I was drawn to this picture because the crowd is so delightfully relaxed. So often in beach pictures from the turn of the century, it seems as if the people have stepped out for an evening at the opera. They wear dresses or suits and ties. The men always have a hat. They clearly saw a journey to the lakeside as a special event; it was far more often a place to promenade than it was a place to swim. Proper decorum reigned supreme.
But promenading seems like the last thing on the minds of this group; though the figures walking the boardwalk behind them suggest that there was still much promenading to be had. Some people are dressed in suits, but others are decked out in bathing suits and showing a healthy amount of skin. Most of them have doffed their hats, some have even thrown on a casual robe and there’s a young man with a cigarettes hanging out of his mouth.
To me, this picture captures a moment of transition at Winnipeg Beach when the upper-middle class character of the beach, a character that Foote has captured with other pictures of cabins and regattas, was giving way to a more mixed class experience and when the boundaries between how and when men and women could get together were starting to shift. Snapped in 1912, this picture captures the dawn of the free wheeling Winnipeg Beach that people would know in the 1920s and into the early 1950s.
But this seems to me to be still a moment of transition. Men and women are scattered together on the beach in comfortable camaraderie. And yet, very few of them are holding hands. They are together and yet apart. Indeed, our most demonstrative couple is a pair of women at the front of the picture—one smiles for the camera as the other drapes an arm on her shoulder. But there does appear to be a woman in a white dress with her hand wrapped around a man in a hat just behind them. (Or is the woman in the white dress really a man in white robe? Further playing with our view of the picture.)
Finally, where is Foote in all of this? I desperately want to believe that the man on the left side of the picture is really Foote; that he was so enthralled with the scene in front of him that he couldn’t resist including himself within it. I’m wrong, of course; the man in the photo is too old to be Foote, who was not yet 40 in 1912. Still, I’ll choose to believe that after he snapped the picture, Foote waded into the crowd; unable to resist enjoying his own day at the beach.
- Dale Barbour
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Dale Barbour grew up on a farm in Balmoral, Manitoba and made a few trips of his own to Winnipeg Beach as a youth. A former journalist, he is currently completing a PhD in history at the University of Toronto. His first book, Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967 (UMP, 2011), was recently nominated for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award at the Manitoba Book Awards. It was also nominated in the Local History category in the MHS' Margaret McWilliams Awards.