Hart Devenney: The Montreal Years

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Hart Devenney: The Montreal Years (1930-1939)

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

The Montreal Years (1930-1939)

In mid-1930, Hart Devenney was about to turn 27 years old, with a new marriage, and he and Rena moved to Verdun. P.Q. so he could take up his first significant full-time employment. The world stock markets had crashed the previous October, and that period that was to be known as the “Great Depression” was starting.

The position he was hired to take up was as “Director of Physical Education and Young Men’s Work” at the Verdun YMCA. Verdun, while a city of its own, is a suburb of Montreal on the south side connected to the bigger city by streetcar. Hart served in this capacity for two years, and eventually he was posted by the YMCA on to the Central Branch of the “Y” in downtown Montreal in early 1932.

This new position for Hart had dual parts. During the fall, winter and spring months at the Central YMCA, as the first part, he was to be “Director Young Men’s Work” and “Associate Physical Director” at the Central Montreal “Y”. As the second part, he was to be the Director, each summer, of the Boy’s Camp of the Verdun YMCA that was called ‘Camp Kanawana’. This situation remained in place until 1938.

But it was not an easy time. Rena recounted to the author, that Hart would come home many times in this period and say, “I have good news and bad news. Which first?” She always said she first wanted the bad. He would reply, “My salary just got reduced.” “And the good?” she would ask. “I still have a job.” On a personal level though, things flourished. A son was born on June 20, 1932, who was christened “Hartland Morrison Devenney”. While he was mostly known as “Skip” or “Skippy” in his life, I will call him “Hart Jr.” It was a happy time.

Hart decided his education about “physical education” was not yet complete. So he started in a part-time Masters program offered at McGill University. By September 1934, he had completed his thesis as partial fulfillment of the requirements for his M.A. degree.

Hart’s academic work is entitled “A Critical Survey of Current Opinion on the Development of Character in Physical Education”. His own bound version of the thesis is a scholarly tome of 138 pages, with a bibliography of references of another 70 pages. At this time, this version of the book is in possession of this essay’s author. A duplicate is at the library of McGill University in Montreal. Hart’s Masters of Arts degree was conferred later in the fall of 1934.

In his “Introduction” to his thesis (at pg. 8) he posits:

“If we are to critically examine the opinion on character in education we cannot and must not forget the total picture. The beauty of a rose is in the symphionic (sic) arrangement of its petals and stamens. When analysation (sic) is called for in our study, the dynamic of the total picture must not be lost. The good life for the individual citizen is more and more bound up with the good life for all. Final values are to be found both in society and in the individual. The task of the educator is inevitably tied up with both.”

And, in his “Conclusions” (at p.138), he concludes:

“The agencies of education must be in the vanguard if the forces of reaction are not to take the wheels of progress and change and turn back the march of time. The evils of our present social system are at work in devious ways. Not the least of these lies in the commercialization of otherwise wholesome physical activity. It is the duty of all physical educators to recognize their function and bring into being more wholesome situations of cooperation and integrative skill.”

On a daily basis at this time, it must have been a dichotomous existence for Hart. By day he was working in the trenches at the Verdun YMCA, or its camp and afterward, later in the same day, when he could, delving into the growing literature and theories about the value, approach to, and utility of physical education in the changing world of those times - not the least of which were the growing world depression and the troubling political events then happening in Europe. He adverts to these occurrences a number of times in his thesis. He was almost every day being both a scholar and a “doer”. He was accepted into the PhD program at McGill, but had to decline due to the economic constraints of the time.

In the spring of 1937, Hart and Rena were again new parents, with the birth on March 22 of a daughter, Barbara Anne, with whom Hart was quite smitten. However, a terrible tragedy was to ensue just 17 months later. On a family vacation in August 1938 to Ste. Eustache, P.Q., the baby girl developed a case of strep throat, and it then being an era before sulpha drugs, penicillin and other antibiotics, she died after only 3 days illness. Rena Devenney always said that Hart never was quite the same after these events.

He started painting, an activity which he had never done before. None of his artwork from this time seems to have survived or been retained, but he did take it up again 30 years later, and this will be described fully later on. It only needs saying now that there exist some fine canvasses from that later time.

In 1938, Hart had been made the “Director - Physical Education” at the Central YMCA in Montreal and continued in that post until Dec. 1939 when the Province of Manitoba came calling and hired him to become the “Director of Urban Youth Centres” as part of the Department of Education, Manitoba. A glorious “Farewell Banquet” was held for Hart by the Montreal Central ‘Y’ staff in late December 1939 - at which a more than 3 page “Ode” to him was read (and written) by Earnest Trueman, the General Secretary of the ‘Y’ Montreal Central Branch. It is quite amusing. By the summer of 1940, Hart directed a first Leaders’ Training Camp at Gimli, Manitoba. Much later many more of these were to be held. But at that first one, he met a young Manitoban named Kirk Wipper who later would play an important role in Hart’s life - over and over again.

It was a short lived posting because of the start of WWII. Such ‘Urban Youth Centres’ and related programs were soon not needed, due to the high levels of enlistment by young men who wished to serve in the armed services overseas. Hart too, wished to do his part for the Canadian War effort. He was deemed in 1940 at age 37 too old to enlist in the regular military. After inquiries, he choose to join the Canadian YMCA Special Services which was supporting the War effort overseas in various facilitating ways to the regular troops, but not in the direct combat arenas.

He was soon posted by the ‘Y’ Special Services to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.