restricted access "I am content with Canada": Canadian Girls at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
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"I am content with Canada":
Canadian Girls at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, British girls' print culture was increasingly interested in presenting the colonies as possible venues for better health, employment opportunities, marriage prospects, and motherhood. In particular, Canada was positioned as an especially attractive option for young female emigrants since the reasonably short ocean voyage from Britain compared favourably to much longer trips to Australia or New Zealand. Part of the strategy employed in middle-class girls' fiction and periodicals was to situate colonial girlhood within an international sisterhood that promoted the ties of imperialism in an effort to reassure girls that life in the colonies would allow them to maintain their purity and virtue. If girls everywhere could be united by the bonds and shared values of sisterhood, potential emigrants and their families could view the colonies as appropriate destinations for young, middle-class women.

This essay focuses on British girls' periodicals and novels published around the turn of the twentieth century that generate an imagined picture of Canadian girlhood; I also begin to contrast these representations with those produced and published in Canada. The reality is that the majority of Canadian girls' reading at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries was comprised of material written and published in England. While histories of girls' print culture produced in England and in Canada show that books and magazines read by girls contained a variety of perspectives on girls and their future roles, these materials offer a significant opportunity to explore how girls were fashioned as imperial and colonial subjects. Kristine Alexander demonstrates in her essay in this forum that the history of girlhood reflects a tradition of girls being "spoken for and about" by adults (134). Yet much like the Guide scrapbooks and journals she examines, in which girls select which Guide ideologies they wish to embrace, girls' periodicals show how girls [End Page 119] inserted their own perspectives into their magazines through letters to the editor and correspondence sections. This essay extends work that I have begun on British girls' print culture in Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850-1915, in which I show that girls' periodicals carefully developed unique models of girlhood in their pages in attempts to attract readers. In some ways, these attempts to target specific girls resemble Natalie Coulter's exploration of the "discovery" of the tween market by advertisers. Moreover, her discussion of how childhood is marketed on an international scale has particular resonance with attempts to market the "Canadian girl" to international audiences. The "Canadian girl" not only has a national appeal based on her importance as a future wife and mother, but she also has an international appeal that emerges from the freedoms she enjoys and her supposed connection to the natural world.

British and Canadian representations reflect different attitudes toward and expectations of Canada and Canadian girlhood. In British girls' print culture, Canadian girlhood is characterized by health, freedom, and heroism. Novels like those by Bessie Marchant include Canadian girls who are offered freedoms that would have been unacceptable in England, often as part of a strategy designed to encourage girls to emigrate. Liberated from the constraints of a British feminine ideal that valorized weakness and inactivity, these Canadian characters were actively involved in establishing and maintaining the home as a place of safety and security.

In contrast, Canadian depictions of girls are often concerned with their future roles, which are typically expected to be maternal. In materials not directly intended for girls but which discuss girls' roles in Canada's development, childbearing is emphasized. As Cecily Devereux has noted, in the face of Darwinian fears about degeneration, racial "regeneration could only happen in the settler colonies, and . . . only . . . if sufficient numbers of white women went to the colonies to 'breed' this improved race in what were represented as inherently purer spaces" ("New Woman" 179). The imperial girl is encouraged to consider the possibilities of a colonial location like Canada as a place where she would be expected to conform to many British middle-class beliefs, but where she "could discover more...