Doctor of Philosophy
Forsyth, Janice M.
The Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) was a professional North American hockey league that operated from 1911 to 1924. With markets in Victoria, Vancouver, New Westminster, Seattle, and Portland, the bourgeoning league was a viable competitor to the NHA and offered a distinctive approach to the developing sport. Through innovations and rule changes, the PCHA made significant strides in player safety, in line with the vision of “clean” hockey promoted by the league’s founders, Frank and Lester Patrick. In turn, these innovations were represented through newspaper accounts from the period, which helped promote a modern, scientific, and highly-marketable brand of hockey in Western Canada.
This dissertation challenges existing assumptions regarding early professional hockey in Canada and masculinity. I focus on one league, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), and assess the ways that violence was mediated in newspaper reporting. The PCHA promoted a clean and safe version of the game, separate from subsequent iterations of hockey, from the 1930s to the present. Significantly, the league is also considered one of the most important and financially successful forbearers to modern hockey, a game which today features violence as one of its most marked characteristics. However, although many of the PCHA’s innovations have been celebrated as essential to Canadian hockey history, such as player numbers, the blue line, or forward passing, the PCHA’s efforts to curb violence have not been recognized by critics or fans. This project therefore offers a corrective to the longstanding belief that hockey’s violent past was reflective of a widespread acceptance or condonement of violent gameplay.
To accomplish this task, I offer a narrative analysis of twenty-first-century Canadian newsprint, providing a material record of this resistance. This project thus provides a substantive investigation of hockey violence in B.C. newspapers, specifically the Vancouver Sun, Victoria Daily Colonist, and New Westminster Daily News, viewed through the critical lens of representation. By tracing three periods of the league’s development, birth, expansion and experimentation, and decline, I will demonstrate how newspaper reporting of PCHA games helped communicate a new vision of hockey, and hockey violence, that offers an instructive paradigm for the modern game.
Summary for Lay Audience
As a sport, hockey has long been framed as an inherently violent. This violent reputation has been sustained by using history to justify the continuation of fighting, checking, and other forms of in-game trauma. Through repeated claims that hockey’s past is more violent than its present, the resulting narrative falsely suggests that the sport will naturally become “cleaner” with each passing year, so it does not require conscious efforts to mitigate violent play or reduce injury. The material consequences of this pervasive belief have led a concussion crisis at every level of the sport, from youth leagues to the National Hockey League (NHL). But while it is true that hockey violence is an integral aspect of the game’s history, so too are efforts to curb violent play.
Before the formation of the NHL, earlier leagues existed throughout North America. Perhaps the most influential was the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), which was the brainchild of two enterprising lumber heirs: Frank and Lester Patrick, who sought to sell their game to new audiences in Vancouver, Victoria, New Westminster, Seattle, and Portland. From 1911 to 1924, the PCHA was a daring league that pioneered many rule changes and innovations still seen today in modern rinks. This early league, which was described as the fastest and most skilled, also focused on innovating player safety. In this way, the Patricks created a formative model that defies the persisting myth of Canadian hockey history as gloriously violent. The Patricks made a promise that they would better regulate their version of hockey, believing that a cleaner game was a more marketable one. The brothers’ ultimate goal was to attract new fans to their state-of-the-art, artificial ice arenas, the first of their kind on the West coast. To achieve this goal, the Patricks actively employed the most valuable media tool available at the time: newspapers.
Prior to the PCHA, those who lived in British Columbia only learned about hockey through newspaper reports. Readers had encountered violent depictions of the game through these reports from central Canadian newspaper writers, but when West-coast journalists started seeing games for themselves, they experienced the stark realities in person for the first time. Their descriptions excoriated the violence seen on B.C. ice, bolstering the Patrick’s efforts to reduce violent play, and expressing resistance to its role within the game. Ignoring this chapter of hockey history has led to a misunderstanding of the sport itself and its continuing place within Canadian culture. To that end, this project offers a corrective to this longstanding myth through a narrative analysis of twentieth-century newspaper reporting on the PCHA.
Mckee, Taylor, "“Born of a Spirit That Knows No Conquering:” Innovation, Contestation, and Representation in the PCHA, 1911-1924." (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7258.
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