Don Cherry: Canadian Patriot


Since I am off to Canada quite soon, I have decided to do a post about the country’s most prominent patriot, the legendary Don Cherry.

For anyone who doesn’t know, hockey is a Canadian obsession. By coaching the NHL’s Boston Bruins (with its legendary player Bobby Orr), Cherry managed to earn himself a footnote in the national myth. He expanded upon that by being sports commentator for CBC and growling the macho catchphrase “Rock em, sock em!”

Slowly but tenaciously, Grapes, as he is known, took up his place beside Pierre Trudeau and Wayne Gretzky as a national cultural icon.

… So why the cult of Cherry? The truth is that if Don had been born an American, he would probably have sunk without a trace. What matters is the way he contradicts Canadian notions of national identity: the way he flatly ignores his country’s reactive, introverted, intellectual, multicultural, ironic, anti-American wilderness mythos; the way he chooses to forthrightly pursue an unusual, viking version of Canadian nationalism. Those are what matter, because Cherry speaks directly for a mythic, beer-fuelled, hockey-obsessed common Canadian male. In doing so, some might argue that he simultaneously acts as a jaw-dropping curio for the rest of the nation.

Some key elements in the Don Cherry phenomenon:

1. Staunch patriotism (fighting for the underdog):

2. Occasional absurdist old school sexism (“You women are gonna get mad at me out there”):

3. Willingness to be a sport and make techno records (a bit like a Canadian Muhamed Al Fayed):

4. He can effortlessly wear a pink suit (while retaining his mythic aura of masculine power):

In a sense, then, Cherry’s mythos centres around the strained couplet of “Canadian patriotism”; a phrase that seems contradictory in the context of a country defined by its subdued multiculturalist humanism. When read in that way, his hypermasculinity arguably articulates a sense of national insecurity that can only be quelled, temporarily, by talk of past victory and present braggadacio.

As Cherry’s own commentator said, “He often has awkward moments, because he invites them.”