Where were you when Henderson scored?

In his public lecture for the VIU Arts and Humanities colloquium series on Sept. 21, Dr. Timothy Lewis will divulge how the simple question is one that defines Canadian history. The 1972 Canada—Soviet Union Summit Series was an event that represented more than national athletic achievement, says Dr. Lewis. It was a series that had extreme political significance and nationalistic value, for which we still feel the effects of today. The eight-game tournament was organized by the Trudeau government with the intention of promoting peace and easing the tensions between Canada and Russia in the middle of the Cold War, but as Dr. Lewis will reveal in his lecture, it did much more than serve a political purpose.

Dr. Lewis, who specializes in Atlantic Canadian History, has been teaching a variety of courses in the history department at VIU for six years, including two courses centered on the place of hockey in Canadian identity. He has been passionate about the ’72 series since he watched it unfold when he was still in elementary school and watched Paul Henderson score the winning goal on television. Like millions of other Canadians, he can still clearly remember the moment the puck left Henderson’s stick and crossed the line with only 34 seconds left in the final game of the series, earning Canada’s victory over the Soviet Union and the glory of a winning title. During his lecture, Dr. Lewis will explore three main themes that help to classify the ’72 Summit Series as one of the most joyful moments in history for those who witnessed it, and explain why it continues to be one of the most powerful events in Canadian culture to this day.

The first major area Dr. Lewis will discuss is the important role hockey has played, and continues to play, in Canadian culture. He will explore the “passionate and personal connection” Canadians had to hockey prior to 1972, and how the value for the sport as an element of national identity impacted the reception and the expectations of the Canada–Soviet Union Summit Series. He will also look at the way in which the ’72 Series continues to effect the development of hockey as a deeply nationalistic game and why the team is still celebrated and recognized for their success as a group who were able to secure an internationally recognized place in Canadian character.

The political context of the series is another major feature Dr. Lewis will identify as an element that made the event a crucial moment for Canadians. As he will explore in his presentation, the series took place during one of the most strained periods between the East and the West in world history, the Cold War. Because of the political overtones, Dr. Lewis says there was much more than athletic achievement riding on the games. When Canada didn’t immediately wipe out the Russians as was widely expected, he says some people began questioning not only the merit of the team, but of the government as well. Each of team Canada’s victories or losses was considered by many as an achievement or a failure of the country, adding up towards points for either democracy or communism. The political weight carried by the outcome of the tournament added a new level of intensity that was felt not only by both nations, but by the entirety of the East and West.

Finally, Dr. Lewis will examine the way Canada was united by the event through multimedia sources. Because of the constant coverage from television, radio, and newspapers, Dr. Lewis says Henderson’s winning goal was a collective moment for Canadian citizens. As he will explore in his presentation, the series joined Canadians in a unique and rare way. The tournament, which lasted 27 days, was a “rollercoaster of emotion” which all Canadians rode at some point, and Dr. Lewis says each individual game was like an episode in a dramatic narrative. He will discuss the passion of both the Canadian fans and players, and how at times the two clashed, resulting in trademark moments such as Phil Esposito’s famous speech, which Dr. Lewis calls a “plea to the nation” that allied the country all over again.

Using resources such as The ’72 Project, a compilation of fan memories dedicated to the Canada–Soviet Union Summit Series, in his lecture Dr. Lewis will renew the passion that was felt across the nation during the tournament when everything seemed to come together at once. As he will explore, the series was an answer to the question of Canadian identity. It was a battle in the middle of the Cold War. It was a unification of a diverse population, a shared moment that is still held by many people around Canada and the world today. Now, 40 years later, the event is still one that holds great significance for many Canadians who remember seeing it happen. It is a chapter in Canadian history younger generations can continue to consider as a vital moment of national pride.

The presentation will take place Sept. 21, 10–11:30 a.m. in the Malaspina Theatre (bldg. 310) at the VIU Nanaimo campus. Both VIU students and members of the community are encouraged to attend, and admission is free. Following the lecture, there will be a discussion session, and refreshments will be provided.

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