«This is a sport we all love,» said Sharanjit Sandhra. «But I think that’s only part of the story.»
ABBOTSFORD — A game-worn Vancouver Canucks jersey hangs in the oldest existing Sikh temple in North America.
Part of a new exhibition at the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford, the Manny Malhotra jersey is unlike the artifacts that have previously been displayed in the small museum in the temple’s basement. But set against the white wood beams that were carried to the site on the backs of Sikh settlers in 1911, the jersey does not seem out of place in the least.
It was a favourite of kids who, on Friday, ran among the hockey-related displays at the opening of the museum’s latest exhibition — called We Are Hockey — possibly oblivious to its significance.
“I think kids pick up things by osmosis. They see it, and that’s enough,” said Sharanjit Sandhra, coordinator of the South Asian Studies Institute (SASI) at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Designed to challenge the idea that hockey somehow represents and embodies what it means to be Canadian, the exhibition includes profiles of people of colour who broke barriers in hockey. It also documents their struggles to play the game.
“This is a sport we all love,” said Sandhra. “But I think that’s only part of the story.”
On one wall is the story Larry Kwong, the first player to break the NHL’s “colour barrier.” Beside him is a picture of Beverly Beaver, a Mohawk athlete from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, who sometimes disguised herself as a boy to play with her peers. A special exhibit is devoted to Malhotra, a former Canucks player of South Asian descent who is now on the team’s coaching staff.
But not all of the stories are rooted in the past. On a pole in the centre of the exhibition, the curators have taken an NHL slogan “Hockey is for Everyone” and altered it slightly with a question mark. Below is a selection of racist social media posts directed toward P.K. Subban.
“People have had to pay a very heavy burden to play,” said Sandhra.
In addition to examining past and present, the exhibition looks at both overt and subtle forms of discrimination.
“It’s important to question why hockey is so predominantly white,” said SASI director Satwinder Bains. “If you look at the crowds, the faces of the fans are very diverse, but you don’t really see that reflected on the ice. The evidence is painfully clear. There is an institutionalized or systemic racism at work.”
The exhibition poses heavy questions, but its predominant message is hopeful.
“I think it’s important to recognize the challenges (faced by players of colour) and celebrate their resilience,” said Sandhra. “The idea isn’t to leave you with a heavy heart.”
An entire room in the museum is devoted to the Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition with a broadcast desk and life-sized cut-outs of the commentators. Several of the broadcasters, as well as a representative of the Canucks, attended the exhibition’s opening night.
“I have two boys and we’ve been talking about this and anticipating it for weeks,” said Sandhra. “By highlighting some of these stories, I think we’re amplifying the accepted narrative about hockey in Canada, and we’re making it better.”
The exhibition is free and open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford. It runs for one year.
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