It’s on the back of Canada’s five-dollar bill: the opening lines of Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater”.
That’s how central this story, only four pages long, is to Canadians.
A short story about hockey, a 10-year-old French-Canadian boy’s crowning disappointment, and the cultural tensions between anglophones and francophones: on our money.
If this is all new to you, you can watch the NFB film online (it’s about 10 minutes long) or The Canadian Museum of Civilization has a neat exhibit which includes some audio clips and photographs: these will fill in the gaps.
Or, you could read the story, either in Tundra Books’ illustrated version (artwork by Sheldon Cohen, a Jewish anglophone who was a terrible hockey player) or in this reprinted edition of Roch Carrier’s stories, part of House of Anansi’s A List appearing this autumn.
Or, wait, there’s more: ECW Press published This Sweater Is For You! by Sheldon Cohen this year, which considers the creative process in illustrating and animating “The Hockey Sweater”. (There is also a symphony.)
You get it now, right?
Small number of pages, but a very big deal.
And that line between fiction and reality is blurred once more. Ten-year-old Roch Carrier appears on the Wikipedia page wearing a hockey sweater, years before he authored the story as an adult, and on the backs of our five-dollar bills, children still love to play hockey, just as he did as a boy.
The story is the kind of thing you can imagine being told at a dinner table, or over drinks in the pub: what happens when a francophone boy who is desperately fond of Maurice Richard and the Montreal Canadiens is sent the wrong hockey sweater in an Eaton’s catalogue order, and is forced to wear the sweater of the anglophone favourite, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s a sketch which reminds readers that we often have things in common with others even when we believe them to be completely different; it’s a microcosmic peek at a looming human question.
The other stories in this collection have a similar feel. Though rooted in single personalities or moments, there is a meaning which stretches beyond the particular.
So an Irish nun teaches French Canadian children to read aloud, but with an Irish accent (too close for comfort to the King’s English for many parents in the village). But it’s also about home, community, identity.
A village entrepreneur fills the house with cases of toothpaste, but it’s not about dental hygiene, rather resilience and context. And a story of two fox-farmers is an exploration of honour and loss.
From the Duplessis government to the Eaton’s catalogue, Roch Carrier’s stories are classic Canlit.
The stories are translated by Sheila Fischman (whose translation also appears in the Tundra Books’ illustrated edition), and the A List is a reprint of the 1979 collection but contains an introduction by Dave Bidini. The contents are as follows:
“The Nun Who Returned to Ireland”
“The Machine for Detecting Everything That’s American”
“The Day I Became an Apostate”
“The Month of the Dead”
“Son of a Smaller Hero”
“When the Taxes Split the Roof”
“The Hockey Sweater”
“Foxes Need Fresh Water”
“A Great Hunter”
“What Language Do Bears Speak?”
“Industry in Our Village”
“Perhaps the Trees Do Travel”
“The Good People and the Bad People”
“Do Medals Float on the Ocean?”
“A Secret Lost in the Water”
Day 29 of 45: This project really started with the A List and this is the first of its titles that I’ve chatted about in detail. Thing is, I love a good backlist. Both for the writers whose works I know (like Margaret Atwood and Dennis Lee, in this instance) and those whose works I do not yet know, but they become more appealing by virtue of the company they keep (e.g. Rawi Hage and Lisa Moore). You can see a battered copy of Margaret Atwood’s Survival in this pic, and underneath it, a smashing new A List edition. I won’t be able to squeeze them all in before the end of December, but there is lots of good reading ahead for sure.