Canada Fitness Awards: “great thing” or “kid’s nightmare”?

Canada Fitness Awards Award of ExcellenceI laughed out loud when my brother John recently texted me this photo, which brought back a lot of 1970s memories – few of them good. Do you recognize it? It is, of course (as those of us of a certain age and Canadianness will inevitably know) an Award of Excellence badge, the highest award for fitness in the Canada Fitness Awards that that damned 60-year-old Swede brought to all our classrooms. Including those at Madoc Township Public School, the excellent rural elementary school that John and I and our siblings attended when we were kids growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough.

I refer of course to the (in)famous study from 1972 that found that the average 60-year-old Swede was in at least as good shape as the average 30-year-old Canadian, and that inspired the Participaction program – only in the 1970s could anyone have come up with a name like “Participaction” – and the Canada Fitness Awards.

Here, by the way, is the Participaction television ad featuring that infernal Swede:

Anyway, the goal of the Canada Fitness Awards was apparently to get us lard-bottomed young Canadians off our lardy bottoms and doing flexed arm hangs and standing long jumps and 50-yard dashes and the like. All for the sake of a measly badge – bronze, silver, gold or the specially shaped Award of Excellence – to wear on your jacket. If you were lucky enough (i.e. fit enough) to win anything at all, that is.

I think most of us remember those days with distaste verging on horror. Oh sure, there were the athletic kids for whom it was nothing, who barely broke a sweat as they earned Awards of Excellence; but for a lot of other kids, including people like me who always preferred reading in the library to any kind of sport, it was a gruesome experience.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the awards program was discontinued in 1992, “in part because it discouraged those it was intended to motivate.” Gee, it only took them 20 years to figure that out!

In a rather fun looking-back post here at the blog Glenn’s Take (subtitle: “Positive Advice for Daily, Healthy Living”) headlined What Happened to the Canada Fitness Test?, Glenn (I assume it’s he) notes that there was an episode of the CBC-TV comedy series Corner Gas in which a character declared that ““The Canada Fitness Program was the last great thing this country ever did.”

Well! That’s some crazy stuff. And: I beg to differ. And: I bet I’m not alone.

Fellow Canada Fitness Awards victims, are you with me?

10 thoughts on “Canada Fitness Awards: “great thing” or “kid’s nightmare”?

  1. Oh dear…such terrible memories of struggling through the Flex Arm Hang and the longer running course on a day when I’d forgotten gym shoes and had to do it in sandals. Sigh. I was thrilled to eke out a Bronze award one year. But I have memories of some dinner with our two families where all jokes came back to Ken, I think, for his Award of Excellence. Does that ring a bell?

    • It kind of does, Nancy, and since I recognize the crocheted tablecloth underneath the Award of Excellence in the photo that John sent me as living at Ken’s house, I suspect that the Award of Excellence in question is the very same one!

    • A little late to the party here, but I guess there are advantages to being the youngest. I had one as wall, although by the time I earned it, it didn’t have the special shape and everyone else was probably off at university. I was tremendously proud of myself for managing to reach the Flexed Arm Hang goal. It’s amazing how those three words could strike terror into so many hearts. I remember being shocked, SHOCKED, Nancy, (and now Katherine) when I found out that your memories were not quite so rosy as mine are about the whole Canada Fitness thing. I guess Ken and I should probably sit at the places of honour at Thanksgiving.

      • My father ran every day [about 40 minutes/day] from the Spring of 1964 to the Summer of 2010. Even after running a marathon race, he would run at least a mile the next day. This is the longest running streak in the world that we know of but, alas, we can’t provide independent verifiable proof of it.

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