The development and conduct of physical training programs in early Canada is closely related to military drill. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, during peacetime, the Drill and PT instructors of the Canadian Militia were often loaned to local school boards to instruct students in drill and rudimentary calisthenics, particularly when a school sponsored a Cadet Corps Unit. However, in times of war, when there was a rapid expansion of the Canadian Forces (CF), civilian volunteers of such Auxiliary Services as the YMCA or Red Cross were attached to military camps to organize sports and provide recreational and other welfare services. As non-military personnel a number of these volunteers accompanied Canadian Military Contingents to South Africa during the Boer War and to all overseas theatres of operation during the two world wars.
Although the Canadian Forces Physical Education and Recreation Branch was established in 1980, its history can be traced through the three single services to the pre-first world War era. Unfortunately official records on the history of physical education and recreation in the RCN, Army and RCAF are scarce; the information in this article is based primarily on personal recollections of a number of retired members who served in the Branch, or in its pre-unification elements. It is acknowledged that some of the information dealing with historical events may not be complete or entirely accurate. It is hoped that this page will prompt others to fill in the missing information or correct any inaccuracies and thus enhance the content of this page.
Some archival background on the role of Physical Training in World War 1 is found in the following:
- Excerpt From The Biography of Percy Nobbs (a renown Canadian architect)
“The architect's skill with pointed weaponry included the bayonet, an interest he had first acquired as a small boy enthralled by the bayonet fighting drill at the St. Petersburg garrison. He went to England when the Great War broke out to join the Northumberland Fusiliers, but relates that a bad eye caused him to be sent back to Canada where he took charge of the bayonet fighting and physical training program at Valcartier Camp in Quebec, subsequently organizing similar military training all over Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Eventually Nobbs managed to get himself posted back to Europe as a camouflage expert with the Royal Engineers of the Imperial Forces in France. Here he created "two of the finest bits of camouflage work at the front [which concealed] Canadian Corps headquarters in what was practically No Man's Land during the open fighting. He attained the rank of major during his war service.”
Maj Nobbs must also have set up a school in BC as attested by the following certificate awarded to Sgt Corner (see Last Post) from the Bayonet Fighting and Physical Training School inVictoria BC, dated Feb 1917. John Saunders (see Last Post) qualified on a course held at Long Branch ON in 1917 and Billy Adkin (see Last Post) was an Instructor at one of these Schools during WW 1.
Raymond Corner John Saunders Billy Adkin
The following civilian publications are recommended as useful references to the serious student of the history of physical education and recreation (PE&R) in the CF:
- “A History of Physical Education in Canada” by Frank Cosentino and Maxwell L Howell 1071, General Publishing Company, Don Mills Ontario –
This book traces the development of physical education and recreation in Canada from the early eighteenth century up to the 1970’s. It specifically deals with the military influence on physical education during the early 1900’s and the transition from drill to modern fitness training methods. In addition, it contains appendices with interesting reprints from historical documents and prescribes the types of exercises that were included in PT programs, which existed in Canada around the time of confederation
- “The Canadian YMCA in World War 11” by Allan M Hurst, Goodfellow Printing Company Ltd-
This book provides detailed information on the YMCA War Services Operations with the Armed Forces of Canada during the second world war. it also contains a number of historical photographs related to the conduct of sports and games in wartime military training camps, as well as in overseas theatres of war; and
- ”Mr 5BX - Canadian Fitness Pioneer” by John J Jackson, 1982, Sono Nis Press, Victoria, BC-
This is a biography of Dr William AR Orban, the man who developed the 5BX program for the RCAF in 1958. In addition to recording the 5BX story in considerable detail, the book presents an excellent overview of developmental trends in PE&R in Canada during the period of 1950-1980.