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Manitoba History: Book Review: Dale Barbour, Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967

by Greg Thomas
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 67, Winter 2012

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Dale Barbour, Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900–1967, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2011, 226 pages ISBN 978-0-88755-722-4, $24.95 (paperback)

Canadian history has often depended upon confident and energetic journalists such as Pierre Berton and Peter C. Newman to popularise Canadian history for the broader Canadian audience. In Winnipeg Beach, a very accessible and scholarly portrait of Manitoba’s popular resort, we are introduced to Dale Barbour, who represents a new generation of trained young journalists who have turned to academe to refine their research skills. In the process, Barbour has used his reporting and story-telling skills to transform the thesis for his Master of Arts into a very illuminating and provocative contribution to Manitoba’s historic scholarship.

Dale Barbour’s book is representative of a growing body of international research which places resorts and summer communities in a broader context. Who would have thought Coney Island in New York would generate such extraordinary interest from a range of disciplines? Building upon this solid historiographical base, Barbour takes advantage of an impressive number of historic resources ranging from fictional retelling of life at the beach, to news reports and photographs, and most importantly, to oral interviews with participants in whose lives the Winnipeg Beach community and experience held an important place. What makes this such an innovative treatment of this resort area, however, is Barbour’s conscientious effort to document and analyse how leisure and courtship evolved over time at Manitoba’s most culturally diverse resort area. Equally important, the author did not shy away from integrating new sources such as interviews from the Gay and Lesbian Historical Project into the subject.

Instead of treating Winnipeg Beach in a purely thematic and chronological context, Barbour has chosen to visualise the resort community as a living cultural landscape brought together by the personal reminiscences of people from the different eras. To define this cultural landscape and its socio-economic evolution, the author sets the stage through separate chapters examining the transportation corridor, the tourism infrastructure, and the leisure zone. While this may sound overly academic, this construct is a very successful and often entertaining means to portray the evolution of local courtship and dating practices. Readers will come away with a different perspective on the CPR’s “Moonlight Specials,” the development of the elaborate amusement promenade that encouraged public dating, and the eventual demise of the boardwalk and dance hall, which was linked in no small way to the sexual revolution emerging in the 1960s.

The history of a resort area such as Winnipeg Beach calls out for a visual display and interpretation of its photographic record. While this handsomely produced edition from the University of Manitoba Press is liberally sprinkled with historic photographs and aerial shots throughout the text, the cultural landscape or zones developed by Barbour would have benefited by the more generous use of a series of maps. However, that is a minor criticism of what is a very impressive piece of social history. Barbour is a talented journalist whose future work will be eagerly anticipated by a potentially broad audience of readers.

Page revised: 2 January 2017

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