M975.62.640.1 | Montreal - Swimming Races, at St. Helen's Island

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Montreal - Swimming Races, at St. Helen's Island
Anonyme - Anonymous
1881, 19th century
Ink on paper - Photolithography
28.5 x 39.5 cm
Gift of Mr. Charles deVolpi
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Genre (188) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

Public bathing? What an idea! Comments of all sorts were heard about swimming in the mid- 19th century. Few people knew how to swim at the time, and tales of drowning were far more frequent than those of swimmers' exploits. The general public knew little about the sport. Many people believed they could drown by getting water in their ears! Various attempts were made to open swimming schools but failed for lack of means until the 1870s. Before swimming meets became popular, boat races were in vogue. Regattas were already drawing great crowds in the 1820s and 1830s.

Gilles Janson, Emparons-nous du sport : Les Canadiens français et le sport au XIXe siècle (Montreal: Guérin, 1995), pp. 117-120

Donald Guay, La conquête du sport : Le sport et la société québécoise au XIXe siècle (Montreal: Lanctôt Éditeur, 1997), pp. 78-79.

  • What

    Swimming is not something that can be improvised. It is a sport that requires sure skill, which is why it found favour only after swimming lessons were instituted in the late 1800s.

  • Where

    Only the bravest and boldest dared to dive, flinging themselves headfirst into rivers, ponds, streams and lakes near the cities.

  • When

    For 19th-century swimmers, the increasingly popular boat races were good places to show off their talent.

  • Who

    The prevailing morality obliged women to wear pants, skirts or even both in the water, which made swimming rather difficult.