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Stephen Fielding

Stephen Fielding

The John Bullen Prize


Stephen Fielding, “Sporting Multiculturalism: Toronto’s Postwar European Immigrants, Gender, Diaspora, and the Grassroots Making of Canadian Diversity”. PhD dissertation, University of Victoria, 2018

Stephen Fielding’s dissertation opens with a discussion of an iconic photograph taken in Toronto in July 1982. From a rooftop vantage point, we see a massive crowd of flag-waving soccer fans filling several blocks of St. Clair Avenue West to celebrate Italy’s victory in the 1982 World Cup of soccer. Given this unexpected opening, the dissertation might be read as the urban history of one city or as a micro-history of an event. It is those things, but these features are ultimately just the narrative signposts for a multidimensional and richly researched case study of the politics of immigration and multiculturalism in Canada. Focusing on soccer and paying particular attention to the outsized organizational role of Italian immigrants in community and professional sports teams, Fielding turns a seeming paradox into a nuanced historical synthesis by arguing that the competitive pluralism of ethnically segregated immigrant leisure actually strengthened Canadian multiculturalism. He relies on a rich methodological toolkit. Along with a general discussion of immigrant experience, we learn about the complexities of generational transmission of identity, the role of gender in male-dominated forms of immigrant leisure, and the complexities of negotiating norms of civility and rules for the use of public space in a multicultural city. Politicians and public policy are given their due, but the lens on sport also allows Fielding to explore how immigrants themselves produced structures of popular multiculturalism by turning ethnicity into economic opportunity, not just in hospitality but also in radio and television. By the time the account deftly circles back to that summer day in 1982, we have come to understand why terms like “assimilation” and “ethnic minority” can be so misleading. Rather than announcing their segregation, those Italian-flag waving soccer fans were helping to redefine what it means to be Canadian by demonstrating that celebrations of cultural distinctiveness had become mainstream.