Two Minutes for Reading so Good

Holman's latest historical epic brings him into Society

Two Minutes for Reading so Good

Greg Oliver

Holman's latest historical epic brings him into Society

Posted November 09, 2020

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A Hotly Contested Affair


A long-time academic, Andrew C. Holman's knowledge of the Champlain Society was greater than the average person. He'd spent plenty of time in libraries already, and an opportunity offered by the Society would result in hours more.

The Champlain Society wanted a hockey book, and tapped Holman on the shoulder, and he hopped over the boards to deliver A Hotly Contested Affair: Hockey in Canada.

“When I was a student and a grad student, we used to have books that were assigned from the Champlain collections. We knew that they produced these nice, handsome volumes that had primary source documents in them,” said Holman over the phone from Plymouth, Massachussets, where he is teaching remotely at Bridgewater State University. “Until recently, they focused on fur trader accounts or missionary accounts or some explorers accounts, that sort of thing—17th, 18th century stuff that had a lot to do with discovery, and a lot to do with the Hudson's Bay company mission.”

The Champlain Society, which was founded in 1905, has a mission “to increase public awareness of, and accessibility to, Canada’s rich store of historical records.”

The hockey book is a major step towards a more populist subject for the Society. “When the editor in chief contacted me three years ago, to ask if I'd be interested in submitting a proposal to do something on hockey, he's a hockey fan. I said, "Yeah, this would be great!' So I jumped at the chance,” said Holman.

It's the sixth book that Holman has written or edited, his fourth hockey book, after Hockey: A Global History (2018, with Stephen Hardy), The Same but Different: Hockey in Quebec (2017, co-edited with Jason Blake), and Canada’s Game: Hockey and Identity (2009).

Given Holman's background in hockey and in academia, the Champlain Society left him in the driver's seat.

“I was free to shape the document, the book, in any way I wanted,” said Holman, who dove right in, and made it a goal to “visit as many archives as possible in person.” His plan was to gather the very best documents, the richest accounts, and “then worry about weeding through them and editing later. And that proved to be useful, in the sense that I proved to myself that we've got such a rich heritage of hockey in Canada that there's documents everywhere, and that there's no possible way that you can comprehend all of them in one volume.”

Holman settled on 10 subjects/chapters, the “aha” moment coming while he was squirreled away at the Brock University Special Collections archives: An Evolutionary Game; A National Banner; An Arena for Commerce; A Cultural Problem; An Essentially Violent Game; A Quest for Order, a Question of Character; Hockey Talk: Communicating the Game; Race and Social Order; A Gendered Endeavour: Women’s and Girls’ Hockey; An International Calling Card.

“There's a lot of documents, printed documents, published documents, I tried to balance that with more archival stuff,” he explained. “That was originally the Champlain Society's mission, was to bring the archives to the people. In the days before online databases and online archives allowed us to peer inside archives from sitting at our desks. That was that was really neat, and novel, and I think it still is pretty much a novel part of what the Champlain Society's mission is.”

Holman gave some thought to how people might read his book. “It's not the kind of book ... that you're gonna sit down and read cover to cover. You're going to pick it up, you're going to open it in one place or open it in another, read a little bit,” he said. Therefore, while he could have woven just about any of the themes throughout—take women's hockey, for example, which hits all the subjects, but instead has a chapter of its own—he broke them out.

He learned along the way. “I thought I knew a little bit, but once you took the thread and start pulling on a sweater, man, the more you pull on it, the more fascinating it becomes.”

It's a tricky line between academic work and making it readable to the average hockey fan.

“It's a handicap when you're reading about subjects like hockey, popular subjects that you want everybody to consume, is that I've been trained as an academic writer, had professors in grad school that try to hammer out casual expression, colloquial expression, that sort of thing,” he said. “When you're writing about hockey, boy, you just want to use some of the colloquialism. So I feel like doing projects like this pushes me to adjust as a writer to be more accessible. And my wife is a pretty good sounding board. When I use words that are too highfalutin, she says, "That's a 50 cent word; why don't you use a 10 cent word here?'”

It's a credit to the Society for taking a chance on a more mainstream topic. “It's really a subject that has been considered for longest time not to be a scholarly subject, and all of a sudden is. They did very well to get two readers of the manuscript, peer review, blind review folks, who are both academics but also huge hockey fans as well. I don't know who they are, I have my suspicions. It was really useful.”

E. Jane Errington, of Kingston, Ontario, was the editor, and Holman said that she was very accommodating. “Not only was I over the word limit they gave me, but I was late too, so I'm the worst kind of writer you can deal with. They were very generous. It's not a subject that I think folks in the Champlain Society are all that familiar with, but they're excited about, they're hockey fans, but maybe their interests aren't right at the nexus of hockey and history. So a lot of this, I think is new to them.”

But hockey is hockey, and it is a universal language in Canada, at least.

Holman believes that A Hotly Contested Affair: Hockey in Canada is a good addition to the bookshelves of a nation.

“It's a humbling feeling too for all of us, when you think you've had the final word on something, and then you think, oh, maybe there's more there and you find that. I've discovered that again and again with this stuff, as authoritative as your stuff might sound, there's always room for more.”



Sad news to report with the passing of author Troy Hull. In late 2017, he self-published Raisin’ Hull – Fame, Fortune and Farming, and I ran a story on it in early 2018: Listen up, it's a Hull of a story

Here's the note from his Facebook page, which says it much better than I ever could.

"Troy's Last Chapter" Posted Upon His Request – By Troy's Best Friend Kelly Martin – Heaven has gained one Hull of an Angel ...

Dear friends,

It is with the greatest of sadness that we have to let all of you know that our funny, wonderful friend Troy has taken his last flight, and written his final chapter ...

It all happened very quickly – just over a period of a few weeks. Troy suddenly became ill around October 12th. His sister Susan and brother Garry flew to the Dominican and brought Troy home on October 17th. Then those words from the Doctor at Cobourg hospital that no one ever wants to hear ... Cancer ... there is nothing we can do. Troy was quite adamant that he did not want people to know he was sick. He didn't want people feeling sorry for him or people being sad and messaging him and to be honest, the whole shock of it all on his family and on me his best friend was beyond comprehension.

Over the past couple of weeks, it was Troy's intention to write what he would call his "Last Chapter". His instructions were that I was to login to his facebook page and post the last chapter when the time came. Sadly, the cancer progressed so quickly that he didn't get a chance to compose his final story for all of you. On November 4th, sitting with Troy in the warm sun on a beautiful patio at Eds Hospice in Cobourg, he couldn't walk nor speak too well, he was on Morphine but he wanted a red wine and a smoke and his wish was granted. I said to him; Troy, you didn't write your last chapter. He said, no Kelly I didn't but I know you can write it for me."

I'm no writer, just Troy's book illustrator and partner in crime, so I thought about what I could say that would describe him best and his mom and I were sitting there and she said, I think Frank Sinatra ... "I did it my way", describes Troy and I totally agree as did Troy and thought that is a great last chapter. So dear friends, this is from Troy. He lived such a full life and he had so many friends. To know him was to love him. If you didn't know him he sold you his book so you would know him!!! On November 6th 2020 surrounded by his family, he passed peacefully and this song was played in his final hour.

We are all blessed to have crossed his path and had our time with him whether in person or through the pages of Raisin' Hull the Book. He loved life and he loved you, his friends.

As Troy would always write when autographing his book ... All my Best ... Troy

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