Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

The Labours of Leisure: Work and Workers at the Annual Encampments of the American Canoe Association, 1880-1910

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

The Labours of Leisure: Work and Workers at the Annual Encampments of the American Canoe Association, 1880-1910

Article excerpt

THE LATE 19TH CENTURY witnessed an explosion of interest in canoeing as sport, recreation, and leisure in Canada, the United States, and Britain. One of the enduring legacies of the "canoe boom" was the American Canoe Association (ACA), a transnational organization established in 1880 to "unite all amateur canoeists for the purpose of pleasure, health, or exploration." Annual meetings were central to realizing this mission. For two weeks in August, hundreds of enthusiasts from Canada and the United States came together to camp out, socialize, and race canoes. The encampments would not have occurred--or at the very least they would have looked drastically different--without the carpenters, cooks, servers, performers, and general labourers the organization hired to do the heavy work of construction, maintenance, and service. In spite of their importance, these workers exist, at best, on the margins of the official accounts of the meets; in most cases, they are altogether ignored. Recovery of this labouring past is difficult, and admittedly fragmentary. However, it is critical to the history of labour and of sport.

LA FIN DU 19eme SIECLE a vu une explosion d'interet dans le canoe comme un sport, une recreation et des loisirs au Canada, aux Etats-Unis et en GrandeBretagne. L'un des heritages durables du << boom canoe >> a ete l'American Canoe Association (ACA), une organisation transnationale fondee en 1880 a << unir tous les canoeistes amateurs pour le plaisir, la sante ou l'exploration. >> Les reunions annuelles etaient au centre de la realisation cette mission. Pendant deux semaines en aout, des centaines de passionnes du Canada et des Etats Unis se sont reunis pour camper, socialiser, et faire des canots de course. Les campements n'auraient pas eu lieu--ou tout au moins, ils auraient pu etre radicalement differents--sans les charpentiers, les cuisiniers, les serveurs, les interpretes et les travailleurs que l'organisation a embauches pour faire de gros travaux de construction, d'entretien et de service. En depit de leur importance, ces travailleurs existent, au mieux, sur les marges des comptes officiels de la rencontre, dans la plupart des cas, ils sont tout a fait ignores. La recuperation de ce passe du monde du travail est difficile, et certes fragmentaire. Cependant, il est essentiel a l'histoire du travail et du sport.

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AMONG THE HUNDREDS OF PHOTOGRAPHS that are part of the American Canoe Association (ACA) collection at the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) Library in Cooperstown is an image by amateur photographer George Warder of Springfield, Ohio, taken at the 1887 meeting on Lake Champlain. Entitled "Work and Fun in Camp," the photograph (fig. 1) depicts R.W. Gibson of the Mohican Canoe Club, at work on his boat; the others in the frame wrap themselves in flags and blankets, and strike tableaux-like poses. (1) Although its tone is clearly tongue-in-cheek, the image simultaneously represents the annual regattas and encampments of the ACA as spaces of leisure and of labour. However, it suggests a very narrow understanding of work, defined only as preparation for the canoe races that were the highlight of the yearly events. In other words, the image is silent about the myriad other forms of labour that were necessary to the smooth functioning of the meets.

While not disparaging the efforts of Mr. Gibson and the other canoeists, my concerns in this article are with the work and workers largely excluded from written and photographic accounts of the yearly encampments and regattas of the American Canoe Association. The ACA was founded in 1880 to "unite all amateur canoeists for the purpose of pleasure, health, or exploration." (2) Annual meetings were central to realizing the transnational organization's mission. For two weeks in August, hundreds of enthusiasts from Canada and the United States came together to camp, compete, and socialize. …

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