“Oh, oh, oh! This is Canada’s team.”
So says Alan Frew’s “Free to Be,” the signature song of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club since the beginning of last season.
It is, perhaps, the clearest example of an on-going Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) marketing campaign to distinguish the Leafs as being tied to an entire country rather than just the city of Toronto.
The most recent effort to establish the franchise’s national identity came on Wednesday, as the team’s dressing room served as host for a citizenship ceremony welcoming in 30 new Canadians. The ceremony (video of which can be found here) introduced newly minted citizens from all across the world to the country’s most beloved sport.
Ironically, one of the dressing rooms denizens on Wednesday would not have been there if not for hockey. Ramon Cabel, a mechanic from the Philippines, had been seeking work in Canada in order to join his wife, Fe, when he came across a position as a sharpener of Zamboni blades. The Zamboni, which is used to clean ice rinks in preparation for hockey games, might just be the country’s most popular vehicle.
Holding the ceremony in the Leafs’ dressing room represented the on-going push to move ceremonies out of federal buildings and into meaningful cultural hubs to create more of a festive atmosphere and encourage the public to take in the proceedings.
“We want to stress how important citizenship is,” said Cheryl Sleep, Clerk of the Ceremony. “Every one of our ceremonies are open to the public, but it’s hard to get people to come to an office. This is a way of advertising.”
Recently, other Toronto-based citizenship ceremonies have taken place at Casa Loma, Exhibition Place, Rogers Centre and the CN Tower
For MLSE, the ceremony is intended to further intertwine the franchise into the cultural fabric of Canada (whether the country’s five other NHL teams, who were reportedly irked by Frew’s song, like it or not).
At every Leafs home game this season, the national anthem is accompanied by a large Canadian flag and a Maple Leafs flag being draped across a good portion of the crowd. The team also celebrated the home opener by pouring samples taken from bodies of water across Canada onto the ice of the Air Canada Centre, a symbolic gesture to highlight the spread of Leafs Nation from coast to coast. Heck, even the “Leafs Nation” logo comes equipped with a split flag that is half-blue, half-red and white.
Regardless of what people think of the marketing campaign, the 30 Canadian newcomers couldn’t have thought of a better place to be on Wednesday. Already members of one nation, MLSE is hoping that they soon become members of another Nation. It’s a good start.