Pastimes of Yesteryear, 1840-1867

 

Introduction

Michèle Dagenais, Université de Montréal, 2003

When did leisure time make its first appearance? How did it develop in the Canadian context? In truth, there has always been leisure. The desire to relax and have fun has almost always existed, although the ways people amuse themselves have definitely changed. Leisure as we now know it first developed in Canadian cities in the 1840s, when industrialization and mechanization completely revolutionized people's relationship with time. Industries introduced fixed working hours, which created time for recreation and transformed leisure activities.

The rapid growth of urban populations towards the middle of the 19th century also favoured the development of leisure. Travelling shows like panoramas, living curiosities and the circus became more common. Plays and concerts were performed in the big cities. Physical activity also gained in popularity. In winter the wealthier citizens went for drives in their carriages, organized snowshoe outings or enjoyed curling. In summer green lawns were used for lacrosse, cricket and soon baseball.

What were the most popular activities then? Did everyone-men and women, young and old, rich and poor alike-enjoy the same pastimes? In each era, people have amused themselves differently. Between 1840 and 1870, not everyone could afford to have fun. Although some activities were more accessible than others, recreational pastimes were mainly the preserve of the well-off and were organized to meet their needs.