Hart Devenney: The Winnipeg Years

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Hart Devenney: The Winnipeg Years (1946-1955)

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

The Winnipeg Years (1946-1955)

Hart Devenney soon returned to Canada and happily re-joined his family in Ottawa.

Not long after that he contacted his past colleagues in Manitoba, and was then appointed, for the Province, to the position of “Director of Community Recreation and Director of Physical Education”. Overall responsibilities were for the initiation and guidance of physical education and recreation programs for the whole province, and also to be in charge of the administration of School Physical Education Programs (except in Winnipeg) for Grades 1-11.

This embodied a wide scope of areas: promotional materials, program aids, Community Centre guidelines, curricula’s, supervisory activities, special lectures, and ‘lesson material’ in physical education for rural schools. In addition, he became the Director of the Gimli Summer School Physical Education and Recreation Course. It was a great opportunity.

Now began another happy period for the family especially after so long being apart. They moved to Winnipeg so that Hart could take up his new responsibilities. In the fall of 1945, Hart had just turned 42. It was a time and place and situation where he could really follow the passion he had about physical education and recreation. And he did so.

For the family side of things too, it became a wonderful period. Hart and Rena joined a "social club" where they often attended. Some square dancing was quite "de rigueur" on these outings. Eventually Hart took to trying to call some of these dances, and as it turned out he had a natural aptitude for it.

Later he was asked to do it for a widely distributed radio show - the Trans-Canada CBC Program called - “Let’s Go Square Dancing” - and by the time he left Winnipeg he was quite good at it. So in this period, his sister Peggy, then living all the way east in the city of Rouyn-Noranda, was able to pull in the radio broadcasts with an especially large aerial set up in her back yard. She did so every chance she got - just to have a chance to hear her brother on the radio. Hart also soon became a co-founder, member and President of the ‘Manitoba Folk Dance Federation’.

Hart, Jr. was entering his teen years and showed a great interest in swimming. Young Don, now nearly five in 1945 was about to start his schooling. By 1949, the family expanded again on July 5 of that year when Richard Allan Bickerton (Rena’s family name) was born. He is this essay’s author.

Hart’s professional work was very active. From 1945 to 1955, he conducted over 300 ‘Leadership Training Courses’ in Greater Winnipeg and elsewhere throughout the Province of Manitoba.

At one of these held in 1948, he engaged a young university graduate from the University of Toronto, one Kirk A. W. Wipper to be an adjunct instructor. He also helped regularize and formalize the affairs of the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (CAHPER) so that its incorporation took place in 1950. The membership certificate issued to him was certificate no. #6. Following that, he served as the National President of CAHPER from 1951 through 1953.

He also became a sitting member on the National Council of Physical Fitness from 1945-52, and on the National Recreation Association, and on the Manitoba Camping Association, and on the Board of Directors of the YMCA - Central Branch, Winnipeg, and on the Advisory Committee on Recreation - City of Winnipeg, and on the Manitoba Physical Education Association. He was Treasurer of the Manitoba Drama League from 1947-53. Numerous news clippings saved from the Winnipeg Free Press attest to Hart’s attendance at many events related to his work during all these years.

As a result of, or through all of, these activities, Hart became well known to many, if not most, of the other distinguished Canadians who were professionals in the field of physical education and recreation. Some of these persons who became long time friends included, among others: C.R. “Blackie” Blackstock, Jack Lang, Wray Youmans, Rae Speirs, Gord Wright, Don Smith, N.A. “Pete” Beach, “Mac” McCutcheon, W.F.R. “Frank” Kennedy, Mike Yuhasz and Kirk Wipper. The recognition was a long time coming, and the author is sure he savoured these times and the friendship of all these wonderful people immensely.

Young Hart, Jr. turned out to have a really significant natural talent in his swimming with the freestyle being his best event. By 1950, he was ranked nationally. Eventually he held a national record in the 400 freestyle yard swim. In September of 1951, he enrolled as a Trinity College student at the University of Toronto and swam for the swim team there. In the single academic year of 1951-52, he achieved enough athletic success to earn his Varsity “T” and also to capture, in August, the prestigious “Open Men’s One-Mile Swim” competition held by the Canadian National Exhibition inside the breakwaters of Lake Ontario adjacent to the exhibition park. Needless to say, Hart, Sr. was very proud.

Yet, Hart’s family was to then incur another tremendous blow. On his return to Winnipeg, or shortly thereafter, Hart, Jr., the young swimmer, was diagnosed and hospitalized with a virulent strain of the poliomyelitis virus. An epidemic of that virus was then sweeping through the southern region of Manitoba, and northern United States. Hart Jr. was for a time totally paralysed, breathing only with the aid of an “iron lung” machine. The young man’s athletic career was over, and in total he spent close to 4 years under hospital care, followed by much intense rehabilitation, which continued for the rest of his life.

In time, all the adjustments and the consequences flowing from these events deeply impacted the family, and Hart Sr. too. Eventually he had to step down from the Presidency of CAHPER and cut back on other commitments as well. Yet he still went to as many of the various meetings of the national and regional physical educators as he could, and at one sometime in 1953 it seems, he had a long talk with his friend Gordon “Gord” Wright from Ontario. Gord Wright was the Director of the Physical Education Branch in the Ontario Department of Education and held that position until 1961.

The two men formed a lifetime friendship, if it was not already in place. Hart had, or was about to, turn 50, and Gord was in his early 40s, but the two men had an affinity for one another. Gord had some exciting new initiatives taking place in Ontario which he was eager to describe. After the conversation the two men agreed to stay in touch, and I suppose they did. Exactly how, when and how often is not known. It is known they were both in attendance at the fantastically successful British Empire Games held in August 1954 in Vancouver and they likely linked up there.

In any event, by later in 1954 Hart had prepared and submitted a detailed curriculum vita for the Ontario Department of Education. A copy of this document, which no doubt was typed by his wife Rena and retained in his important papers, has provided much of the detailed information for this essay - especially in terms of dates, positions and responsibilities that Hart may have assumed or performed in his professional life up to that time.

In due course, Hart was offered and accepted a job in the Ontario Department of Education as a Physical Education Inspector for the Branch of the Department that Gord Wright headed up. Hart would also have the additional responsibility to be the Camp Director at the Ontario Camp Leadership Centre at Bark Lake near the hamlet of Irondale in the mid-Ontario area known as the Haliburton Highlands.

Hart left Winnipeg for Toronto in the late summer of 1955 and, as a result of some extreme generosity of all of the family of Gord Wright, he was allowed to stay with them at their home during the period when all manner of things for the Devenney family could be settled in Winnipeg, and a new house located and purchased in the west end of Toronto in a suburb called Etobicoke. Rena and her two younger boys came to join Hart in Toronto at the beginning of the summer of 1956. Hart Jr. remained in physiotherapy in Winnipeg.