A recent question from a Maple Ridge citizen regarding when we first got Sunday shopping kicked off a whole train of thought about the local history of preserving a day of rest and how it came to end.
In the earliest days of our community, life was hard, even if very rewarding.
Men had responsibilities on their own farms which could easily fill an average life. But on top of that, they did wage work on other farms and in logging to bring in needed cash income.
On top of that, they also had to fulfill the requirements of the Homestead Act, which meant that, each year, a certain amount of new land had to be cleared.
Women had equally overwhelming workloads with all the domestic duties of cooking, cleaning, kitchen garden, livestock, repair, sewing, nursing, child care, and so on, most often all done in isolation from other adults.
We are so immersed in our internet-access culture that it is hard to imagine being in a circumstance where you could not get even a simple question answered, even if it was regarding the health of a child.
Sunday was not just a rest and recharge day.
It was a community gathering day that usually took place in and around a church or church-related activities.
Men and women alike exchanged information and stories in an atmosphere where all were allowed to relax and visit.
It is hard to say who benefited most from the enforced day off, but the memoirs we have in our collections suggest that women were the driving force. Loneliness is a powerful incentive along with religion.
It was holding Sunday as a day of rest that caused the first conflicts with the new and growing Japanese community in the 1910s.
Being Buddhist, they were under no requirement to name a particular day as one for rest and so were happily treating Sundays like any other day.
Anger and resentment grew in the larger community as the Japanese were seen as competition – particularly for fruit and produce production – and having an extra day to work each week was seen as an unfair advantage.
Most Japanese were unaware of the source of the hostility.
Between cultural differences and language barriers, they hadn’t realized the local importance of the Sunday off rule.
Before things could get worse, one of the earliest Japanese landowners, Hiro Inouye, helped start the Haney Nokai, which was used as a place for Japanese farm families, where they could be taught the ways of the larger community.
The Japanese didn’t quit working on Sunday – they just moved to work that was out of sight of the neighbours.
Sunday, under Sabbath laws, continued to be a basic element of Canadian life all the way to the middle of the 1980s.
The law changed first at the national level, then provincial and, finally, it was decided to leave it up to individual communities.
In Maple Ridge, a staunch defence of the Sabbath was mounted by local clergy.
Beyond wanting people to be able to go to church, they also pointed out the importance for families to have a day together.
They were victorious for five years.
However, Coquitlam opened up first and when it became clear that Maple Ridge families considered it a Sunday outing to go shopping in Coquitlam, it was clear that the Sunday shopping horse was out of the barn with no going back.
The first Sunday open shopping day in Maple Ridge was November 24, 1985.
Val Patenaude is director of the Maple Ridge Museum and Archives.