M6109 | Montreal Circus, Mr. Codet's Benefit

Montreal Circus, Mr. Codet's Benefit
1812, 19th century
60.4 x 48.2 cm
Gift of Mr. Edward Goff Penny
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  advertisement (9) , Poster (21) , Sign and symbol (2669)
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Keys to History

For less affluent urban residents, entertainment came in the form of lively, very visual and usually inexpensive road shows. Some of these attractions no longer exist, such as panoramas, which were immense frescos illustrating famous battle scenes or historical events. Freak shows featured rarities like Siamese twins, "wild men of Borneo" and a family of albinos from Madagascar. Giant gas balloon flights, some carrying passengers, drew crowds to public squares.

The most popular attraction, however, was the circus. These colourful and often exotic shows required no special knowledge on the part of the audience. And circus owners, seeking to stay in the good graces of the religious authorities, stressed the moral nature of their entertainment.

Raymond Montpetit and Sylvie Dufresne, "Formes et fonctions du loisir public à Montréal au XIXe siècle", Rapport du Groupe de recherche en art populaire : Travaux et conférences 1975-1979 (Montreal: Université du Québec à Montreal, 1979), pp. 17-19.

  • What

    As this poster shows, having a circus come to town was no ordinary event. These were extravagant occasions with numerous activities, including a military parade and fireworks.

  • Where

    Circuses travelled from city to city on long tours that led them to various spots all around North America.

  • When

    In the 19th century, the first circuses were fairly modest affairs. They might have one rare animal on exhibition, or a real menagerie.

  • Who

    Like many other types of public entertainment, circuses were run by American entrepreneurs.