A History of Nova Scotia Page


Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
(1815-1867)
Chapter 8, Games

"In all sports save those connected with 'game,' the upper class appeared as the patrons of the popular enthusiasm, pleased to share a common emotion which did much to unite a deeply divided society, and to keep its hereditary leaders popular as sportsmen, if they were ceasing always to please as politicians. Coaching, horse-racing, fox-hunting, boxing, cock-fighting, furnished the hourly thoughts of multitudes."1
One of the favorite activities was to go see, usually in an open field, a combat with fists between two notorious boxers: an Englishman can almost be defined by his love of the "fights." Men and boys were in "the habit of settling their differences with their fists. It was a national custom of which everyone was proud, and it united and equalised all classes."2 In England, in the early half of the 19th century, when announced, Englishmen flocked to see a professional fight.
"When the date and place of a prize-fight had been announced, hordes set out, driving, riding and walking to the spot from all parts of the island ... In one aspect these vast outdoor assemblies were festivals of the common people. But the priests of the national cult were fashionable members of the aristocracy, who presided over the ceremonies and held the rough and often violent multitude in awe. It was these men of fashion and rank who hired and backed the gladiators."3
"... to see two men smashed to the ground, smeared with gore, stunned, senseless, the breath beaten out of their bodies; and then, before you recover from the shock, to see them rise up with new strength and courage, stand ready to inflict or receive mortal offence, and rush upon each other ... this is the most astonishing thing of all -- this is the high and heroic state of man!"4
Nova Scotia, particularly Halifax society, had a love for the games popular in England such as boxing and horse-racing. It is to be remembered, whether in England or Nova Scotia, there was no organised games or athletics of the kind we experience these days.
"When the streets of Halifax are covered, as is frequently the case, with a sheet of ice, hosts of young urchins, with small flat boards placed upon runners, or sometimes with butchers' trays, seat themselves on these machines, and, setting off from the top of the hill, glide down with inconceivable force and velocity. ...
Sometimes on a clear frosty night, when the moon assumes a brilliancy unknown in our English climate, I have watched these little sleds coasting (as it is termed) down the hills, with an indescribable feeling of pleasure. The pure white of the polished snow is finely contrasted with the dark masses that indistinctly cluster above, then break off one by one, and whirl past, almost before the eye can fix itself upon the object, without leaving one trace behind. Scarce a sound breaks the stillness around, -- the presence of animation is only recognized through the hum of the happy group, as they re-assemble at the station below."5

NEXT: [Chapter 9, Gentlemen Of The Clergy]

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2011

Peter Landry