see the exhibition in person this will give you a sense of the content.

Anderson and I have also put together an edited collection called Hockey: Challenging Canada’s Game that will be released next spring. The book was a great opportunity to work with many of the scholars that inspired the exhibition.

Book Launch for Obesity in Canada

Please join us in Winnipeg on September 26 at 7:00pm for the official launch of Obesity in Canada: Critical Perspectives. The event is at McNally Robertson Grant Park in the Atrium.

I’ll be there along with co-editor Deborah McPhail and some of the book’s contributors. We would love to talk about the book, our research, your research, and critical perspectives on obesity.

No RSVP required, more details here.

Five Things You Don’t Know About Terry Fox: May 27, 6:30pm

You know he’s a national hero, but what did he add to the national conversation? As he became a hero Canadians were inspired by Terry Fox in ways you might not expect.

Come see me talk at the Danforth Coxwell branch of the Toronto Public Library,May 27, 6:30-8:00pm in the Program Room (upstairs). This event is part of the History Matters lecture series.

The talks will expand upon (yes, there’s more) my recent blog posts for Active History. I’ll talk upon some unknown aspects of the runner’s life story and how he fits into the story of Canada in the 1980s.

You can find my April 2015 ActiveHistory.ca series on Terry Fox, marking the 35th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, here:

Terry Fox Was an Activist
Terry Fox: A Unifying Influence on Our Nation?
Terry Fox was a Rock Star
Terry Fox Mania

I hope to see you May 27!

Podcasting Project

I’m creating a podcast documenting how Canadians think about bodies, health and sport. It will focus on stories of how individuals experienced, thought about or contributed to noteworthy events, social movements and controversies.

Right now I am looking for people who won a “gold crest” or “Award of Excellence” from the Canada Fitness Awards in the 1970s and 1980s. These were a series of tests (shuttle run, 500 and 50 metre run, chin ups) that you may have done in phys ed class as a kid. If you – or people you know – were Canada Fitness Award all-stars, please get in touch!

Please email me at jenny@jennyellison.com with your story.

Not a Canada Fitness Award winner? I’m also looking for folks with memories of other events and programs of the 1970s and 1980s for future work:

• The Canada Home Fitness Test “Fit Kit” (see photo)
• ParticipACTION
• The 1988 Calgary Olympic Games (and especially the theme song “Can You Feel It”)
• Women’s Health Movement Activism

Fit Kit image

Debating Femininity with Nancy Greene

Fifteen for 15 #8

Eight years ago I was seeking permission to use an advertising image of Nancy Greene for an article. Getting permission to use old ads and images is sometimes hard. After getting the run-around from the brand I decided to contact Nancy Greene’s “people” to see if they could help. I found a number and dialed. Greene answered the phone.

I was caught off guard and impressed that Nancy Greene answered her own calls. This was before she was Senator Nancy Greene. But still. Greene was named Canada’s “athlete of the century” by the Canadian Press in 1999 because of her gold and silver medals at the 1968 Olympics, World Cup wins in 1967 and 1968 and numerous Canadian titles. She also operates a ski resort in the B.C. interior, Cahilty Lodge, with her husband Al Raine. Greene didn’t seem like someone who would have the time to be answering public inquiries.

True to one of her nicknames, “Nice Nancy,” Greene was down to earth and chatty. I explained that I was looking for permission to use an ad that appeared in Chatelaine for an article on female athletes and femininity. I’m paraphrasing here, but her immediate reaction was a chipper but firm “no, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong.” Greene told me that there wasn’t any need to debate athlete’s femininity or feminization, it was a non-issue and people shouldn’t make a bit deal out of such stuff. She “was what she was” and there was no need for analysis.

The ad in question is one of my favourites from my study of images of female athletes in advertising. It shows three images of Greene, posed in her ski gear, beside a vase of flowers, and in a kicky, striped sleeveless dress. The copy compares two women “Mrs. Raine” and Nancy Greene, and the challenges of keeping their skin hydrated and soft. In the end we learn that Nancy Greene is Mrs. Raine! It employs a common trope of pre-2000s images of athletes: comparing their sport with other more stereotypically feminine activities. You can see and read more about these ads here.

Nancy Greene at Sun Peaks in 2000. Public Domain.
Nancy Greene (2000). Public Domain.

I was taken aback when Greene told me flat-out that I was wrong to study female athletes and femininity. I can’t remember what I said in response to her challenge, other than stammering out a meek defense of my research. Looking back I can see this as the first time one of my research participants challenged the academic process. I now know this is a common experience when writing about living people. They talk back.

Greene chuckled at my reply and then agreed to let me use the image. Cool, right?

Last week I was in Banff, Alberta and saw a panel about Greene in a display about Canada’s best skiers. She was one of only a few women featured. It made me think back to our phone conversation. At the time I felt charmed by Greene but unsettled that she didn’t want to talk about the gender dynamics of sport. Since I hadn’t expected to talk to Greene I had not thought about what she might say if she learned I was analyzing her public image. After reading Silken Laumann’s biography I can see that such inquiries probably hit a bit too close to home or are perceived to take away from an athlete’s accomplishments.

Off the ski hill Greene was known as “Nice Nancy,” but on the slopes she was called “Tiger” because of her aggressive skiing style. That this all happened in the late-1960s and early 1970s when femininity as subject for public debate is interesting. This was the era of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and a time when female athletes successfully lobbied for a women’s program within Sport Canada. Greene didn’t see herself as a sports feminist and didn’t join other female athletes in attempting to reform Canada’s sport system. But she still helped advance women’s sport in Canada because of what she achieved. So in this sense, Greene was right, she “was who she was,” and it worked.

Still, I think the question of femininity is an important part of Nancy Greene’s legacy. The ad was sexist and a relic of the 1970s. It is a lens we can use to understand the past and think about gender representation in the present.

Fifteen for 15 is a series of blog posts I’ve been doing since 2013 about women’s sport in Canada. Inspired by ESPN’s “30 for 30” and “Nine for IX” television documentaries, I’m thinking about athletes, teams and watershed moments in Canadian women’s sport history.

Five Things You Don’t Know About Terry Fox: 27 May 2015

You know he’s a national hero, but what did he add to the national conversation? As he became a hero Canadians were inspired by Terry Fox in ways you might not expect.

Come see me talk at the Toronto Public Library at part of the History Matters lecture series. Danforth-Coxwell Branch, May 27, evening. More details soon.

Research: “Court Aids Terry Fox Fund”

Terry Fox, 12 July 1980. Photo by Jeremy Gilbert. Source: Wikipedia.
Terry Fox, 12 July 1980. Photo by Jeremy Gilbert. Source: Wikipedia.
I’ll be giving a paper on Terry Fox at the Versions of Canada Conference this fall. The paper looks at references to national unity in letters to the Prime Minister, newspaper coverage and House of Commons discussion of Terry Fox during 1980-1981.

After reading hundreds of letters written to Terry’s family, Douglas Coupland wrote, “I thought that after I’d spent a few hours of sifting I’d become immune to the sentiments expressed inside them, but no, I never did and I doubt I ever will.”

I also find this to be true. There is a wealth of love and affection in commentary on Terry Fox that I haven’t encountered in previous archival work. There are, however, also curiosities. In the past I’ve found songs, scrap books, and elaborate plans for fundraisers sent to the government in memory of Terry Fox. The newspaper research is likewise yielding oddities at every turn. This morning’s find is from from The Globe and Mail, October 24, 1980, page 10:

A Kitchener man who pleaded guilty to causing a distrubance at a McDonald’s restaurant was ordered to make $200 restitution to the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope in the name of McDonald’s. Provincial Judge Robert Reilly gave R– M–, 21, a conditional discharge, noting that he had no previous record and was under the influence of liquor when he caused the disturbance.

Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope had officially ended more than a month earlier, but his efforts were still very much on the minds of Canadians in the Fall of 1980. I want to know if it was Judge Robert Reilly or McDonald’s that came up with the plan for a donation to the Marathon of Hope? Is this really legal? I suspect the judge’s decision had something to do with the fact that the convicted man and Fox were close to the same age. Based on other newspaper coverage, I can imagine a stern lecture on hard work, “youth today” and perseverance. Fox was seen as a role model at a time characterized, according to another Globe and Mail editorial, by a “dreary degree of selfishness, nit-picking and meanness observable on so many levels.” For many English-Canadians, Fox was an inspirational story during a crisis in national unity.