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History of Recreation
Tracing the Roots of Leisure in the United
States & Canada
Development of leisure was influenced by
the following:
Historical events of the time
Societal expectations of the time
Generations of immigrants
From prehistoric societies to European influences
and early settlement to the present day
By understanding how leisure has emerged over
time, it is possible to see how history often repeats
itself, and what we see today is often very similar to
what was experienced long ago.
How Play Emerged
in Prehistoric Society
Play was used to do the following:
• Depict historical events, transportation
practices, war games, and the use of farm tools
• Prepare children for their responsibilities as
youth and adults
• Achieve solidarity and morality
• Serve as a healing experience, to relax and
• Serve as a means of communication, pleasure,
and entertainment, and serve as a means of
replenishing strength after working
(Kraus, 1971)
Ancient Greece
• Athenian ideal:
– Combination of soldier, athlete, artist, statesman,
and philosopher; development of all areas was
– Made possible because tasks of everyday living
were provided by laborers or slaves (Shivers & de
Lisle, 1997).
• Plato and his student Aristotle:
– Leisure was route to happiness and the good life.
– Contemplation and the pursuit of truth and
understanding were thought to be the highest forms
of leisure (Dare, Welton & Coe, 1987).
Athenian Philosophers Believed . . .
• Play was essential to the healthy growth of
children from both a physical and social
perspective (Ibrahim, 1979).
• Leisure was opportunity for intellectual
cultivation, music, theater, poetry, and political
and philosophical discussions.
• Schole: to cease and have quiet or peace. Time
for oneself. Being occupied in something for its
own sake (Ibrahim, 1991).
• Schole: to embrace the experience and not the
Ancient Greek Athletic Games
• Males celebrated religious rites and heroes
for entertainment and for pleasure.
– Included chariot races, combat events, boxing,
wrestling, foot races, and the pentathlon.
– Competed individually, not in teams, and
represented their home villages (Ibrahim, 1991).
– Were encouraged to fight to the death, which was
seen as noble and would immortalize the competitor
for generations.
• Women were excluded from public life
(Shivers & deLisle, 1997).
Ancient Rome
Five distinct classifications of citizens
included the following:
• Senators were the richest, owning most of the
land and power.
• Curiales owned 25 or more acres of land and
were office holders or tax collectors.
• Plebes, or free common men, owned small
properties or were tradesmen or artisans.
• Coloni were lower-class tenants on land.
• Slaves were indentured people exploited by
their owners.
(Shivers & deLisle, 1997)
Opportunity for Leisure
in the Roman Era
Limited to people who had the appropriate resources.
• The greater your standing, the greater your opportunity to
free yourself from the daily requirements.
• For example, senators enjoyed almost unlimited leisure,
while coloni struggled to make a comfortable life.
This is similar to the present day where distinct economic
classes enjoy various degrees and types of leisure.
Differences Between the Play
of Greeks and Romans
• The Greeks saw leisure as an opportunity
for well-rounded development.
• The Romans perceived leisure to be
primarily rest from work.
The Romans were on an almost constant
crusade to dominate foreign cultures; play then
served utilitarian rather than aesthetic or
spiritual purposes (Horna, 1994).
Play and the Growth
of the Roman Empire
• Leisure was increasingly used as a social
control agent for the masses.
• The increasing availability of slaves meant
that labor was less required of Romans.
• Daily work decreased and leisure time
increased (Horna, 1994).
Rome by 354 A.D. had more than 200 public
holidays and 175 game days to pacify unrest by
providing pleasurable experiences through
celebrations (Horna, 1994).
Middle Ages
As the Roman Empire collapsed, the
Catholic Church became the dominant
structure (Shivers & deLisle, 1997).
• Rejected the activities of the Roman Empire (Horna,
• Believed “idleness was the great enemy of the soul.”
• Clergy provided values of what was accepted in
society to save a person’s soul, the highest goal at
the time.
• Catholic Church influenced what were acceptable
and unacceptable leisure opportunities.
• Power shift from the church to the nobility
included the following:
– Play was perceived to be an important part of education.
Rabelais (1490-1553) emphasized the need for physical
exercise and games.
– Montaigne (1533-1592) supported the concept of unity of mind,
body, and spirit opposing the medieval ideal of separation or
dualism of the mind and body.
– Locke (1632-1704) believed recreation was not being idle; it
helped people wearied by their work to recover.
– Rousseau (1712-1778) advocated for the full freedom of
physical activity rather than constraint.
• Play, both as a form of popular entertainment
and as a medium of education, developed.
Protestant Reformation
• Martin Luther and others questioned the
practices of the church and split off into
other Protestant religions.
• Each religious group governed the
perception of what was acceptable as
• Play was often frowned upon as evil by
certain churches during this transition. This
effected the earliest development of leisure
in Canada and the United States.
Development of Recreation
in the United States and Canada
• During the 19th century, governments in
both countries played a role in the provision
of recreation and leisure services.
• Never static, recreation and leisure evolved
through wars, the Depression, longer and
shorter work weeks, and other periods in
the United States. In Canada the post–World
War II era brought renewed interest in
recreation services.
Early Settlement of America
• Leisure in Jamestown, Virginia, 17th century:
– Community composed of aristocracy, adventurers, and
traders. Exploration served the purposes of trade and
profit (Shivers & DeLisle, 1997).
– Colonists loved sports, games, theater, books, music,
and exercise and continued to pursue these activities.
– Governors banned recreational activities because of the
harsh conditions the colonists faced and the need for
diligence to ensure survival (Shivers & deLisle, 1997).
Early Settlement of America
• Leisure in New England:
– Settlers were Calvinists, escaping persecution in Europe.
– All forms of recreation were illegal. Settlers valued
frugality, hard work, self-discipline, and observance of
civil and religious codes.
– Leisure was considered a sin and the devil’s work and a
threat to godliness. Puritans should avoid pleasures in
their own lives and struggle against pleasure in the
community (Cross, 1990).
– Recreation was tolerated if it could help with work.
Restrictions on activities during Sundays continue today
through “blue laws,” which limit the items that may be
purchased (Cross, 1990).
American Revolution
Western expansion brought new leisure
pursuits. Settlers were no longer solely
European, but increasingly born in America.
• Physical survival was needed in the West;
shooting and wrestling matches, jumping
contests, footraces, tomahawk hurling, and
rail flinging were popular (Ibrahim, 1991).
• Free time for frontier families had to be
useful, and laboring activities were turned
into recreation (Shivers and deLisle, 1997).
Early Park Development
in the United States
• Early colonialists realized that open space was
important to growing communities.
– In Boston and Halifax areas known as “commons” were set
aside for communal activity and meeting space.
– The Boston Common, established in 1634, is viewed as the
first municipal park in the United States (Kraus, 2001).
• Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park in
New York and municipal parks in Brooklyn,
Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago.
– Adapted the English style of a natural park to the rectangular
restrictions of American parks (Ibrahim, 1991).
– Established the basis for city parks throughout the United
Playground Movement
in the United States
• The playground movement was first adopted by
New York City when land was allocated for Central
Park in 1855 (Ibrahim, 1991). In Chicago,
Washington Park opened in 1876.
• The concept of a “sand garden,” promoted by Dr.
Maria Zakrzewska in Boston in 1868, was the first
organized playground program.
• In 1906, the Playground Association of America,
formed by a small group of dedicated citizens,
selected Luther Halsey Gulick, a physician, as the
organization’s first president.
Subject: “The Playground Movement”
The playground movement in both the United
States and Canada was an important factor
in bringing recreation to the masses of
these growing countries.
• What are the lessons from the country you are reviewing?
• What could be integrated into modern society from the
lessons of the era?
• What programs should be developed?
• Who could benefit most from a “play ethic”?
Government Involvement:
United States
• Because decreased working time during the Great
Depression meant more time available for leisure
activities, the government did the following:
– Developed organizations to protect natural resources and
preserve them for future generations
– Tackled societal problems of the day via concern for the
leisure-related issues facing their citizens
• President James Garfield said, “We may divide the
whole struggle of the human race into two chapters:
first, the fight to get leisure; and then the second fight
of civilization—what shall we do with our recreation
when we get it” (Kraus, 1990a, p.154).
of Professional Organizations
in the United States
• 1906, Jane Addams, Joseph Lee, and Luther
Gulick organized the Playground Association of
• Today, the National Recreation and Park
Association (NRPA) and the American Alliance
for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and
Dance (AAHPERD) have emerged as leaders.
Post–World War II Growth:
United States
• Renewed desire to live life:
– Suburbs and affordable housing
– Mobile society through reasonably priced automobiles;
increased vacation opportunities
• Birth of therapeutic recreation as a distinct
• President’s Council on Youth Fitness created by
President Eisenhower
• Impact of national affluence:
– Recreation services adopted marketing model.
– Conspicuous consumption emerged.
– Private club memberships grew, second homes were
purchased, and increasingly expensive pieces of recreation
equipment were within reach.
Early Settlers in Canada
• First Europeans, the Norse, explored west
Atlantic Coast in approximately 1,000 A.D.
Settled in Newfoundland (Francis et al.,
• In 1497, John Cabot’s expedition, fur trade
with the natives.
– Because a great deal of hard labor and preparation
for winter was required, recreation opportunities
were limited for the early settlers (Harrington, 1996).
Colonization in Canada
• Between 1604 and 1607, the first Acadian
settlement (French speaking) was formed
when Samuel de Champlain explored the
coastline of the Maritimes and wintered in
Port Royal. This was the first agricultural
settlement in Canada (Daigle, 1982).
• Champlain founded the Order of Good
Cheer, which was the first social club in
Canada (Francis et al., 1988).
Park Development in Canada
The first park in Canada, the Halifax
Common, was established in 1763.
• Designated for exercise for the militia in the early
• Largely used for walking, sitting, driving, bird
watching, and enjoying the plant life (McFarland,
• Later, used for skating, lawn tennis, croquet, and
archery (Wright, 1983).
Playground Movement in Canada
• Concern for those who lived in overcrowded areas
with high crime rates and disease le
d to the
playground movement (McFarland, 1970).
• Play was the only appropriate method of physical
development for children and was necessary for
their health, strength, and moral character (Searle &
Brayley, 1993).
• In 1893, the National Council of Women played a
major role in initiating the playground movement
(McFarland, 1970).
• Playgrounds could be used to teach health and
social customs in a play environment (McFarland,
Government Involvement: Canada
• Land for parks in Canada were deeded or leased to
municipalities from the federal or provincial
• In 1883, Ontario passed the Public Parks Act to
establish parks in cities and towns with the consent or
petition of the electors.
• In the 1940s, the National Physical Fitness Act
influenced municipal recreation.
• Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council developed
the National Recreation Statement in 1987.
• Parks Canada, a federal agency, provides recreation
opportunities for Canadians. Its mandate is to protect
and present examples of Canada’s natural and cultural
heritage and to foster understanding, appreciation, and
enjoyment to ensure this heritage.
of Professional Organizations
in Canada
• Parks and Recreation Association of Canada was formed
in 1945.
– After World War II, government was called to provide parks,
playgrounds, and recreation services.
– In 1970 name changed to Canadian Parks and Recreation
Association. It’s mission is to do the following:
• Build healthy communities and enhance quality of life and
• Communicate and promote the values and benefits of parks
and recreation.
• Respond to diverse changing social, economic, and political
needs within the country. Provide educational opportunities.
• Providing a second voice, Canadian Association for
Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance was
Post–World War II Growth: Canada
• The 1960s were characterized by renewed
concern for physical fitness with passage of the
Fitness and Amateur Sport Act (Searle &
Brayley, 1993).
• In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau created
ParticipACTION, a nonprofit organization to
promote a healthy, physically active lifestyle to
battle rising health care costs (Canadian Public
Health Association, 2004).
Leisure and Recreation:
Similarities Between Both Countries
• All three levels of government in both countries
have played important roles in providing
recreation services by providing funding and
offering direct recreation service.
• Leisure and recreation are seen as critical
components of a healthy society and are a
concern for both governments. This mirrors a
trend that started long before in Ancient Rome.
Once again, we see history repeating itself.
Leisure is affected by past perceptions of the
Prehistoric societies
Ancient Greeks
Ancient Romans
Catholic Church
Protestant Reformation
Exploration and settlement of both Canada and the United
Playground movement in both the United States and Canada
All levels of government in both countries
Growth of professional organizations
Post–World War II challenges and changes
Leisure needs of women or under-represented groups
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