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Middle-Class Breadwinners — Men during the Confederation Era (1840–1890)
During the Confederation era, respectable middle-class men were expected to support their families and provide the means necessary to maintain the family’s status. As heads of their households, men made all of the important decisions about the welfare of the family and its members. While the presence and influence of women centred on the home, the world of men extended well beyond it.
The Family Breadwinner
To be a successful family breadwinner, the middle-class man needed to be independent and self-reliant, carefully choosing business opportunities that would reward his industry and perseverance without incurring excessive risk. Fair and honest dealings with clients were always important, particularly in small communities where sharp practices could quickly ruin a business reputation. Hard work, minimal consumption of alcohol and prudent management of savings paid off in financial security for the family and for old age.
Middle-class men usually had extensive formal and practical training. To ensure that their careers were well established, and that they could support a family, middle-class men generally delayed marriage until their late twenties or early thirties. The choice of careers included traditional occupations in business, banking, insurance, law and medicine. As the economy expanded and diversified during the nineteenth century, however, new opportunities arose for architects, engineers, chemists, metallurgists and others.
As the scale of commercial and industrial enterprises increased to include hundreds of employees, positions also opened up for managers and supervisors. The growth of towns and cities created many white-collar jobs in municipal government, while at the provincial and federal levels a professional civil service emerged.
Middle-class men travelled at least some distance to work: to offices, shops and factories frequently located in or near the central business district. Unless they returned home for a midday meal, men spent the day away from their families. In addition to dealing with their day-to-day jobs, they occasionally gathered with colleagues to discuss business and politics. Support for a political party represented an opportunity to secure a public contract during this age of political patronage.
Outside of professional activities, social life for men was vigorous and varied. Some organizations, such as volunteer fire brigades and militia companies, had well-defined civic responsibilities. National associations such as the St. Andrew’s Society, St. George’s Society, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, St. Patrick’s Society and German Society gave members pride in their ethnic identity and offered various forms of aid. Fraternal lodges such as the Freemasons were also very popular, giving men an opportunity to renew bonds of brotherhood in the secret initiations and rituals of their monthly meetings.
Leisure and Sports
Men had more opportunities than women to engage in organized leisure, and this was particularly true of the middle classes. Depending on the size and interests of a community, men joined societies for the appreciation of art, music, chess, books or coins. Young men enjoyed swimming, snowshoeing, boating and, from the late 1870s on, cycling. Team sports such as cricket, lacrosse, baseball and curling channelled leisure time to purposeful activity and encouraged the manly virtues of sportsmanship, competition and team spirit.