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History of sport in British Columbia to 1885: a chronicle of significant developments and events Swain, Derek Anthony


This paper traces the development of early sporting activities in the province of British Columbia. Contemporary newspapers were scanned to obtain a chronicle of the significant sporting developments and events during the period between the first Fraser River gold rush of 1858 and the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. During this period, it is apparent that certain sports facilitated a rapid expansion of activities when the railway brought thousands of new settlers to the province in the closing years of the century. During the early years of settlement, the physical recreation activities of dances and balls, picnics and sports days, and other festivities provided the community with an opportunity to acquaint itself with new members and customs, while they relaxed in a common leisure persuit. The addition of an element of competition into such day to day activities as hunting, fire-fighting, and occupational trade appear to have lent excitement and enthusiasm to frontier existence. The almost universal enthusiasm for betting or wagering provided an element of anticipation to add further zeal to life. The following activities attained some degree of organization in the region during the 1860s: Billiards, Bowling, Boxing, Canoeing, Gymnastics, Handball, Sailing, Skating and Quoits. By the 1880s, Curling, Cycling, Lacrosse, Sailing, and Tennis had also become established. The major sports during the period were Baseball, Cricket, Football, Horse Racing, Rifle Shooting, Rowing, and Track and Field. Competition in all of these sports was initiated in the early 1860s. With the exception of Baseball, an American derivative of the English 'rounders' these sports were all actively promoted by the Royal Navy, stationed at Esquimalt. Significantly, the officers of the fleet served as models of upper class behaviour and had a marked influence on the emerging colonial society. As representatives of the gentry of England, these officers provided leadership in the sports and activities which were a part of their British heritage. Throughout the period, regular participation in sporting activities was restricted to the wealthy, leisured class. The participation of the majority of the population was limited by long hours of work, which were not significantly reduced until after the period. The completion of the transcontinental railway in 1885, marked a new era for British Columbia and for the history of sport in the province. The huge influx of settlers brought new technology and ideas and radically altered the population distribution within the province. Thus, as the turn of the century approached, many new sports groups were formed to meet the needs of the increased population.

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