On a WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON
By Mel Robertson
ONCE AGAIN SUMMER is slipping away and people will be recalling how they spent it. They will remember trips to the lake and to the cottage, trips to the Maritimes, to the West, to the United States and to Europe. Others will recall visits from far off friends such as the international exchange visits. Most memories will be of the speed and ease of travel by air, motor car, ship or rail. Indeed, travel had become so fast and easy that people are no longer interested in hearing about your summer travels unless you have been to Outer Mongolia, Nepal or Antarctica. Soon, with the speed of scientific progress, we will hear people say, "Hey didn't I pass you last week east of the spiral nebula in Orion?"
However, for a moment let us recall a time when, for the lack of planes and motor cars, Burford people were confined to a fairly limited circle and were obliged to make up their own entertainment. There were, of course, the many evening garden parties that I have written about previously, but what about daily entertainment in the summer? It existed, but with certain restrictions.
One of the main restrictions to daylight entertainment and amusement was a vague thing called "The Christian Work Ethic". This was not a set of written instructions but rather a belief that a man was less of a Christian unless he worked from sun up to sun down six days a week with no thoughts of amusement or pleasure. This was important in rural areas before the invention of labour saving devises that did away with the horse-drawn, single-furrow plough, the reaping cradle and other primitive farming devices. Farmers had to follow a long day if they expected to get their farming done. There was nothing wrong with that except for the fact that, for some reason, Christian ethics got mixed up with spreading manure and anyone who did not work a 14 to 18 hour day was thought to be unworthy of celestial consideration. This was similar to the belief that was held during the great cholera epidemic that swept Burford in the 1830s. Then it was believed that the disease affected only people who did not go to church or who made un-Scriptural references when they were kicked by a cow.
When viewed from our 1991 vantage point the long work day our forebears endorsed may seem excessive but there was an even longer work day for women. Men expected big breakfasts that included fresh bread, oatmeal porridge, chops, potatoes, pickles and pie. Thus women had to get up long before men in order to prepare breakfast. I recall several summer vacations at a farm where, after morning prayers, everyone tucked into a big breakfast which included two heaping bowls of oatmeal for each man plus all the trimmings. This was a normal meal that was needed to sustain a man during a long day of hard manual
labour. There was no sitting in air conditioned cabs, pushing buttons and listening to the hi-fi.
One of the less know aspects of the endorsement of the "Christian Work Ethic" was the fact that business men were obliged to work similar hours to accommodate farmers who wanted to obtain goods and services after they had finished their field work. This meant that merchants were obliged to remain open until 10 or 11 at night. It is ironical to note that many farmers who took pride in never doing work on Sunday thought nothing of getting merchants out on Sunday to fulfil their needs. As the son of a local merchant I can recall the frequency with which well-to-do farmers came hammering at our door demanding that my father give them things. "Give" was proper word for maintained that it was not "Christian" to pay for things on Sunday. Thus they created accounts that remain unpaid to this day. My father had strict religious principles and was a very active churchman who read the Bible on Sunday. He found it very annoying to serve people on Sunday who made such a pious thing about not working on that day.
The "Christian Work Ethic" was not confined to farm work for many people in Bur-ford took great exception to any man whose job did not demand a long day. These included bank employees who got off work at 3:00 p.m. and clergymen whose work could not be confined to "regular" hours. The editor of the "Advance" raged constantly at men who could be seen about the street dressed in suits and looking pleasant while other men were working. This animosity was reflected in the dismissal of the accountant at the new Canning Factory because he walked to the post office for the factory mail during office hours. Another indication of this animosity was that any man who appeared "dressed up" during working hours was apt to be greeted with the jibe "Where are you preaching today?" For some reason the editor exempted fishermen from his criticism. This was probably due to the fact that he often went fishing in afternoons after the paper was "put to bed".
When the Burford Board of Trade was formed in about 1903 most of its activity was devoted to better side walks, electric street lights and improved fire protection. However, soon some young businessmen like my father and Alan Kneale began to urge that a Wednesday afternoon half holiday be observed in July and August. They felt that such a mid week pause would enable them to do non-business, around-the-house jobs and enjoy the occasional picnic at the creek. They thought that their suggestion was a reasonable one and were astonished to read editorial suggestion to the effect that such afternoon diversions as tennis and bowling were not only "un-Christian" but (even worse) "unmanly".
"The Brantford Expositor" also opposed Wednesday afternoon half-holidays. However, the Board of Trade persisted in advocating the half-holiday and on June 3,
1909 the "Advance" printed a notice to the effect that as of June 9 all Burford stores would close at 1 p.m. during July and August. This was followed almost immediately by a notice stating that butcher shops would re-open at 7 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons. Presumably this was due to the fact that in 1909 few Burford homes had any refrigeration other than the cellar, and people needed meat for supper.
Burford's step away from normality was greeted by the Brantford "Expositor" with a news item on July 15, 1909 to the effect that whereas the editor was dubious about the benefits to be gained from the Wednesday half holiday he praised Burford for its daring decision. However, Wednesday afternoon closing did not become an automatic thing in Burford. Each year it was debated and needed special large print notices in the paper to announce the starting date and the length of time it would be in effect. Eventually, half day closing was applied all year round without any noticeable decline in church attendance.
So what did Burford businessmen and women do during the "un-Christian" Wednesday afternoon half holiday? Two of the main activities were tennis and lawn bowling. Lawn tennis flourished all over the village. There was a court at the Methodist parsonage on Maple Avenue South, one behind the Royal Bank (now the Township office), one at F.A. Miller's on Maple Avenue North, two at Andrew Miller's (now the Nursing home property) on King Street East, one behind the 1851 building on King Street East, one at C.F. Saunders' (my place) and a couple of other location I cannot recall. These were all grass courts with varying degrees of smoothness but all were in daily use during the summer.
Burford had two tennis clubs - The Alpha Club and the Burford Tennis Club. The Alpha club, which seems to have been composed mainly of Anglicans, was very active with large tennis "teas" which combined tennis, teas and a bit of flirtation. Old pictures of these "teas" show a remarkable number of pretty girls in long white tennis dresses and young men in blazers and white "ducks". Tennis was not the "Serve and Volley" type of tennis we see today. Anything like an overhead smash in a set of mixed doubles was considered to be "un-gentlemanly". A bank manager who tried to introduce the "run and smash" game found it hard to get opponents.
Another popular Wednesday afternoon activity was lawn bowling on the green behind the Royal Bank. This game was introduced into Burford in about 1900 by the Reverend Francis Leigh of the Anglican church, post master and grocer Henry Cox, pharmacist Ernie Burgis and tinsmith George Armstrong. It flourished and soon most Burford businessmen were regular bowlers. The "Advance" editor endorsed bowling and the paper was full of news about tournaments in Norwich, Mt. Pleasant and Scotland as well as the adventures bowlers experienced going to and from these places. One "adventure" captured headlines in July, 1910 when a break down of Charlie Butcher's car delayed the return from Norwich until 9:30 p.m.
The "Advance" editor's bowling enthusiasm lessened some of his opposition on Wednesday afternoon closing and soon he was urging Burford bowlers to practice Wednesday afternoon in order to improve their game. Board of Trade promotion of better fire protection received added encouragement when the editor pointed out that if a water tower was built its water (when not being used to fight fires) could be used to water the bowling green. The campaign for electric street lights received "Advance" support by the suggestion that if street lights were installed it would be easy to run a line for lights on the bowling green. Street lighting was installed and on July 22,
1910 the editor rejoiced in the fact that two strings of 14 lights had been put on the bowling green. He became quite ecstatic about these lights describing the green as looking like "fairyland" with the bowlers "flitting about like fairies". He even suggested that farmers should join the bowling club in order to have a bit of relaxation. However, the editor soon remembered his original opposition to Wednesday afternoon closing by writing that since lights had been installed on the green there was no need for afternoon practise.
With tennis and lawn bowling safely installed as forms of Wednesday afternoon relaxation what did ladies who did not play tennis or bowl, do on a Wednesday afternoon? The answer was that they put on their best long, white, summer dress, unfurled their parasol and went to lawn teas. These events were very popular Wednesday afternoon activities for many years. For example, in 1909 the "lawn tea" season began on June 2 with a "Lavender Tea" on the lawn of Mrs. Nelson Wingrove. Hours were from 3:00 to 5:00 with a good program and "tea". This was followed on Wednesday afternoon, June 26 by a "Rose Tea" on the lawn of Mrs. George Armstrong (Burford Medical Centre). Admission was 10 cents and "instrumental music" was provided. On Wednesday afternoon, July 21 the Alpha Tennis club held a large lawn tea on Mrs. Andrew Miller's lawn and on Aug. 19 the Methodist W.M.S. held a lawn tea on Mrs. Charles' lawn (J. Sutor - King Street West). Here again admission was 10 cents and not only was there "instrumental" music but also speeches by Mrs. J. Baker of Brantford and others.
The "instrumental music" mentioned was usually a string quartet including such fine violinists as Mrs. A.D.C. Luard, Marjorie Cavan and others. Sometimes conservatory-trained singers such as my mother or Mrs. Wm. Maclnally, would sing provided that the men could be persuaded to move the piano onto the Verandah. According to information in old papers and diaries, these Wednesday afternoon teas were very nice affairs with little sit down tables and lots of flowers in vases. They were never advertised as promoting any special cause but were just quiet periods of relaxation and conversation, where, after it was all over, the few dollars raised would be turned over to charity. Lawn teas lasted mtothe 1920s and T can recall, as a child, seeing my mother dressed in a ling, white summer dress and big leghorn hat setting off with her parasol and music to these affairs.
Women who did not play tennis, or go to lawn teas, made lunches of salmon sandwiches and raspberry vinegar and took groups of children to picnics at the creek, telling them stories and making up games as they went along. These were the unmarried "aunts" or friends, who, as unpaid "baby sitters", gave mothers time to take part in other Wednesday afternoon activities.
And so those Wednesday afternoon half holidays passed gently with the swish of tennis racquets, the click of bowling balls and the sound of string music on the lawn. Can we compare the hassle Burford people had in getting this half holiday with the present ruckus over Sunday Shopping? I think not, as there seems to be little comparison in the arguments, for, or against, either activity. We should note that in the early 1900s there were no shopping malls as we know them and the idea of "Shop 'til you drop" did not exist. Shopping trips to such big Brantford stores as the Arcade, Ogilvies, Cromptons and McLeans involved hitching up a horse, or cranking a balky car. These trips were not undertaken without thought. Indeed it was common for the big Brantford stores to offer Burford people free train trips, lunch vouchers, gifts and shopping assistance in order to entice them to the city. Burford businessmen were just as interested in getting their share of the market but they also wanted to be treated like human beings who could not be dragged out day and night every time some man found that he did not have a clean 10 cent collar to wear to church.
We may laugh at the puny efforts that were made in early 1900s to obtain moments of relaxation but at a time when such phrases as "Quality Time", "Recreation" and "Structured Time" dominate our thinking, we should not ignore them.