In recognition of Family Literacy Day on January 27, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation celebrates equality and equal access to basic needs as at the heart of the Canadian values. Education starts at a young age, in part thanks to storytelling. Inspired by popular culture, story-telling is a valuable tool for sharing our values.
A story that's often told in the Canadian school system, in both French and English, is Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, published in 1979. Carrier's story tells the tale of a Quebec boy whose mother orders a Montreal Canadiens sweater from the Eaton’s catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater by mistake.
It highlights the rivalry and partisanship between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs that still carries on today. Now a classic of Quebec and Canadian literature, the story was produced as an animated short film by the National Film Board of Canada in 1980.
Roch Carrier, born in Sainte Justine, Quebec in May 1937, is one of the best-known authors in English Canada. Writer, dramatist and poet, The Hockey Sweater is one of his most famous tales.
The story recounts how, although young Roch was an ardent fan of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, his mother made him wear the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater on his neighbourhood ice rink while all the other children were wearing jerseys with the Rocket’s number 9 on the back. "There's a photograph of me wearing the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater and I'm a nice little boy smiling, and people say, 'if you were so disappointed, why are you smiling in the photograph?' Because my mum went out with a Kodak, probably told me, 'Roch, smile, it's a photograph!' and when my mum said smile, you smile!" Maurice Richard later made him a present of a Canadiens hockey sweater with the number 9 and Carrier’s name on the back.
If this book is timeless, it’s because it is considered an allegory of the cultural and linguistic differences between English Canadians and Quebeckers. Over 300,000 copies have been sold. The Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk took the book into space and lines from it were printed on the Canadian five-dollar bill.
This year The Hockey Sweater celebrates its 35th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of its English translation. "I could not imagine anything that happened. Almost every day there is something very nice happening to me because of that story,” Roch Carrier said during an appearance at the International Festival of Authors in Hamilton in November 2014. “It brought me in touch with an incredible number of people and none of those people ever said anything I didn't enjoy hearing. It's not something a marketing company could do. It just happened from people who read the story, remember the story and tell the story to their kids." That is the magic of story-telling and its contribution to the Canadian values that unite us.
The years go by and this children’s story still touches us. It continues to serve as an educational vehicle for transmitting from generation to generation the love of hockey, this national sport that is an inspiration to our society and still showcases the partnership between Canada’s Francophone and Anglophone communities.
Watch The Sweater, animated by Sheldon Cohen and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.