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28 January, 2012

RISE AND FALL OF LORD'S DAY LEGISLATION

As an illustration of the Victorian Sunday, consider the following illustration, "Toronto: Sunday preaching in the park," published in 1879. "Canadian Illustrated News, Vol. 19, No. 21, Page 329. Reproduced from Library and Archives Canada's website Images in the News: Canadian Illustrated News."

In feeding a very curious nature, I spent considerable time this week looking into the history of municipal elections in Ontario. (I know, I should get a life.)  Quite by accident I stumbled across the following notation from City of Toronto archives.
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"City parks had to be closed on Sundays until August 1938, when they were opened providing that competitive games were forbidden (except, for some reason, tennis) and "no apparatus shall be used," which meant that swing sets and other playground equipment were chained and locked. Movie theatres were allowed to open on Sundays as of May 23, 1961. Beverage rooms were allowed to open on Sundays starting in 1962." 
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That note would seem extreme to any young person reading it today, but for those who grew up in the period, it was definitely a fact of life.  I was immediately taken back to a time in my youth (1930s and '40s) when, in my family, The Lord's Day was strictly observed.  I well remember my mother relaxing rules of the Sabbath to allow me to play baseball on Sundays and how half guilty I felt in doing so.  If we happened to lose a game on Sunday, which was rarely the case, I accepted it as God's way of levelling punishment on me because I was the pitcher in the game.


To this day, I try to avoid doing work of any kind on Sunday and admit to a degree of annoyance when I hear the rattle of neighbours' lawn mowers or the sounds of hammers and saws coming across back yard fences.  I still feel somewhat uncomfortable shopping on Sundays.  In many ways, I am very much a product of my upbringing, I guess.


When Canada was acquired by Great Britain in 1763, English laws prohibiting work and entertainment on Sunday came into effect in the new colony. In 1845 the province of Canada passed its own law forbidding anyone in Upper Canada "to do or exercise any worldly labour, business or work of one's ordinary calling", except for certain works of necessity or charity. At Confederation, when the British North American Act created our two-tier legislative constitution (federal and provincial), Sunday closing laws came (or seemed to come) under provincial jurisdiction.


A quiet Sunday was the social custom in Protestant Canada (Roman Catholics were mellower about it). If water had to be drawn or potatoes peeled for Sunday dinner, many made sure to do it on Saturday evening. Laundry was not hung out to dry on Sundays. "Even the irreligious usually went to church on Sunday; the religious went more than once" (Grant, The Church in the Canadian Era, p. 10), and "a great many Canadians spent the rest of the sabbath reading religious books or periodicals."


 In 1903, in hearing an appeal of a decision about the Sunday operations of the Hamilton Street Railway, the Privy Council in England struck down all Canadian provincial Sunday closing laws, on the grounds that these constituted criminal legislation, which by the BNA belonged exclusively to the federal government. In response, a campaign, joined not only by Protestant churches but also by Roman Catholic hierarchy and the labour movement, was organized to persuade the federal government to enact Lord's Day legislation. It was considered a huge victory against powerful commercial interests when the federal Lord's Day Act was passed in 1906. It prohibited sport, entertainment, and almost all commerce on Sundays, although it permitted provincial governments to make exceptions.
Sentiment began turning against Lord's Day legislation in the 1960s. In that decade Parliament passed amendments to the Lord's Day Act to permit cultural and recreational activities, agricultural and trade shows, scientific exhibitions, and horse racing. In 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada voided the Lord's Day Act as an infringement of the freedom of religion section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982. The following year, however, it upheld the provincial Retail Business Hours Act of the Province of Ontario on the grounds that this had a purely secular intention. However, in 1992 the Ontario government repealed the section of this act dealing with Sundays, and most other provinces have also done the same with similar laws.


Our Sunday-go-to-meetin' forefathers must be turning over in their graves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There were two services at our Presbyterian Church, as you must well recall. Lot of guilt in our house because we did not often make the evening service. Mother had rhe best record. How things have changed, as your article says.