Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Daniel Robinson


This dissertation critically analyzes the commercial practices and products of the 1976 Montreal, 1988 Calgary and 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The central questions I ask are: how did the Olympics in Canada become a platform for the intersection of patriotism and consumption? What were the key ideas about Canadian identity, history, and citizenship that Olympic organizers and corporate sponsors promoted? How did commodities symbolize these ideas? Finally, how do these ideas relate to political policies and practices?

This work contributes to an understanding of how branded commodities shape Canadian identity and citizenship norms by arguing that the objects sold during the Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver Olympics embodied unresolved contradictions in the meaning of national identity. Commodities (like mascots, Petro-Canada glassware and Hudson’s Bay Company mittens) represented a version of national identity that glorified European settlement in Canada and obscured the disparity between Indigenous and Settler Canadians’ quality of life. Further, by buying these commodities, Settler Canadians constructed their identity as valued citizens who make important material contributions to the nation. The production, consumption and promotion of branded products helped popularize the idea that reconciliation between Indigenous and Settler Canadians has been achieved when, in fact, it is an ongoing and unfinished process. Moreover, these practices deepened pre-existing conflicts involving land and natural resources in Canada, often at the expense of Indigenous peoples’ interests and well-being.

The research is grounded in material from Olympic archives in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, which I use to conduct the first book-length study of the Olympics hosted in Canada. The theoretical framework that underpins this project is based on Anne McClintock’s conceptualization of fetish and Avery Gordon’s theory of “ghostly hauntings.” McClintock’s work helps explain how commodities can hold together contradictory ideas about Canadian identity while Gordon’s theory provides a basis for understanding how the absence of information (e.g. facts about Canada’s colonial past) can become perceptible or, in her words, “seething absences.” Using this approach, I demonstrate the importance of studying the symbolic significance of Olympic commodities rather than focusing exclusively on Olympic-related sponsorship and marketing practices. I argue that the production, consumption, promotion, and symbolism of the commodities have significant social and political consequences which include: shaping Canadian identity, influencing public knowledge about the nation’s past, intervening in debates about land possession and resource allocation, including and excluding citizens from participation in civic life, educating children and teens about the nation, and influencing reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.