Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Robert K. Barney


The Stanley Cup elicits strong emotions related to Canadian national identity despite its association as a professional ice hockey trophy. This strong link between the Cup and Canadian national identity emerged in its creation and donation. Lord Stanley, in addition to his love of ice hockey, donated the Cup partly as a political action. The cup stood as a physical symbol to unite the disparate Canadian population around a new national sport. Given Lord Stanley’s position as Governor General (1888-1893) this donation carried political authority. The purpose of this study is to investigate the donation of the Stanley Cup as a partially political act concerning the construction of a Canadian national identity.

The Canadian State stood at a crossroads concerning the future direction of the country during Lord Stanley’s appointment. The country’s leaders debated over pursuing freer trade and greater connection to the United States, or about pivoting to a stronger, more autonomous role within the British Empire. The debate over Canada’s future directly impacted the proper identification of a ‘Canadian.’ Sport served as an important element to demarcate national identity in Anglo political thought in the nineteenth-century. Specific sports established as national could create cultural unity amongst disunited Canadians. For Lord Stanley, his promotion of ice hockey as a nationally important activity confirmed a particular political argument about the nature of Canadian identity.

The changes in Anglo liberal political thought over the second half of the nineteenth-century underscored this development in Canadian sport history. Classical Liberal philosophy receded in the face of emergent Progressivism or New Liberalism. This transformation left no opponent to the idea that the State held a positive role to promote ambiguous collective aspirations. At a moment when Canadian leaders sought a great national destiny for the Canadian State, the new political environment legitimated the State’s authority to act. When viewed alongside both Canadian national political development and the transformation of Liberal political philosophy, the Stanley Cup serves as a political act of nation building from the highest ranking Canadian political official.