Story Excerpts About Childhood Play In Canada

Eric was born in a Saskatchewan farming community in 1933. He was one of four children.

We collected birds eggs and stamps. We were dismally poor so there were no gifts. We made our own events. My best gift was when a kindly neighbor to me for a week to a holiday resort with their family at Watrous Lake. In retrospect, the poorer you were, the less you required or asked for. There was no jealousy – you simply knew your place.

I didn’t have any pets, but times changed – my eight year old brother was allows to have a puppy. We played on my friend’s farm. There were always new adventures. We made toy guns, arrow shooters, etc, and were always playing Cowboys and Indians. We biked six miles to the Saskatchewan River and fooled around a lot. One older boy drowned and that smartened us up a bit. Simply put, every summer day was a day of adventure for pre-teen barefoot boys.

There was unlimited freedom with no adult interference. Nothing was malicious. The garage owner’s son occasionally would steal a pack of cigarettes, so we would include him in the gang. Being from religious families, we couldn’t handle the guilt, and quit that.

We didn’t pretend very much but thought about war a bit, as Harvard Trainers from Saskatoon frequently flew low overhead. Periodically as soldier from town was killed in the war, and that sent a shiver through the town

At age eleven, I developed a severe case of Rheumatic Fever and was quite delirious and vividly saw angels sitting on my window sill inviting me to come out and play with them. I went to the window, looked back and saw my mother holding me and sobbing something like, ‘Don’t go!’ in German. I told the angels that my mother didn’t want me to go, and went back. The doctor told my mother that I had reached a crisis stage. I later learned that a classmate of mine had died of the same disease at that time. Wow!

It was all fun for us, truly. My biggest happiness at the end of the day was having my mother read to me. Adults generally had little to do with our play, no, they were to busy scratching out a living. Interestingly enough, the town constable seemed to like us and appeared out of the blue. In retrospect, I think he was watching over us.

There were equal numbers of Mennonites, Ukranians and English in town and outside of school we never mixed. Why? I guess we all had our different customs.”

Fred is a child of the early Forties who grew up in suburban North Vancouver. He had one brother and two sisters. Interestingly, his grandfather was a mayor of the City of Vancouver.

It wasn’t until I was 5 years old that my first friend or playmate came along, Peter Caverhill. Up until that time, I operated pretty much on my own.

I was a big-time collector! At age 9 I started collecting items from coins and stamps to items I found in gum packs. I loved collecting cards, particularly baseball cards, and would have them organized into teams, moving them when they were traded, promoted or demoted, all in an aluminum box especially made by my Dad. Often I would cut the grass (with those old mowers you pushed by hand) to earn 5 cents to buy a pack of cards at Burdett’s.

I was never bored or without something to do, despite the fact that we lived in a relatively rural area. One Christmas, I was around 11, my grandfather gave me a New Westminster Royals Hockey Jersey (made to my size!), a pro team he owned. I was blown away by that!

When I was young I would like to go outside and ‘build’ things with spare pieces of wood; I also loved to draw and paint with oils. I wasn’t too big on toys or game-like toys and spent a lot of time playing or throwing a football or baseball and playing road hockey. Because of there being so many hills in our area, bikes were not a big part of my life. Walking was my mode of transportation.

The newspaper and radio were important to me. Starting around age 8 or 9, I would read the ‘Funnies’ (The Phantom, Dick Tracy, Steve Roper, etc), and the sports pages, eager to read box scores, scoring summaries, and to clip out player’s pictures. This was all after my Dad had finished with the papers. I also liked to listen to radio shows such as Roy Rogers, Mark Trail, and the B-Bar-B Riders and during my teens a heavy dose of Rock ‘n Roll.

I still have fond memories of our ‘Hood’: the back lane, Lonsdale down to Windsor or Kings, Burdett’s, the Drugstore across the street run by Mr and Mrs Dwyer – the source of many sporting publications. Occasionally, I would enjoy playing or exploring in the ‘Bush’ or undeveloped sections of our Upper Lonsdale area. I used to build small houses out of pieces of wood I would find.

There was a mantra in our household; it was either, ‘Go outside and play’,or ‘Go and do your homework’. Not that my parents had a particular philosophy on play, I think it was more that they wanted me (or us) out of their hair. But I think that they did have the right attitude. From my experience, this position on the part of parents sets the foundation for one to be able to, throughout life, to generate one’s own recreation and ‘entertainment’. With this headstart, one will likely never be bored or without things to do.”

Frances was born in 1916 in Saskatoon. For a two year she lived in Missouri where her parents were from. The family lived two and a half miles from town and ¾ of a mile from the nearest neighbor. Frances had one brother.

We collected pretty little stones, seashells from the slough, and pretty flowers to press and learn their names. We also had kittens and baby chicks. I played with my doll and my dog. There were 4 mules, 4 or 5 horses, and about 20 cattle on the farm, but I stayed away from them. In winter my brother drove one team of mules for us to school in the sleigh.

My favorite places to play were the corner of the house, close to Mama, and at the swing near where Dad was working. You were told to stay away from the well and the barn. Dad made us each a willow whistle in the spring. In the fall, I dressed-up vegetable marrows as dolls; sometimes I marked a face on them, others not, but it didn’t bother me that Mom cut them up and cooked them.

Some of our biggest thrills were sliding down big snowbanks on a scoop shovel or sled; also wading in the slough; sticking my hand in a woodpecker’s nest in a telegraph pole beside the railroad track – I took out an egg to look at and then put it back. One day I was playing with an empty match box, and my mother gave me a handful of beans to put in it. I played with them all afternoon, counting the different colours, etc.

Behind the cookstove was nice wide space. I put a short bench back there and read books and colored pictures. I drew my own paper dolls, tracing the shapes, then filling in the features.

What gave me the most fun was riding on the swings, playing horse shoes alone, counting things, memorizing poetry and songs, whistling tunes – my brother would play the fiddle if I would whistle the tune first. We could look for hen’s nest in the manger’s and play with kittens on a bedspring above the rafters.

Books had a big influence on my play. My favorites were ‘Freckles’, Jo’s Boys’, and the Anne books. Every little girl identified herself and her friends with the characters in these books, although some of their activities were old fashioned to us, even then.

My brother Joe was always climbing somewhere. He put a steel rod between two trees and wanted us to practice the high wire walk, but I refused to climb up there. I think he fell from it, because he soon lost interest. We got spanked for climbing on the barn roof, so the next day we climbed the 35 foot windmill tower. Joe danced around the platform beside the big wheel, but I clung to the top of the ladder. Next, Joe climbed onto the granary roof, slipped and fell among the pigs. He insisted that he was so badly hurt that I had to drag him to the house in the little wagon.

When school finally started and Joe was away I could play with my doll and think for myself. I put an apple box in a shady spot and had a tea party with pieces of colored glass and broken dishes. Then the dog, my doll and I went to check on the swing. It wasn’t far from there to the shop where Dad was working. He let me turn the blower handle and pound a hammer on the anvil. He also gave me a borax box to learn the alphabet from.

We need to ensure that children explore and enjoy the benefits of a complete education that equally embraces the arts, sciences, mathematics, communication skills, music, physical culture and a knowledge of the world around them We need to recognize the significance of drawing and children’s art as a primary means of communication with others in their world We need to promote dance, music, the arts, poetry, human movement and other aspects of culture as rights of all children

“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” 
Heraclitus, Fragments