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The Dominion of Youth

Adolescence and the Making of Modern Canada, 1920 to 1950

Cynthia Comacchio

Publication Year: 2008

Adolescence, like childhood, is more than a biologically defined life stage: it is also a sociohistorical construction. The meaning and experience of adolescence are reformulated according to societal needs, evolving scientific precepts, and national aspirations relative to historic conditions. Although adolescence was by no means a “discovery” of the early twentieth century, it did assume an identifiably modern form during the years between the Great War and 1950.

The Dominion of Youth: Adolescence and the Making of Modern Canada, 1920 to 1950 captures what it meant for young Canadians to inhabit this liminal stage of life within the context of a young nation caught up in the self-formation and historic transformation that would make modern Canada. Because the young at this time were seen paradoxically as both the hope of the nation and the source of its possible degeneration, new policies and institutions were developed to deal with the “problem of youth.” This history considers how young Canadians made the transition to adulthood during a period that was “developmental”—both for youth and for a nation also working toward individuation. During the years considered here, those who occupied this “dominion” of youth would see their experiences more clearly demarcated by generation and culture than ever before. With this book, Cynthia Comacchio offers the first detailed study of adolescence in early-twentieth-century Canada and demonstrates how young Canadians of the period became the nation’s first modern teenagers.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Studies in Childhood and Family in Canada

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x

I have kept this old diary, with its gilded pink vinyl cover and its tiny padlock, through many years, moves, and life changes. Now and again I come across it; reading the careful scribbles, I am reminded that, at various times during the course of adolescence, the girl who wanted “things to change fast” would find herself wanting them to change back to their familiar form. That is the nature of ...

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Introduction: Young Canada

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pp. 1-16

The young nation of Charles G.D. Roberts’s1 verse greeted the twentieth century with the assurance from its prime minister that this new era would be “filled by Canada.” Throughout the Western world, “Canada’s Century” was also heralded as “The Century of the Child.” In 1900, American psychologist Granville Stanley Hall, pioneer of the child study movement and the century’s foremost ...

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1. In Theory: The "Problem of Modern Youth"

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pp. 17-44

Appearing at the ostensible height of the public furor over “flaming youth,” the sardonic verse that is this chapter’s epigraph acknowledges two fundamental facts in the history of adolescence: first, that social critics throughout all time have taken issue with the young; second, that they have achieved little in the way of their desired outcome. Public anxieties about “wild youth” are no more exclusive ...

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2. In the Home: Intergenerational Relations

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pp. 45-68

Where human relationships are concerned, there is an infinite number of possibilities between the poles of conciliation and conquest. The lines distinguishing generations are at once horizontally and vertically drawn. For most people, the central relationship of the formative, dependent, pre-adult years operates in both directions: families are hierarchically and generationally ordered...

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3. In Love: Dating and Mating

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pp. 69-98

Where adolescent peer relations are concerned, the most important are undoubtedly those involving the opposite sex. The revolution in morals thought to characterize the immediate post–World War I years was a defining trait of the “new generation,” thus a core element of the modern youth problem, if not its very core. Certainly the tone, nature, and frequency of public discourse on adolescent ...

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4. At School: The Culture of "Modern High"

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pp. 99-128

The central institution of modern adolescence was undoubtedly the high school. Its primary function was to “sort and develop” those on the verge of adulthood—“the most valuable raw material of which the country is possessed”—to ensure that young Canadians would attain their “maximum usefulness in building up and enriching our national structure.” The high school experience, ...

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5. On the Job: Training and Earning

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pp. 129-160

Modern industrial Canada needed to cultivate a certain type of labourer. The efficiency ideologues of the Great War years, whose influence continued into the interwar period, stressed the need for careful training from early childhood. This would ensure productivity, in its broadest sense: in the workplace, in government, in society at large, and even in the home, where the necessary management ...

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6. At Play: Fads, Fashions, and Fun

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pp. 161-188

In October 1921 a “large gathering” reportedly collected in Guelph, Ontario, to hear a local preacher discuss the social and spiritual repercussions of the “youth dance craze.” The speaker cited expert evidence, from “authorities who had no interest in the religious aspects,” who proclaimed young dance hall patrons to be “failures in classroom and physical culture.” It was urgent that responsible citizens ...

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7. At the Club: Youth Organizations

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pp. 189-210

As the previous chapter suggests, where the young were concerned, leisure was a veritable no-man’s land, to employ the Great War imagery that saturated the contemporary media. The youthful desire for excitement could be explained biologically as a “natural” inclination in light of Stanley Hall’s theories, but the enticements of modern popular culture appeared to be intensifying both the natural ...

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Conclusion: Youth's Dominion

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pp. 211-218

Written as the second half of Canada’s Century approached, Earle Birney’s satiric verse (above) captures the purpose with which I began this study: to consider the development of a modern adolescence within the context of a nation that was suffering the “growing pains” of becoming a mature participant in the modern world order. Whether Canada had crossed that...


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pp. 219-278


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pp. 279-290


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pp. 291-298

E-ISBN-13: 9781554580798
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889204881

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Studies in Childhood and Family in Canada