quebec still longs for its lost hockey team a nationalist symbol

Ever since the Quebec Nordiques decamped in 1995, leaving a hole in the Francophone city, vote-seeking officials have vowed to bring them back. But younger voters may be starting to forget the team.

When the Nordiques left Quebec nearly 30 years ago, the hockey team’s departure fueled the kind of mythologizing and nostalgia familiar to fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Nordiques’ stint in Quebec, playing there in the N.H.L. from 1979 to 1995, overlapped with the French-speaking province’s two failed attempts to secede from the rest of Canada, and the team’s identity melded with that of their fans: a linguistic minority struggling to assert itself in a part of the world dominated by English speakers.

The Nordiques wore their politics on their sleeves, literally, putting the Quebec flag’s fleur-de-lis on their uniforms. They also sang Canada’s national anthem only in French.

The team’s exit “left a hole in Quebec City and Quebec regional politics, and a hole in Francophone identity, as well,” said Jean-François Lisée, who led the separatist Parti Québécois from 2016 to 2018, and who is now a columnist for the newspaper Le Devoir.

So ever since the financially ailing Nordiques decamped for Denver, generations of Quebec’s political leaders have sought to bring them back, going as far as building an arena that cost 370 million Canadian dollars (nearly $280 million), even as economic changes have made the team’s return increasingly unlikely.

“People see themselves in a national concept and in a hockey team, or in the memory of a hockey team, and politicians have tried to harness this sense of nationalism for political gains,” said Martin Pâquet, a historian of Quebec at the University of Laval in Quebec. “That’s essentially why they keep calling for the return of the Nordiques.”

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