Canadian Children's Activities

Figure 1.--This little French Canadian boy in Quebec City is practicing the piano in 1950. He wears a button-on outfit and long stockings. His little brother sems to be waiting on him so they can go outdors and play. Notice the vert typical wuntr cap and skates. The photographer was Paul Driscoll. Click on the image for another photograph of the boys.

A particularly interesting topic connected with child hood is the activities that children pursued. Of course play is most associated with childhood, but until the 20th century work was very important. We begin to see scgool becoming important in the 19th century. photoWe have some historical information, but with the innovation of amateur photography and the snapshot, suddenly we bgin to lear a great deal in the 20th century. There are costumes, uniforms, and other clothing associated with a variety of activities. Here we have just begun to collect information on the activities pursued by Canadian boys and the clothing associated with these activities. We have some limited information on choirs, play, religious observation, schools, youth groups and other activities.


Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medevil era. Canada's bi-cultural tradition shares the heritage of both English and French choirs. England and France share some of the longest traditions of European boy choirs. The choirs in both countries were associated with the church. French choirs were associated with the the Catholic Church. English choirs were associated with the Catholic church until the 16th century and the proscriptions of Henry VIII who seized the monestaries where Englands choirs were primarily based. Afterwards the Anglican church inherited England's choral tradition.


We do not yet know much about dance in Canada. We suspect that trends may be very similar to those in the United States. We note that mothers in the early 20th century seem to have tried to interest boys in dance, but without much success. Here there were social dance lessons. Balet seems to have been almost entirely a girls' activity. Schools often had basic lessons in social dances, commonly as part of physical education. Ethnic groups commonly promoted national dances. Here the most common seem to be the Irish and Scotts. Both were important groups which emigrated to Canada, especially the Scotts. We do not know if English and French Canadians varied as go their interest un dance.


Drama for most choldren an activity normally pursued through school. All schools have drama activities. The younger children do plays where everyone gets invilved. Older youths in high school do drama as an elective. School is not, however, the only drama activity. Subday school and Scouts often put in informal skits and Churches may produce pagents. There are also drama schools that nterested children can attend, rather like dance schools. And of course particularly interested children can get involved with amateur darma societies and productions. Many plays have roles for children so that children who exhibit a talent for drama are often in demand.


We do not yet have much information on Canadian holidays. The standard holidays including New Year, Valentine Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are important in Canada. Interestingly, Queen Victoria's birthday (largely forgotten in England) is celebrated in Canada. The Queen ruled Britain and the Empire longer than any other monarch, from 1837-1901. The Queen was born on May 24, but the celebration is the Monday preceeding May 25. One important holiday is the Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24). This is more than a religious holiday and is a kinf of French Candian national celebration. The primary national holiday is Canada (Confederation) Day and celebrated on July 1. Canadians celebrate it like July 4 in America, but it is not an independence day because the Canadians did not join the American colonists in the Revolutionary War. Rather the Candians celebrate the day the different British North American provinces were combined to form Canada. Canada Day until 1981 was called Dominion Day because on July 1, 1867 the provinces of British North America merged as the Dominion of Canada, a title which Canada still has officially. While Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving like Americans, they celebrate on a different day--the second Monday in October, perhaps because the harvest comes earlier in Canada. (That is the date Columbus Day is held in America.) For children of coutse the most important holiday is Christmas (December 25).


Canadian boys as boys in other countries studied music. Here we have few details, but suspect that the experience was similar to that in the United States. Music in the 19th century for children was was primarily a home experience. Mothers liked their children to take up musicl instruments. They were often more successful with daughters than sons. Home music making change at the end of the 19th century with the invention of the phonograph. Later in the 20th century after World war I (1914-18) came commercial radio. Of course many mothers still encouraged their children to take up music, but the home music envirmonent changed significantly. I'm not sure about music instruction in the schools. Here the photograph of a Canadian boy practicing the piano could have easily been taken in America. Note the Winter cap his little brother is wearing. this was also a popular style in America (figure 1).


We have acquired some images of Canadian boys at play. Historically there were a range of different play activities. There were major differences between rural and urban children. The modern fixation on sports is a relatively modern development. We have noted few destinctive clothing styles associated with play activities in Canada. Of course Canada's northern location means that winter sports and activities are more important than in many other countries. The images seem similar to American boys. In fact, unless the images are identified we could not have known that thy were Canadian and would have assumed that they were American. Both the clothing and activities are very similar.


Canada has a varied religious heritage. The country was founded by Catholic France. It was then conquered by the English with their Anglican religion. The Scoots with their own Prtotestant religious tradition played an important part in the early history of British Canada, both in Montreal and Nova Scotia. The Catholic Church became more diverse in the 19th century with the arrival of Irish Catholics beginning in the 1840s as a result of the Potato Famine. We are just begining our assessment of religion in Canada, but have some information on Canadian First Communions.


United states, Canadian boys have not traditionally worn school uniforms. We suspect that it would be difficult to tell images of French and American school children apart just by looking at them. Availanle images show boys at the turn of the century wearing kneepants and long stockings with a wide range of caps, shirts, and jackets. We suspect that most boys by the 1950s would have worn knickers to school. Some private schools may have adopted English style school uniforms. The Catholic schools are especially important in Canada, especially in French-speaking Quebec. Boys there never seenm to have worn smocks as in France itself. Nor did boys at parochial schools wear uniforms, at least in the early 20th century.


The most popular sport in Canada is ice hockey and many Canadian boys play the sport. The Canadians maintain that ice hockey actually originated in Canada. Despite the fact that Canada was a British colony, Canadians appear to have pursued American sports like baseball, basketball, and football more than British sports like cricket and soccer. We notice both French-Canandian as well as English-Canadian boys playing sports like baseball. We do not know if there was any difference between the French and English community as to sports. We do not know if experiences such as Little League Baseball and beginning in the 1970s soccer leagues were also common in Canada.

Youth Groups

The only Canadioan youth group that we have information on at this time is the Boy Scouts which were founded in 1907. Canadian Scouts adopted Baden Powell's British Scouting program. The Scouts as in many countries was the principal boys uniformed youth group. As Canada was a British Empire country, there must have also been a Boys' Brigade program, but we do not yet have any infornation about it.


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Created: July 26, 2003
Last updated: 3:52 AM 1/18/2008