Picnics and Politics: Expanding Ontario’s Public Sphere during the Late Victorian Era

  • Jack I. Little Simon Fraser University


The 1870s brought a marked increase in the number of large-scale political picnics taking place in rural and small-town Ontario. Generally held between elections, their purpose was to solidify party allegiance by exposing the broader public to party leaders, by presenting and defending party policies, and by creating through ritual the sense of membership in a powerful organization. The extent to which the picnics were effective in winning elections is impossible to judge, but this article argues that they strengthened deliberative democracy by expanding the period during which political issues were brought directly to the attention of the public. Furthermore, because the picnics and the processions that preceded them were broad-based community events, women and others not yet eligible to vote were incorporated—at least for the day—within the discursive community that constituted the political public sphere.

Author Biography

Jack I. Little, Simon Fraser University

Jack Little is Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University.