Today, Veronica is here to share with us her love of the development of sports and culture in Canada.
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Boys’ high school 50-yard dash at Star Indoor Games in 1985
Something which I always notice and am interested in is how culture reflects society and vice versa. In this post, I want to look specifically at sports, looking at it from a societal perspective, and culture in light of sports trends.
The obvious beginning would be with Indigenous sports, which were present before European contact. Many of these sports helped develop skills related to survival, such as wrestling, archery, spear throwing, and foot and canoe racing, while others had religious significance, such as dancing and lacrosse (which was known as baggataway).
Similarly, Inuit games, such as dogsledding, tug-of-war, and ball games, prepared one for survival. They also aimed to help develop a sense of one’s own tolerance level through games such as arm-pull, leg-wrestling and finger-pull. These sports are a clear example of how sports and society are connected, as they clearly reflect the need for survival, as well as their religious culture.
As Europeans settled in Canada, they brought with them a different culture of sports. While the settlers were mainly occupied with survival, social activities did occur, where sports played a big role. Social gatherings in a pioneer settlement provided a chance for cooperative labour, while also offering opportunities for wrestling, horse racing, and weight-lifting. These sports reflected the need for cooperation and for survival, highlighting abilities such as strength and equestrian skill. Sports figures also began to emerge. For example, Louis Cyr became known for lifting incredible weights. In 1895, in Boston, he lifted on his back a platform with eighteen men, with a total weight of 1967 kg. These feats made Cyr a legend.
1750s to Early 1800s
During the Seven Years’ War (1755–63), an influx of British soldiers and settlers arrived in Canada, bringing with them cricket and equestrian sports, while Scots introduced golfing and curling. Golf did not become an established sport until Confederation, however curling quickly gained popularity. This clearly demonstrates the relationship between sports and society: the large amounts of land (which was also covered in snow and ice for a significant portion of the year) necessary made golfing unaffordable, but curling was easily accessible with Canada’s plentiful winter ice.
By the early 1800s, sports were mainly limited to those in the upper class, who had the time and money to participate. Their eagerness to establish traditional sports from their homelands, as well as adopt new ones, resulted in the establishment of many new sports in Canada.
Sporting events also played a role in society, both bringing together different people, and, at the same time, reinforcing the separate social classes. They provided a mixing ground for different people: city and country dwellers, Europeans and Indigenous, middle class and high class. However, the elite resisted this mixing, and tried to bar the lower classes from these events by erecting fences, charging admission, and creating events for “gentlemen amateurs.”
Pioneer women, meanwhile, were too busy to participate in sports, and when an opportunity presented itself, social conventions deterred women’s participation. However, in the 1850s, this began to change. Female participation in fox hunting, figure skating, snowshoeing, archery, and other sports increased, demonstrating a growing emancipation.
By about the mid-1800s, sports also provided a sense of nationalism and played a major role in developing Canada’s identity. Canadians were at the forefront of the development and popularization of lacrosse, baseball, football, hockey, and basketball. These sports all rapidly evolved, gaining popularity across Canada. By now, lower and middle classes had access to numerous sports, however, they were often still excluded.
In addition, with the rapid development of technology, sports were greatly changed. Improved modes of transportation also carried entire sporting teams to further places to compete. More widely representative associations could be formed and sports became more standardized. The steam-powered printing press and the telegraph brought sports to a wider audience than ever before. In this, one can see how technological trends in society affected an aspect of culture, sports.
With urbanization and industrialization, similar trends in sports continued in the 20th century. Professional sports became major attractions, as industrialization gave people more leisure time to participate in extracurricular activities. Sports spread across Canada with the establishment of leagues, and entire sports developed their own unique cultures. International competition gave Canada a chance to compete against other countries, and provided a sense of national pride. Meanwhile, more women began to participate in sports as they redefined gender roles.
Evidently, parallels can be found between sports and society. By looking at our world through different lens such as this, we can better understand it and the forces which affect us.