Hart Devenney: Hart Devenney's Legacy

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The following article was researched and written by Richard Devenney. More contributors.


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Hart Devenney: Hart Devenney's Legacy

Researched and written by Richard Devenney © R. A. B. Devenney on February 16, 2008


Hart Devenney’s Legacy


It is almost impossible to make a definitive statement of what someone else’s “legacy” might be because it is always a matter of perspective and evaluation. Such an exercise therefore can never be totally objective, in the way that say, pure science is. But here we have been considering a single person’s history in “physical education” starting near the beginning of the 20th century to a point less than 25 years from the next century to follow. Let us use that context.

Hart Devenney can only have found the inherent value of physical education and recreation (as it seems most of us do) through his own play and sporting activities as a youth. Namely, simply by doing those things. This in turn led him to an active participation in school sporting activities at high school. The simple pleasure of the experience of having an active body along with an active mind, like hand in glove, became manifest to him. It led to good results in school, and was fun in addition. Then maybe the first legacy Hart provided is for all of us - pay attention to what makes you happy and healthy.

And at the end of high school, he decided he wanted to study about why all of this seemed so self-evident to him. With his high school years having been at the venerable Ottawa Collegiate Institute (and influenced by some of its noted alumni - ie. Drs. Naismith and Tait McKenzie), there was imparted to him at least some understanding and background about the value of physical education. He then chose to go to one of the best places anywhere to study such topics - namely the YMCA Springfield College in Massachusetts. Legacy two then might be to - follow your heart. Shoot for the stars. The “Y” being, as well, a community based organization, and if he did not already know it, Hart saw that knowledge is only useful if it is applied for the benefit of others.

After he completed his basic theoretical education in the field, Hart starts immediately to apply it, by working first at the Springfield YMCA for a while, and then returning to his native land and to Montreal to work at the Verdun and later the Montreal Central “Y” for the whole decade of the 1930s - discovering exactly how the nexus between theory and practice actually works out. Like most physical educators he learns to apply the maxim that - “there is no substitute for action”. That might be yet another ‘legacy’ of Hart’s physical education work.

During his time in Montreal, he also pursued a deeper understanding of the value basis of physical education and recreation by doing his Masters degree, and by working in a different modality - camping. It is at this time, he connects ‘educational aspect ’ and ‘leadership development aspect’ as they relate to work in the field and so the stone is set.

He soon leaves for work in Manitoba for an even more challenging position. Yet, he is drawn away by the World War II conflict, and he goes to do his part for his community (Canada), and the wider world community involved. Two more legacies are on display in these events - first, that physical education and recreation help promote the development of leadership; and - secondly, this type of education will also be valuable to the ‘community’ (however that term might be defined).

The remainder of Hart’s career in and physical education and recreation continued to re-emphasize each of these ‘legacy’ lessons. They never happen without all the administrative burdens that go with the organization and implementation of suitable programs. He was, above all an exemplar for others who followed. But, considering all the changes in the World from 1903 to 1976, and now much beyond then, these legacies all appear to be still valuable lessons on how to get important things done.

Hart Devenney grew up in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa and took his university training in physical education at the premier institution of the time. He went on to become a working physical educator in Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto, the main cities in three of Canada’s central provinces, in each case for a decade or more.

In summary, it can be said, that Hart Devenney was a Canadian physical educator who did those things set forth in the words of the CAHPER citation quoted at the beginning of this essay. But he was also a person, and personality, who by his words and actions, bridged the ideas and idealism, the philosophical, theoretical and fundamental bases of the inherent value of physical education and recreation, first expressed in the late 19th century bringing them into Canada’s 20th century. In his work and career, he thus laid some of the groundwork for new generations of Canadian physical educators to do the same.

There are no more important positions in life than to be - a good parent, or educator, or exemplar, or coach, or mentor, or facilitator - whether of good ideas, or of people.

Hart Devenney was all of these. It is an enduring legacy.