“Tennis whites” had a different and much less savoury meaning during the sport’s early days in Manitoba, according to historical research prepared by Brandon University (BU) professor Dr. Alison Marshall.
Marshall, who has co-curated an exhibit on the history of the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club, found that the sport was a real signifier of the predominance of British migration to Canada, especially in the early 1900s.
“Women and Jews were excluded from private tennis clubs, to say nothing of other visible minorities,” Marshall says. “The story of how that has changed over the past century is also a story of how sport and participation in sport can be helpful ways for communities to combat that type of racism and exclusion.”
Her exhibit looks at the history and champions of the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club from 1881–2016 and is co-curated with Angela Narth, a former Director on the club’s board.
“The Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club has had a rich and vibrant history for over one hundred years. It has been exciting to work on this project,” Narth said. “I hope our members will share in the pride of belonging to a club that has contributed so much to tennis in Canada”
Marshall is also a club member.
“Naturally, as a member I was curious about the history of the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club,” Marshall says. “As a researcher, I was also drawn to what that history can tell us about the past, the peoples, and the communities that continue to be affected by sports clubs like this one.”
“The WLTC Board of Directors are very grateful for and appreciative of Alison’s work with the photo exhibition,” said board member Lillian M. Wong. “Without the efforts of Alison and Angela Narth through this project, the history of Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club would have continued to go on unnoticed. How fortunate for the Club to have these memories preserved and for the Members to enjoy for years to come.”
The current exhibition is part of a five-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada project to understand the history of sport participation and racism in Canada, especially after 1909 when the Amateur Athletic Association formed in Canada.
Marshall says that her research program identifies historical barriers to sport participation in Canada and, through an ethnohistorical lens, seeks to assess the individual and community benefits and outcomes of sport participation.
“Building on my previous work examining sport participation and performance on the prairies, my current hypothesis is that historical participation in non-segregated sports as members, sponsors, and fans reduces racism in Canada,” Marshall says. “I believe that through athletic involvement, people develop key friendships and connections, which allow them additional social, cultural, and economic access to resources and labour. In short, sport builds community networks.”
She also shows how involvement in sport — if it is not segregated by race or ethnicity — can help sustain newcomers today, helping connect them to these essential networks and mentors.
“This research provides practical knowledge and has policy applications,” said BU Dean of Arts Demetres Tryphonopoulos. “It also offers lessons in terms of immigration satisfaction and settlement patterns in Canada. Through her ongoing work, Dr. Marshall will help improve programs and policies that will improve Canadian health and community wellness.”
The exhibition opens in Winnipeg on Saturday, May 13, on Tennis Day in Canada. The exhibit is also available online.
- Brandon University
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