The 2010 Olympics

The 2010 Olympics, as we know, took place in Vancouver and changed the opinion of Canada for the world and Canadians alike. In perhaps surprising fashion, the streets of downtown Vancouver were packed with a sea of red and white. Canadians, not known for their vocal patriotism, collectively let their voices be heard in a fashion not seen very often. There are very few things that unify Canada from coast to coast. The Olympics were evidentially one of them. However, it strikes me as interesting that one of the few things that unifies Canada as a country is sports. While other countries have citizens with strong patriotism due to religious, political, and geographical similarities, this is not the case with our country. With very little unifying measures in this country, the Olympics became that one thing that all Canadians could support. Canadians from Halifax to Vancouver were in support of the Canadian athletes. A Canadian victory in mens hockey seemed to be a matter of life and death for many of us. With one common goal to cheer for, the success of our athletes, many took the opportunity to use the Olympics as a chance to appropriately express their patriotism.It is for this reason that Canadians took such joy and pleasure in celebrating the accomplishments of our athletes, because it wasn't just an event that was a showcase of the talented athletes around the world, but a display by Canadians of their support and love for their country.


Canadians are usually quiet in regards to nationalistic pride, but during the 2010 Winter Games that all changed.  Canadians went wild, and the mitten’s came out! The Red Olympic mittens were the novelty item of the games, a must have at every Olympic event, street gathering, or just walking home from school; those mittens were must haves, despite the unseasonable warmth outside. 
The popularity of the mittens crept up on Vancouver and it’s visitors, selling out fast and exploding on the streets just in time for the Opening Ceremonies.  Canada’s usual subtle nationalistic pride was now held in the palms of everyone’s hands.  And while it’s arguable that the mittens played only a fraction of Canada’s visible patriotism, national pride was literally written all over Canadian’s sleeves.  Canadian apparel is now a staple to every proud Vancouverites wardrobe, with some bold Canadian’s terming our HBC Official Olympic attire as “lumberjack chic.”
What’s the significance of having Canada written across your chest, or covering yourself head to toe in Red, or painting the very difficult to draw maple leaf across your face?  In doing this, without using verbal words, Canadian’s are showing pride and support for their athletes and are taking ownership for their country.  Why else would someone wrap a flag around their shoulders and run around Robson Square if they didn’t feel some sort of pride for their country (this is assuming they are sober of course)?  This is the opportunity that Canadians needed to express pride that is so often hidden by stereotyped humbleness.
 Viewers from around the world witnessed Canadian’s turning up in massive crowds forming a seas of red.  And while standing within one of these seas of red, a Canadian was part of something monumental.  They were part of the Canadian experience of celebration.  One proud Canadian could identify another by the way one carried him or herself. Mittens? Check. Red Shirt? Check. Toque? Check. Proudly Canadian.  The Canadian identity is more than red mittens and maple leaves; it’s the collective gathering of peoples quietly demonstrating their pride in being part of a country where before being vocally prideful would have been going against the grain of expected Canadian behaviour.
Previously, Canadians wore the flag proudly sew to luggage when traveling to differ us from our American neighbours, but now we proudly bear our flag to commemorate the significance of our Gold achievements, the excitement of the games, and to quietly say, “Yes, I am Canadian.”

This is Our Game

The moment Canadian’s learned that Vancouver would be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games they expected to be winning Gold. The Own the Podium campaign was introduced and high expectations were set for Canadian athletes. However, without a doubt the greatest expectation was put on the shoulders of the women and men’s hockey teams. Gold was expected years in advance, and the pressure was on. Hockey is Canada’s Game, and we wanted the world to know.
Perhaps the greatest rivalry on the ice comes down to Canada vs. USA. There is nothing more satisfying for the Canadian hockey fan than beating the US, especially on home ice. Perhaps this comes down to the Canadian desire for separation from the American identity, but it might also just be friendly competition. The fact is, Canadian’s hate being identified and compared to American’s and its played right out into the sport of Hockey.
The tag line for Coca Cola’s This is Our Game campaign, “Let’s make sure, everyone knows, whose game they’re playing” is another sign of the intense pressure placed upon the Canadian hockey players; the audience is roaring with exciting and are beaming with national pride. Canadian’s take pride for being the best in the sport of hockey.
Of course, in Vancouver 2010 Canada won gold medals in both the men and women’s hockey and the country went wild. On February 28th, the Canadian men met with the American team and it was a nail-biter. The stakes were high, Gold was expected, and failure was not an option. The biggest game in Canadian history was highly anticipated. And everyone’s greatest fear was what would happen if we lost? Would it be a blow to our national pride, would sadness envelope the city, would blame be cast upon our players and coaches, or would Vancouver riot? When hockey happens, it’s not “the Team” and us, it’s “we.” Individual Canadians take so much pride in their teams they accompany their failures as their own, and the win’s as country success. When Canada won the Gold, the city erupted, and Canadian’s have never been so proud. We take ownership for our teams and our athletes and what happens on the ice is the collective effort of all Hockey loving Canadians. And while it seems far stretched that every hockey fan can feel the significance of winning Olympic Gold, Canadian’s take a pride in winning because so many Canadians enjoy the sport and participate whether it’s an NHL dream, or a hockey mom, or even the zambonie driver, individuals from across the country connect to this sport in a very personal way and “it’s a passion that brings Canada together.”
Now not all Canadian’s love hockey, and the center their lives around center ice, but for those who do it’s sacred. Hockey is coming together for the love of the game, for the love of the team and for the love of country, and for some its just the “the most fun thing anyone could imagine.” From Hockey Night in Canada, to playing on frozen lakes, to Tim Horton’s commercials, the sport of hockey is embedded into the Canadian identity.

Watch Harper talk Hockey

Dissecting Vancouver's Mascots

      Miga, Sumi, Quatchi, and to a lesser degree, MukMuk: these are the Vancouver 2010 Olympic mascots. Upon their unveiling in 2007 by designer Leo Obstbaum, they caused quite a stir, with responses ranging from confused outrage to outright glee - at least on the part of younger Canadians. Jeff Lee, in his December 17th, 2007 article, suggests that we "forget for just a moment that [we] are adult readers with adult ideas of what the [mascots] should look and act like", and goes on to describe the outbursts of joy evoked from the elementary-school audience at the mascots' official unveiling. "Oh, Miga. She's just so huggable. And she dances so well!" exclaims eight year-old Chantal Brasad, and of course she's right, but, there's a lot more to be said here. Like all Olympic promotional material, our resident Sea-Bear, Spirit, Sasquatch and marmot all bear a message. They are designed as representatives not only of the games, but of Canada as a whole. As such, they must be examined closely to distill what it is they have to say concerning Canadian identity, and whether or not these animals have anything new to tell us about the character of our home and native land.

      To start, the quartet's physical appearance is anything if not striking. Described as anime-influenced as often as they are First Nations-influenced, the mascots clearly make an appeal to younger Canadians -– they are mascots, after all. With their bright, clean vector colouring and passively welcoming eyes, the mascots are depicted with minimal detail; they are anonymous and friendy creatures meant to appeal to as wide a cultural demographic as possible, while retaining a trendy Asian influence and local First Nations styling. Their facial expressions are clear, distinct and simple: as in Chester Brown's "Louis Riel", they utilize masking to appeal to a universal ethnic audience, and their status as images to promote maximum identification. They are universally welcoming and never speak: the perfect omniglot international hosts. Though I will deal with their backstories shortly, on a purely aesthetic level (perhaps barring Quatchi's tattoo), the quartet is utterly inoffensive – though in an unfortunate Polish newspaper mixup, they happened fit remarkably well alongside Japan's re-appropriated "Safety Bear". In their official promotional photo each waves calmly, their black eyes never betraying excitement, fear or discontent; they are never angry, competitive, rude or in any other confrontational state. Miga, the most active of the three, dances on occasion, Quatchi is known to play goalie. In their aesthetic appearance as much as their actions, our Olympic mascots portray the exact sort of politeness that Canadians are known for as much as their passivity: for better or worse, the quartet of Olympic mascots embody the stereotype of the quiet, polite Canadian better than any Canadian possibly could. They support a Canadian Identity of non-confrontationalism: they are not 1996's flamboyant Izzy, though they bear uncanny similarities to Sydney's 2000 summer Olympic creatures. They are certainly not Sarajevo's 1984 mascot VĂ»cko the Courageous Wolf: they are the stereotype of calm Canadian achievement, welcoming visitors with a silent wave even as the nation itself explodes into excitement.    

    Abstracting away from a purely aesthetic interpretation, the backgrounds assigned to each mascot, and thereby the justification for their chimeric appearance, are also hugely important in understanding the sort of statement implicit to our set of poly-animals. It is no secret that the mascots are influenced by native culture, however the extent to which each mascot's form is justified and explicated has been somewhat less publicized. From a Global TV article referencing the official Vanoc statements, Quatchi the sasquatch represents both "the woman-of-the-woods (a slightly fearsome figure [used] to discipline young children) and a man-of-the-woods (a shy giant who lurks in forests". Miga, the sea-bear "lives in the ocean with her family pod" and is inspired by "legends of the Pacific Northwest First Nations tales of orca whales that transform into bears ...  turned white by Raven to remind people of the Ice Age." Sumi, the "Animal Spirit" (comprised variously of a fox, orca, thunderbird and black bear) is named after "the Salish word "sumesh," which means guardian spirit", and is derived from "connections and kinship between the human, animal and spirit world" in West Coast First Nations lore. MukMuk is simply "muckamuck, the chinook jargon for food, because he loves to eat", and is considerably less emphasized. Though artist Leo Obstbaum (now deceased) has come under fire for mis-appropriation of native fables (though of Haida descent), what emerges from the characterization of these four not only an attempt at a healthy respect of British Columbia's native community, but a fixation on the natural, the inexorable connection between landscape and Canadian identity we experience in "The Innocent Traveler" and "Emily of New Moon". The Canadian identity as implied by these three is one of a distinct connection with the animal and natural world, of an embracing and worship of our natural surroundings as integral to a positive and self-contained sort of self-identification. 

    To closely analyze the Vancouver 2010 Olympic mascots is to encounter the same sorts of themes recognized in Canadian literature, comedy and the popular foreign perspective: the mascots are defining Canada positively and in reference to no other nation. The Canadian identity they perform is one of a passive politeness and non-confrontationalism intricately sewn into an intimate connection with our natural surroundings; we are presented as welcoming of others, quietly proud of our own, and intensely connected to our natural landscape and First Nations roots. The degree to which these hold true, or do not, is the degree to which Quatchi, Miga and friends can be said to either embody the reality of the Canadian identity, or an idealized form of it. 

The Biographies of our Olympic mascots

Children adore Quatchi, Miga and Sumi. Parents bewildered.

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