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Kids on the Move: Miles for Millions Walkathon, 1969

Kids on the Move: Miles for Millions Walkathon, 1969
Maclean’s Magazine (August 1969): 44. Clive Webster, Photographer

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A photographer frames a group of marching children against spring’s clear blue sky, capturing them mid-stride, not in lockstep but with a sense of common venture or cause. The picture’s subject (young people) and setting (spring-time and out of doors) presuppose a lighthearted moment of childhood activity, play, and innocence. Yet walking briskly the marchers seem to be performing determination more than joy. Their collective gaze is fixed on the ground in front of them; they seem unaware of the camera, except one boy who glances up, his eyes meeting, momentarily at least, those observing him. He does not appear distracted by the photographer or by being recorded: he, too, is focused on the task at hand.[2]

The image of marching young people introduces a 1969 Maclean’s Magazine story on the Miles for Millions walkathon, a wildly popular charity event whose origins lie in Canada’s Centennial celebrations. The ‘Walk’, as it came to be known, drew thousands of young people across Canada into the streets where they attempted to cover 30 miles in one day in an effort to raise money for the developing world. Although the Miles for Millions was not exclusively a children’s fund-raiser, young people predominated among the participants and were featured in both the promotional materials for the event and in the photo stories produced in its wake. That representations of children and youth are ubiquitous in the visual archive — and arguably the historical memory — of this nation-wide event, reinforces the importance of both the event to late 1960s and 1970s childhood and of young people to national identity.[3] Together images of young ‘milers’ advanced the vibrant and determined spirit of a nation that had just celebrated its centennial birthday.

This paper examines the use of children and childhood in the visual culture associated with the Miles for Millions walkathons in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It argues that adults (organizers, supporters, and the media) asserted a particular ideological message about the nation and international development through visual materials — especially photographs — featuring children. As cultural objects, images of children delivered compelling messages about the country’s present and future and were used to mobilize adults around Canada’s relatively new role in international development. The trope of the marching child spoke to a complex combination of the nation’s strengths: its robust health, its pluck and go-getter mentality, and most obviously its youth. Using children to promote and celebrate the Miles for Millions also did the work of reassuring the nation that Canadian youth were all right in an era when youthful demonstrations and reactions to them around the globe spoke to an unsettled and violent moment; as the accompanying text to the above photograph indicates, this particular youth-oriented walk was not “like most marches these days, manifestations of something else that has gone wrong with the world,” but a sign that “maybe things are finally going right.”[4] Juxtaposing these positive images of Canada’s youth with the suffering developing-world child similarly reinforced the conceit that the nation was thoroughly immersed in its benevolent role in resolving the world’s humanitarian crises. Canada’s young generation then came to signify those Canadian attributes that image-makers insisted on in the late 1960s and 1970s: Canada as a peaceful, peacekeeping, and nonviolent nation, as well as a doer of “deeds of global goodness.”[5] While focused on the semiotics of the Miles for Millions pictorial, this paper also explores the possibility of reading the images of youth for what they can tell us about the social history of the event — particularly the embodied experience of the walkathon that has remained a prominent memory of childhood for many.

The history of children and youth is increasingly benefiting from the analytic richness of visual culture studies.[6] As Loren Lerner’s recent edited collection, Depicting Canada’s Children, testifies, analyses of visual representations of youth can help deepen our understanding of how children in both symbolic and material ways contributed to our past. Studying the changing imagery of childhood over time and the work it was employed to do serves to complicate the place of children in history and move beyond seeing photographs “simply as illustrations of a verifiable external reality.”[7] Historians of visual culture insist that the “history [photographs] show is inseparable from the history they enact.”[8] Miles for Millions photographs were produced at a particular moment when image making was ubiquitous and when conventions around photography had shifted toward a documentary or eyewitness style, as the first image conveys.[9] While it is very tempting to treat the photo as a “privileged conveyor of information,” or as transmitting an historic truth, students of visual culture have for decades challenged this approach.[10] Methodologically, this means the historian should, and this paper will, treat them critically: as “artifacts that provoke a construction of history,” and in relationship to the world that produced them.[11]

To explore the pictorial history of the Miles for Millions walkathons, this paper relies on a range of images produced for different but related purposes, such as to enlist people to the cause as donors and participants or because an event’s scale made it newsworthy. Like other contemporary humanitarian agencies, the Miles for Millions organizers created a wealth of promotional materials that included graphic images that often spoke directly to the global issues — hunger especially — that the fund-raiser targeted. They also employed familiar images of starvation to prompt sympathy and spark high participation rates. In addition to highlighting the global problems to be resolved by the fund-raising at home, the organizers took advantage of pictures of children from past successful marches. Photographers captured the spirit of Walk Days; their work appeared in a wide range of media, from local newspapers to national magazines, from glossy promotional materials to crudely reproduced fliers. This paper makes particular use of one photographer’s collection, privately held, and only partly published. Toronto photographer, Joan Latchford, shot nearly 1,000 images of walks around the country in 1968 and 1969.

The Walk

The Canadian Miles for Millions phenomenon was modeled on the Oxfam Walk, a British fund-raising event that had begun more than 40 years before.[12] A long walk for which participants gathered pledges based on distances covered became one of the most successful and popular activities in that humanitarian organization’s history: the first walk in 1967 raised £7,000 for famine relief in India. Without hesitation, Oxfam Canada — known as the “jewel” of the Oxfam international family[13] — embraced the idea of a walk to alleviate Third World hunger and poverty. The fund-raiser captured the imagination of the Centennial International Development Program organizers who turned it into Canada’s birthday gift to the developing world.[14] The rising interest in international development[15] alongside the jubilance surrounding the centennial moment resulted in the Canadian effort far outdoing its British counterpart both in terms of participants and money raised: that year 100, 000 walkers in 22 communities raised $1.2 million.[16] Within two years the participation quadrupled.

The Canadian version of the Oxfam walk was renamed the Miles for Millions in English and Rallye Tiers Monde in French Canada. Although its centrality in the Miles for Millions walkathon is undisputed, Oxfam Canada helped organize it alongside many other foreign aid organizations, such as the Canadian Hunger Foundation, Save the Children Fund, the Canadian UNICEF Committee, Canadian University Service Overseas, World University Service of Canada, Canadian Crossroads International, among others. Together these organizations sought a vehicle for educating the Canadian public about the developing world and Canada’s potential role in international development. [17] This unprecedented cooperation and the Miles for Millions National Committee effort communicated to Canadians that their role in the “Global Village” of necessity involved international development and that the time had come to tackle the urgent issue of world poverty which “represent[ed] the greatest threat to mankind’s survival.”[18]

Between 1967 and 1980, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children participated in the annual Miles for Millions walkathon to raise money for development projects. ‘Milers’ ostensibly walked for the purpose of “helping the hungry,” although monies raised went to diverse causes from crisis relief work to family planning clinics in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and also to First Nations reserves in Canada. Part of a growing international practice of hunger walks, this one-day event incorporated daunting distances — from 26 to 40 miles.[19] Each participant canvassed for per mile pledges in preparation for the grueling walk. Part parade, part pilgrimage, it was a celebration of collective action on the part of the nation, where political leaders walked heroic distances alongside citizens as an embodied commitment to end poverty around the world; it inevitably involved a measure of suffering — often in the form of dehydration, exhaustion, bleeding and blistered feet — designed to awaken empathy for the starving bodies the fund-raiser sought to help. The Miles for Millions’ huge success — earning over $20 million dollars in the first five years — eventually led to its downfall: by the late 1970s, most cities had hundreds of copycat walkathons, bikeathons, and danceathons and the Miles for Millions simply could not replicate the numbers and fundraising of its early years. Yet in its heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Miles for Millions became what its organizers had hoped: a vehicle for raising awareness about crises around the globe and the potential for international development, and a momentous occasion that brought Canadians into the streets in a gesture of solidarity with people of the Third World.[20]

Perhaps most remarkable was the Walk’s overwhelmingly youthful face.[21] At least superficially, the event appeared inclusive of gender, was representative of the ethnic and racial communities in which it was held, and included the working class as well as the very privileged.[22] A range of intentions were also evident as it drew those politically committed to addressing global injustices as well as those politically oblivious. The vast majority of walkers were elementary and high school students: in the first years Oxfam claimed that 80 percent of participants were high school students.[23] The 1969 Surrey-Delta, B.C., Walk comprised roughly 90 percent children and teenagers, according to chairperson Ted Deadman, which included two six-year-old students who completed the 24 mile walk, one in 11 hours and one 12 hours.[24] In Metropolitan Toronto, apparently, “every school” was represented and in some cases entire classes walked. In what the Toronto Star dubbed the “teenage takeover,” youth made up 40,000 of the 55,000 walkers and 8,000 of the 12,000 who finished the 32.2 miles in that city in 1969.[25] Many late baby boomers were swept up in the campaigns to raise money for emerging crises in the Third World, as Canadian schools endorsed the Miles for Millions event and Oxfam education programs that gave meaning to the 1960s notion of a global village and the new responsibility with which it was imbued.[26] The Walk became an important vehicle for education and activism among youth on global poverty.[27]

Miles for Millions and the Visual Iconography of Need and Help

Like many public demonstrations of the 1960s, the Miles for Millions Walkathon was a highly visual medium of communication. Powerful symbols and a familiar, contemporary vernacular adorned the posters, pamphlets, and educational materials used to recruit participants and generate pledges for the annual walkathons. The Miles for Millions visual materials referenced both the local physical event — the walkathon — and the global issues targeted by the fund-raiser, as a 1968 graphic indicates. Three figures walking at an apparently robust pace superimposed on the globe demonstrated that Canadians of all sizes could participate in this event, and insisted that this collective local action was of global significance. Another 1968 graphic used as a poster, entitled simply “The Walk,” also invoked the globe to indicate the magnitude of the problem addressed by the Miles for Millions while four disembodied hands represent the “hungry half” of the world.[28] (See image 2)

Image 2

Metro Toronto Miles for Millions, 1968, Informational Brochure

Metro Toronto Miles for Millions, 1968, Informational Brochure
LAC, Oxfam Fonds, MG 28, I 270, vol. 4, file 4-2

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Like 1968 protest movement iconography, which used a similar black, white, and red colour scheme, the walkathon imagery contained a quality of urgency and righteousness and elevated the event to international if not universal importance. Yet in place of the iconic clenched fist of 1960s movement culture — seen in women’s liberation, black power, workers’ rights, and Paris ’68 posters — was the outstretched hand of the Third World apparently awaiting deliverance from the West.[29] Not coincidentally, the walkathon’s historic moment overlapped with an era in which street protests and marches were widespread and seemingly global.[30] The Walk itself was constitutive of a discourse in which Canada was promoted as having, in the words of Barbara Heron, “a national calling” to “alleviat[e] the woes of the poor global Others,” by taking to the streets.[31]

As popular as images of the globe were, much of the imagery in newspapers and promotional materials emphasized youthful participants and used childhood to symbolize the ideological and social space of international development and Canada’s “helping imperative.”[32] Even without the globe dichotomizing the South as “in need” and the North as powerful, healthy, and benevolent, a binary of imagery is striking. This was particularly evident in the use of the child in Miles for Millions publicity in which brown barely-clothed children represented the crises of the Third World and healthy, vigorous children represented Canada and the solution. A good example of this dichotomy in play is a 1968 pamphlet featuring an undernourished child holding an empty bowl beside the question: “What’s on Your Plate Today?” Perhaps it was the most resonant image of the child associated with the Miles for Millions: the emblematic child represents the problems of developing nations and is deployed purposefully as a generic symbol, never identified or associated with a particular famine, war, or country. Here, the pamphlet mentions crises in Sierra Leone, Haiti, India, South America, and Africa, but did not situate the child as a victim or survivor of a particular historic event nor belonging to a family, community, or nation. This lone child of the Third World implores the Canadian viewer to examine, and act on, the wastefulness of the developed world and the want of its underdeveloped global neighbour while making generic and nondescript the particular peoples in need and masking the economic and social forces causing such hardship.

In representing humanitarian agencies (Oxfam, UNICEF, Save the Children, among others), the Miles for Millions organization used the visual trope of the needy Third World child that by the late 1960s and 1970s was undoubtedly familiar to Canadians. By this time, photos of emaciated, apparently orphaned developing-world children had been mobilizing pity among Western adults for decades. The wide circulation of early twentieth-century atrocity photographs depicting the brutality of colonialism in the Congo, for example, helped produce a human rights discourse, which itself was “bound to a particular kind of aesthetic encounter.”[33]

Laura Briggs’ genealogy of the visual iconography of rescue and the “representation of need” shows how the photograph of the orphan waif with sunken eyes and skeletal frame became commonplace. In 1950s publicity for international aid organizations and news reports, these photographs helped to “organize […] cultural knowledge of the Third World and its needs,” as well as American understanding of “poverty and race” at home.[34] These images, as Stanley Cohen writes, persisted through the twentieth century and became more extreme in reaction to “compassion fatigue,” the neutralizing of emotions in response to endless exposure to graphic, disturbing human suffering. This in turn gave rise to what Patricia Holland calls “aid pornography” in which images of children moments from death were deployed to evoke action.[35]

In asking “what’s on your plate today?” and in representing developing-world famine as a malnourished child, the 1968 campaign achieved two goals. Most directly, it hit a nerve with many Canadian children and youth who had plenty to eat and could be made to feel guilty about it. The use of symbolic children in this way was highly instrumental: modifying John Berger’s assertion that “men act and women appear,” Karen Dubinsky has recently argued that “children appear so that adults can act.”[36] The Miles for Millions is an example of how children and youth were also mobilized by those images, although much less is known about the relationship of children and youth in Western countries to this visual “iconography of rescue.” We do know that school children in Canada were fed static images — ones evoking tragedy but without revealing a news story — that were specific enough to elicit compassion but so general as to be broadly applicable to the changing geography of human suffering. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the image of the abandoned, malnourished infant oversimplified the problem and the solution: a child’s hunger could be relieved with dollars for food aid. Directed at school children in Canada, this visual message implored them to “do something” to help these other(ed) children. The child that appeared to represent Third World suffering in Miles for Millions literature therefore necessarily also embodied hope: the message being that if Canadians would act now, that child’s dinner plate could be filled. “$1 will give a child a school meal for a month in Haiti,” a Miles for Millions pamphlet promised. Another promotional pamphlet featured 20 photos, five of which portrayed Third World children. Two photographs could be called the before shots — children holding empty bowls — while three signalled that the needy had been helped — one of a child eating and two of cheerful children in what appears to be a classroom.[37] The meaning was clear: once well nourished these children might have lives more closely resembling Canadians’ — a nuclear family in which to grow and a school in which to learn. This equation neglected the complexity of poverty and suffering and the specificity of war and famine. They were nevertheless powerful messages to children and youth and likely motivated many of them to act.[38] Whether gratuitous images of starving children were pragmatically “worth it” — that is, instrumental in prompting action (through donation of money and time; pursuing knowledge about global issues; or on a political level) of Canadians of all ages — requires further examination; the imagery does, however, run counter to the stated outrage of the Miles for Millions organization that human dignity is denied in “a world divided between the rich and the poor.”[39]

The second effect of deploying the starving waif image in Miles for Millions promotional materials was that it, in the words of Laura Briggs, “constructed its counterpart.”[40] A dualism emerged in which Third World children were depicted as “dependent and passive,” while Canadian children were enabled as “active and autonomous.”[41] Critics of such representations in the 1970s argued that images of children caught in the midst of tragedy (famine, disease, war) promulgated the notion that the developing-world child was submissive and clearly not of able body; exploiting its suffering “secure[s] our sense of First World comfort by assuring us that we have the power to help.”[42]

Exhortations and catch-phrases for the Miles for Millions reinforced the dichotomy between the passive other and the able-bodied Canadian, and contributed to the same discourse we find in the photographs. For example, in 1967: “You walked — that others may live.” Slogans such as, “Sole Power” and “Feet against Famine,” along with copious shoe and foot graphics, also underscored the physical ability that Canadian children and youth could exploit to end global famines, not to mention the implicit suggestion that the third world child-in-need did not have the ability to walk much less the necessary footwear to do so. News stories about, and photos of, milers with physical challenges — represented by crutches and wheelchairs — functioned to reinforce the dichotomy and reassure the reader and viewer that Canadians’ hardships were surmountable, especially by the “rising generation.”[43]

Picturing Canadian Children

It is not happenstance, therefore, that the Miles for Millions was not a simple charity event but a test of endurance, a performance of able-bodiedness, and a spectacle of Canadian financial, moral, and physical fortitude. In promotional materials and the press coverage following Walk Days, photographs of children promoted these messages, celebrating the nation’s global responsibility through local action. They therefore shared some features with the suffering child images — being highly symbolic, even propagandistic. Yet the pictorial archive of the Miles for Millions was shaped by contemporary conventions of filmmaking and photography, especially an observational documentary style, the ostensible purpose of which was to present children in their spontaneous, unmediated worlds.[44] Furthermore, the visual representations of children in this era tended to emphasize what art historians have called the “knowing child” that replaced the long-standing “romantic child,” that ultimate trope of innocence.[45] Unlike the romantic child, “knowing children have bodies and passions of their own,” writes Anne Higonnet; and, for our purposes here, are indications of a paradigm shift toward children being seen and portrayed as historical actors.[46]

Photo series of the Miles for Millions were quite popular in the aftermath of Walk Days, appearing in newspapers, magazines, and the like, functioning as promotional and celebratory material, some of them recycled in brochures by the National Walk Committee for the following year’s campaign. Newspaper photographers, such as Clive Webster of Maclean’s and Frank Chalmers of the Winnipeg Tribune, joined freelance professionals such as Toronto’s Joan Latchford, in capturing the scale, energy, and symbolism of the Walk. Frank Chalmers’ photo-story of the 1969 Mother’s Day Miles for Millions Walk in Winnipeg comprised a stand-alone section in the Winnipeg Tribune.[47] Joan Latchford’s photographs appeared in Miles for Millions promotional brochures and on an episode of CBC’s Take 30.[48] Unlike many other photographers working for local newspapers who focused on one city, Latchford conducted a tour of five Canadian cities in 1968 and 1969: Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, and Québec City. She designed this photo assignment and sought Canada Council funding. She was also apparently the first female photographer to receive a Canada Council grant.[49]

The Walk lent itself to a style of photography that had recently come into fashion. In her work on the image of the child in the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division, Carol Payne points to a mid-1960s watershed moment in the history of the visual representation of children. In the 1950s and early 1960s NFB images of children tended to be “instructional and formalized” and did not represent childhood so much as they sent a message about “an idealized citizenry” and a paternalistic state.[50] Symbolically, children’s obedience and innocence were key to the successful message that whatever social problem needed fixing, the government — never directly represented — had matters in hand. Many of the NFB’s photo stories using children’s images located them in adult institutions (schools and hospitals, for example), whereas by the mid-1960s children appear to have been liberated from these confines. Using Higonnet’s idea of the “knowing child,” Payne shows how photographs of children started to emphasize children’s agency and autonomy from the adult world;[51] the replacement of the “god’s eye view” with “vantage points that implicate the viewer … through the use of the gaze,” helped to facilitate this shift.[52]

Clive Webster’s photograph (see image 1) demonstrates these developments. The children and youth are captured in a spontaneous moment outside, unencumbered by adult authority; there is no obvious instructional message; the shot appears not to be posed but rather spontaneous; and, one boy gazes at the camera, acknowledging the viewer. Other photographers incorporated these elements into their work. For his part, Frank Chalmers, an award-winning photographer and head of the photography department at the Winnipeg Tribune for many years, is remembered for his ability to “captur[e] emotion.”[53] Joan Latchford took pictures of children (and adults) engaged in outdoor activities in the 1960s and after: at the first Caribana festivals, then of the migration of young people across the country, and later of Toronto street kids.[54]

Latchford drew inspiration from the 1950s photography exhibit organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Edward Steichen’s “The Family of Man.” This exhibit, which featured well-known photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson and Dorothea Lange, broke attendance records at the MOMA, and enjoyed an extended tour to many other countries.[55] At the same time that humanitarian organizations were helping to normalize images of hunger using the Third World child, this exhibit proposed an elimination of difference — preferring the universal themes of commonality, humanity, and peace. In the exhibit’s section that focused on children, youth from around the world were shown at play — devoid of adult worries and conflicts — deployed as representative of “global reconciliation.”[56] Many of the exhibit’s works representing children had an observational documentary quality that rejected sentimentality, not unlike what Payne found in the mid-1960s NFB stills involving children. Latchford was compelled by a desire to create “sincere” images that revealed an individual’s humanity. Her former life as a nun and life-long commitment to social justice can be seen as foundational for this perspective.[57] It is this attempt to reveal an essence of humanity in a gesture, an emotion, a moment, which we can see in the Walk’s visual archive.

Confirming that the Miles for Millions was youth’s moment, the images of Walk Day feature throngs of children and youth. Although physically active politicians made good newspaper copy,[58] images of thousands of cheering young people starting out on the Walk predominated, helping to create an image of an able-bodied, activist, and purposeful citizenry. Typically, these photos were taken from the sidelines or in front of the milers and at some elevation, giving the viewer a sense of the momentum and sheer mass of humanity.[59] Frank Chalmers used the elevation of Marion Street, an expansive corridor in St. Boniface, to his advantage, capturing the young milers as they walked toward him waving and smiling. Latchford’s collection contains many similar photos of hordes of beaming young people in motion. These images made for a compelling message, telling the story of the crowded and giddy atmosphere characteristic of the walkathons across the country, congratulating those who walked, and encouraging those who did not, to consider it next year. In Québec City, she documented groups of young people singing as they walked on a rainy day; in Vancouver, they waved to her while crossing the Burrard Street Bridge. The start of Toronto’s 1969 Walk Day — involving 55,000 people — was captured by The Globe and Mail photographers who stood high above the crowd that moved away from the camera, giving visual confirmation of the dramatic size of the effort.[60] The images that expose the magnitude of participation and the convivial atmosphere are, in a number of forms, markers of success. Clive Webster’s plucky kids stood in for the financial achievement of the Walk: the accompanying caption read, “This is a picture of $4,500,000 on the march.”[61] Beyond representing the monetary importance of the fund raiser, the voluminous youthful crowd signified the size of the nation’s commitment to work collectively; its determination to make a difference and sacrifice, if necessary; and a nation quite literally on the move. The message was clear, these children and youth were figuratively and literally walking into the future.[62]

The connection between groups of Canadian young people walking, performing their own able-bodiedness, and the country’s potential to resolve global crises was central to the early mission of the Miles for Millions. As Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson noted: “If we can get the youth of Canada to stir up opinion, to point out that we have these obligations to our fellowmen who are not as well off as we, if we do that, then we will have made our contribution to the development of peace and security in the world.[63]

One Oxfam Canada education committee worker also made the connection in 1970:

Those who are young today will be at the peak of their influence between 1985 and the year 2000 when they will range in age from the mid 30s to the early 50s. In involving young people today we are really involving future politicians and businessmen [sic] [on whose shoulders] the major decisions involving world development will rest. If they become concerned today they will make the right decisions tomorrow.[64]

Interestingly, the adult manipulation of youth lies outside the frame of the Miles for Millions visual record. In fact, adults seem to occupy peripheral roles in the visual culture of the Walk: as administers of first aid, providers of refreshments, and as parents picking up miler children.

Media reports alongside visual representations confirmed that the Miles for Millions was an unthreatening performance of youth activism. Called a “groovy way to spend a Saturday” and a “swinging, youth-oriented” event helped to construct a positive discourse about autonomous, knowing youth.[65] But it would be incorrect to deny that for some children and youth the Walk became an expression of political awakening and conviction about global inequities, especially around food and hunger.[66] They carried placards that acknowledged their own privilege relative to others. In a Calgary-based photograph by Latchford, young people hold a “Biafra-Canada” sign that juxtaposes a chubby Canadian child holding a hot dog with a crudely-drawn Biafran child, a victim of a devastating civil war in Nigeria in the wake of decolonization, who has nothing. Another placard read “Food, Not Tears for Biafra.” In Québec City, a more general “Paix” sign visually confirmed the anti-war message of its carrier.[67] The visual record of the Miles for Millions participated in this counter-discourse about the nature of youth activism and protest.

In an age of protest, the joyous atmosphere, sheer scale, and involved commitment, this outdoor performance conveyed the message that the kids were all right. Discursively, young people emerge in this era as either too radical or on the road to self-indulgent excess. Students themselves remarked on the political commitment and drive that characterized the participation in the Miles for Millions walkathon. One student wrote to the newspaper that the efforts of his cohort on Walk Day proved that “kids today” were neither “apathetic” nor “mindless” in their protesting.[68] Even those who may not have walked for global humanitarian reasons embodied a kind of citizenship that made for images that helped construct an opposing discourse around young people who were often visually connected to the student protests of 1968 and beyond. Frank Chalmers’ souvenir photos from the Winnipeg walk included images of kids walking into the night, demonstrating perseverance, and also kids sweeping up the mess left behind by 30,000 milers, demonstrating civic duty.

A Joan Latchford photo from the 1968 Toronto Miles for Millions Walk similarly evoked an optimistic interpretation about today’s youth, although with a different and even more powerful message. Taken at Toronto’s City Hall, in Nathan Phillips Square, this image comprises a group shot of Vaughan Road Collegiate students. At first it appears to be a simple portrayal of school spirit with multiple placards identifying the students’ purpose: “Vaughan Walks Miles for Millions.” (See image 3)

Image 3

Toronto Miles for Millions, May 1968

Toronto Miles for Millions, May 1968
Joan Latchford Photographer. Private collection

-> Voir la liste des figures

Several students are captured waving and smiling, or just looking at the camera, held by Latchford just above them. Her vantage point provides her with a good window on the physical proximity, even physical intimacy of the Walk, showing the students cheek by jowl. What’s important is that no image of Walk Day represents the multicultural fact of Canada more than this one. With these students calling the shots on Walk Day, the viewer is reassured about the future of cultural diversity in Canada, a similar message Payne found with the NFB’s 1964 “Nation’s Future Belongs to Them,” a photo-story which juxtaposed groups of cheerful children of different races.[69] Notably, the NFB publication contained separate, distinct photographs of children of different races; the only racial mixing occurred with the collaging of images on the printed page. In the Miles for Millions image the students of various races and ethnicities overlapped, their bodies seemingly contiguous with one another.

In addition to signifying the triumph of diversity at home, this image was also used to signify the importance of Canadian humanitarian efforts overseas with its “there is but one race — humanity” message.[70] An image very similar to this one appeared in a Miles for Millions/Rallye Tiers Monde brochure, alongside the before and after shots of developing-world children described above, implicating Canada’s success at peaceful diversity with the struggle for global justice. Latchford likely did not intend to be celebratory about the state of race relations; indeed, the penetrating stare of the black female student near the centre of the image, which makes the photograph so compelling, can be read as a direct communication with the viewer, asking that we acknowledge what she and others have accomplished collectively while at the same time, “what can we say for ourselves?”[71]

The Latchford Collection as Social History

Having access to Joan Latchford’s complete photographic collection of the Walks provides a useful contrast to the published Walk pictorial.[72] Containing almost 1,000 photographs taken as she herself completed the Walks, the collection provides insight into her own aesthetic while detailing the significant visual and textual information about the Miles for Millions. Overall her collection confirms the theme of autonomous and independent children and youth. She virtually never sentimentalizes young people. In fact, in addition to her many photos of jubilant youth, there are those spontaneous shots that are neither flattering nor, frankly, advertisements for the fund-raiser.

The social historian is drawn to a variety of mundane quotidian details in her collection that contains a compelling commentary on youth consumption and waste. Her photos capture young people eating and smoking along the way. We see children and youth eating in corner stores en route, eating and walking, and stopping at checkpoints to gulp lemonade and other drinks offered by sponsors. The images also reveal the incredible mess left behind by the milers — paper cups and garbage strewn along the walk’s path. Perhaps telling of the difference that 40 years of anti-smoking campaigns have made, the near ubiquity of the smoking teenager seems shocking and utterly at odds with the healthful spirit of the day. Teenagers candidly lit up on the walkathon and appeared to relax with a cigarette when they paused for a break or comforted themselves with a smoke when they could go no further.

Latchford’s photographs offer a powerful and striking message that the walk was an unmarked, unregulated, and only modestly overseen 26 to 40-mile corridor. Children and youth walked with their hand-drawn maps and met up with adult organizers and volunteers at checkpoints along the way, but it was largely up to them to find their way and take care of each other. Even children who knew well their own areas of the city walked far outside familiar neighbourhoods, parks, and beaches. This was not designated children’s space, this was city space, and while their presence on Walk Day disrupted the idea that children and youth were not constituent parts of urban life, the collocation of childhood with heavy traffic and in areas of questionable safety deserve note. Her photos show the walk route high atop a hillside in Calgary — and young people choosing to slide down the grassy escarpment, apparently at some speed, that abuts a major roadway; in another, two adolescents look into the camera as they sit on a curb near the busy intersection of Burrard and 4th Street in Vancouver, their legs jutting into traffic. Latchford also illustrates that as the throngs thinned out over the marathon distance, young children were found walking alone or in the company of one other young miler. It is impossible to tell whether an adult or older sibling was outside of the frame, but the frequency with which she photographed pre-adolescent children alone or in pairs speaks to her own sense of what was remarkable. Newspaper reports similarly commented on this feature of the annual walkathon: for example, in Vancouver girls as young as ten years old set out alone on the 1970 walk.[73] As it took many hours to finish, at least some children were walking in the dark until late at night. Latchford documents these juxtapositions without being alarmist or intending a panic over children’s safety, her role as a participant-observer, provides us with one view of the milers’ experiences along the way.

This aspect of the Walk and the construction of young people speak to a specific — if fading — moment in the history of children and youth. The walkathon took place on the eve of the great decline in unstructured play beyond the home, especially among middle class youth. During the late 1960s and continuing for several years of the 1970s, children and youth retained the “freedom to investigate and master their home turf,” in what Steven Mintz, an historian of childhood, suggests was a “rehearsal for the real world.”[74] The walkathon also predates the radical elimination — “annihilation” according to certain geographers of childhood — of “free space” by development and privatization.[75] It is worth remembering that the walk emerged in the years prior to the notion that children should be confined to fenced-in, childproofed playgrounds and safe zones while outdoors.[76] It is not to argue that this earlier era of children’s history was simpler or better than what followed; rather, it is worth understanding how dramatic changes in attitudes towards children and youth produced very different practices on a quotidian basis — such as children trick or treating, or walking 30 miles in one day without much adult supervision.[77] On the walk, children and youth appeared to be free to experience psychological and physical challenges, that is, learn through that experience, outside the confines of the modern school and beyond adult supervision and constraint. To the middle-class sensibility of today, the images of young children walking such distances are surprising and even alarming, as are some of the images of physical challenges they faced. The Latchford images are reminders of an era different from our own when children were considered to have a measure of competence, independence, and agency at a younger age.

Latchford’s visual narrative of the Miles for Millions was not always an advertisement for the event. The multiple difficult moments faced in walking a long distance in one day refute the simplistic imagery of Canadian youth and its able-bodiedness. Photographs capture the moments when the milers gave up and when they needed assistance from the St. John’s Ambulance service. The walk was ultimately an endurance test for which young people did not train. It is worth noting that the walkathon emerged prior to the jogging and aerobics crazes, largely products of the late 1970s.[78] Certainly, schools encouraged children to walk these great distances, but did little to train or prepare them. Those engaged in the walk therefore faced tests of will and stamina and wore it on their bodies and faces — personal and communally shared epics that Latchford captured masterfully.

Narratives of their experiences — visual, textual, and oral — are dramatic. In a Vancouver photo, Latchford presents a teenage girl sitting alone, far from others, her body bent over outstretched legs, her hands hold her head. The girl does not know the photographer, or the viewer, are witnessing this desperate moment. In a single image Latchford powerfully represents the solitary nature of the walk, and the mental, emotional, and physical toll it took on some milers. The Globe and Mail described the Toronto City Hall final checkpoint scene late in the evening of Walk Day, “children and teenagers collapsed everywhere,” parents carrying their children.[79] Many of these young people gravitated to the walkathon, compelled by the idea of testing their physical limits. While it is true that many of them finished what they set out to accomplish, the visual message from the Latchford collection indicates they did it accruing blisters and bloody feet (many discarded their shoes along the way), and that the Walk involved sacrifice, pain, and personal disappointment.

The challenge of the Walk was represented in both the visual and the textual archives in highly gendered ways. Put a different way, images and stories of milers in distress, even tears, were given the most power of poignancy in the female form. Certainly, boys were featured applying band-aids and attended by St John’s Ambulance workers, but girls seemed to make better emotional gauges of the day’s demands. This fits with contemporary notions of heteronormativity and gender difference, with vulnerability and sensitivity, especially when expressed publicly, being associated with the feminine.[80] Latchford presents three teenage girls (see image 4) in Québec City standing together, arms folded against the cold, none looking directly into the camera.

Image 4

Québec City Miles for Millions, May 1969

Québec City Miles for Millions, May 1969
Joan Latchford Photographer. Private collection

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Although not alone, there is no boisterous crowd around them and their expressions seem to indicate an emotional, if not physical, solitude. A cold and rainy day appears to have depleted them, their expressions reveal any number of disheartening thoughts about their journey. On a metaphoric level, two of the three appear to be looking uneasily into the distance or the future. The viewer cannot be sure why they have stopped or what the matter is, although matted hair and their general discomfort and uncertainty seem plausible. Contrast these teenage girls in their frozen state with Image 1, the colour image of kids on the move. Both contain central tropes associated with youth. The latter is an inspiring display of youthful fortitude representing an optimistic future, the former is an emotional portrait of three teenagers seemingly contemplating — perhaps weighed down — by what is past and what lies ahead.


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of young people tackled the gruelling Miles for Millions walkathons, many finishing “pained [and] triumphant.”[81] Images of these children and adolescents form the centrepiece of the Miles for Millions visual archive. Walk promoters and print media used representations of youthful milers in symbolic ways: to point to the good health and vigorous spirit of a nation heading toward a bright future and as a powerful reminder that collectively Canada took seriously the need to do its part to end world hunger. The nation’s youth became potent markers of able-bodiedness, playing the role of counterpart to the sentimentalized needy Third World child. Visual representations of Canadian children on the Walk also challenged prevalent contemporary discourses about youth as unreliable, radical, and apathetic. This generation, captured in the photographs of the walk, was “all right”: committed to a worthy cause and able to literally go the distance in its support.

Miles for Millions photographs are excellent examples of the popularity of the observational documentary style and confirm the arrival of the “knowing child.” The visual archive of the event comprises images of young people that open up ideas about childhood and assert the historical agency of children.

Joan Latchford’s photographs of the Miles for Millions are an especially rich collection that contains powerfully symbolic images that use children to mark important social and political change. At the same time they can be read for what they contribute to social history that goes beyond clamorous beginnings and heroic finish-line moments. Her published and unpublished photographs together can be read for their symbolic messages that both use and are about children. By capturing young people in the moment, her collection presents us with the blistered and the bleeding, the tired and the determined. It also contributes to a discourse that merged the nation’s rhetoric on multiculturalism with the ambitions of the Miles for Millions — to accept humanity as one race — as seen in image 3. Her unpublished photographs hint at the experiences of children as performing subjects, as well as a more complex symbolism involving the child as object. Image 4, of three teenage girls, illustrates how youth, as an index for the future, could point to a future of uncertainty. The many images of girls suffering quietly along the Walk route underscore both how physical limits were tested and how suffering itself was gendered. Social historians can engage the Miles for Millions pictorial record for its hints at contemporary assumptions about childhood and competence; while not windows on events, the images can help deepen our thinking about the changing meanings and experiences of 1960s and 1970s childhood.