Becoming Native in a Foreign Land: Sport, Visual Culture, and Identity in Montreal, 1840–85.


392 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1442-3
DDC 971.4'280042





Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.


Men dressing up is not a normal topic of conversation outside cross-dressing circles, but dressing up is a prime subject in this examination of sport and identity formation in mid-nineteenth century Montreal. Acadia University historian Gillian Poulter plumbs Montreal’s uniquely rich historical visual records and combines them with other archives to provide a ground-breaking study of the ways in which anglophone immigrants turned themselves into Canadians through sports, hunting, and the promotion of organizational activities.


Poulter begins with snowshoeing and the organizations that furthered this activity in the days before salt laid roads bare. The William Notman photographic collections prove invaluable in illustrating the costumes—a synthesis of French-Canadian habitant and Métis dress—that forged common identity among Montreal’s male English-speaking community. Sport hunting—again with its specific outfits—is examined next. Here Notman’s in-studio recreations of supposedly typical hunting scenes emerge as fascinating to the viewer as what actual sport hunting might have looked like. In analysing the emergence of lacrosse, a rough game of indigenous origin, Poulton emphasizes that Montreal’s white, male, and anglophone middle class organized not to form a common identity with Indians but to create a mental and emotional space that excluded women and working classes. In the two remaining substantive chapters the author shifts more fully to an interpretation of the visual as it was represented in Montreal’s winter carnivals and the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. Uniforms and special outfits again abound.


While not long ago historians might have defined identity exclusively in terms of the political (such the Confederation of 1867 underway at this time), more recent research such as Poulton’s reveals the more limited, local, and excusive identities that helped Canadians to situate their lives in the past. As with all studies in which visual evidence weighs heavily, it is sometimes difficult for the author to navigate fully along the line dividing reality from representation, but a postmodern sensibility might be as little concerned with this distinction as with men dressing up.



Poulter, Gillian., “Becoming Native in a Foreign Land: Sport, Visual Culture, and Identity in Montreal, 1840–85.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 25, 2024,