- Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900–1967
In the first decades of the twentieth century, amusement parks and seaside resorts such as Coney Island in New York and Blackpool in northern England became ideal destinations for a respite from the demands of modern industrial life. The cool air and “carnivalesque” nature of these seascapes drew a variety of pleasure-seekers hoping to refresh their minds and bodies. Though the elite practice of “taking the waters” had been popular for centuries, by the 1900s, similar excursions were being commoditized and commercialized for a genteel middle-class. Sites such as Coney Island, Blackpool, and even Winnipeg Beach, as Dale Barbour’s study illustrates, became ideal attractions because they combined nature and leisure into an attractive package located a short (and affordable) train ride away.
There have been relatively few histories published in Canada that examine leisure outside of an urban framework. In Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900–1967, Dale Barbour turns his attention specifically to one such place: Winnipeg Beach. Barbour depicts Winnipeg Beach, located on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg, as Canada’s own “Coney Island of the West” (p. 146). He argues that although the site was consciously constructed to be a playground for the elite, it increasingly became a “boundary zone” (p. 7) where social mores entered a state of temporary flux. He finds that many of the legacies of early twentieth century Canada, such as the blossoming of a distinct youth culture, mass consumption and consumerism, and a nervous awareness of the “other” converged at Winnipeg Beach.
Winnipeg Beach is comprised of four chapters that are structured chronologically and thematically. Barbour begins by exploring the central role that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) played in transforming Winnipeg Beach into a tourist destination and facilitating travel to and from the resort town. In the early 1900s, as Winnipeg was in the midst of an economic boom, social up-and-comers yearned for a restful counterpart to the hustle and bustle of urban life. Located approximately an hour north of the city, Winnipeg Beach proved to be an ideal location for such retreat because it was easily accessible and virtually untouched by “modern” life. In 1901, the CPR, recognizing the economic potential of Lake Winnipeg, began promoting an image of Winnipeg Beach that catered to the desires of the “respectable” classes. A trip to the Beach, the CPR advertised, would provide visitors with a multitude of amusements both natural and human-made. [End Page 195]
This newly created tourist infrastructure welcomed visitors to the town. But it also reminded them that societal norms pertaining to age, gender, class, race, and ethnicity were being simultaneously reinforced and reconfigured at Winnipeg Beach. In its early years, the site operated as an extension of Winnipeg itself. It was a place where vacationing wives and children eagerly anticipated the weekend arrival of their white-collar husbands and fathers. These people often maintained exclusive social circles within the privacy of their rented cottages. Teenagers and young adults used the town for courting purposes and hoped to forge romantic attachments with one of the many people who frequented the beach. Outside the confines of their parents’ cottages, these prospective lovers found sexual freedom at the midway and on the pier. Though white heterosexual experiences dominate the study, Barbour balances these histories by including the perspectives of marginalized tourists such as homosexuals who also found a degree of sexual freedom at the beach. Although a more nuanced discussion of homosexual behaviour would have been welcome, it is certainly understandable that such intimate details are few and far between for this period. Jewish tourists, in contrast to the discrimination they often faced in Winnipeg, found that their tourist dollars often were more important than religion, ethnicity, or race. Meanwhile less affluent men and women found ample employment opportunities in the local businesses that served the tourist industry.
Throughout Winnipeg Beach, Barbour endeavours to show how this “leisure zone” (pp. 11–12) on Lake...