In Conversation With an Expert

December 23, 2019

In this session with Dr. Jenny Ellison, first-ever Curator of Sports and Leisure at the Canadian Museum of History, we look at the importance of sports and leisure to social history collections, and how these activities inform our national narrative.

Many people don’t think of sports and leisure as social history. How did you decide to make this area your specialty?
Topics that people don’t think of as historical often spark the most interesting conversations about the past. Sports and leisure-time activities offer insight into how we play, and what we consume. They are a big part of Canadian popular culture.

What insights do you feel sports and leisure offer into a country’s national story?
Sports help us to understand our shared national experience, while also allowing us to explore complex issues such as gender, race and regionalism.

You are currently researching the history of the wildly successful made-in-Canada board game Trivial Pursuit. Why that game?
We recently acquired a collection from one of the game’s original investors, with some great behind-the-scene documentation. Although it’s obviously a great Canadian success story, Trivial Pursuit also arguably transformed the nature of board games for adults — particularly for baby boomers. I want to understand why it was so popular.

Do you have any favourite objects in the Museum’s collection?
In the Trivial Pursuit collection, there are original advertising posters drawn by the political cartoonist Aislin. One of them shows [American President Richard] Nixon nailed to the wall by a history book, with the caption, “You lived through it. . . now try and remember it.” It captures the playful and anti-establishment tone of the game, and — of course — I like the reference to history.

What kinds of stories do you hope the Museum will continue to tell in the areas of sports and leisure?
Stories that connect with Canadians’ experiences of sports and leisure, whether as players, fans or consumers. The Museum has a lot of important material in this area, and my goal is to build upon this by preserving stories that will matter to future generations.