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1 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 theorist of adolescence, asserted that “knowing the true nature and needs of childhood and adolescence” was the only sure means of “thread[ing] our way through all the mazes of culture and the distractions of modern life.”2 This was the setting within which the “scant people” that longed to raise “a mighty state” from the ashes of the Great War looked to its young to show the way forward. Although not a modern discovery as such, adolescence, as life stage, experience , and culture, took on an identifiably modern form in the early twentieth century, thereby redefining conventional meanings of childhood and adulthood, of generational and familial relations, and of the state’s role in the nurture and training of its future citizens. More than anything, modern adolescence entails a prolonged socialization of the young. But young Canadians were not merely recipients of these historical trends: they actively contributed to reconfiguring the institutions and practices that governed their age group. In the process, in Introduction Young Canada Father of Nations! Of our scant people mould a mighty state... Whose forging on Thine anvil was begun In blood late shed to purge the common shame That so our hearts, the fever of faction done, Banish old feud in our young nation’s name. — Charles G.D. Roberts Introduction 5/8/06 8:25 PM Page 1 keeping with the specific historic conditions of their “coming of age,” they helped to define for their generation what made them “modern youth.” During the years between the Great War and 1950, those who inhabited this life stage—this “dominion of youth”—would demarcate their territory in terms of distinctive generational cultures. The border between adulthood and childhood remained permeable, as always, but it was recognizable—and recognized—as never before. New ideas about adolescence informed new and “modern” networks of socialization and regulation. Adolescence is ephemeral, as much conceptually as in its experience. More than a biological and demographic classification, it is, like childhood, a sociohistorical product. It is subject to reformulation according to time-specific societal needs, evolving scientific theories, cultural precepts, national aspirations . While some form of adolescence, in the sense of physical and social maturation, has clearly always existed in human societies, the process of becoming adult is neither timeless nor universal. The experience of adolescence is as much “in process” as are the age group’s human constituents. During the first half of the twentieth century, with its nature and needs subjected to increasingly rigorous scrutiny by the widening ranks of modern experts in the social sciences, medicine, and education, in social welfare organizations, and in state agencies, as well as by any number of commentators in the popular media, adolescence became a cultural phenomenon.3 By 1950 the life stage had become, in the words of psychologist Erik Erikson, a publicly sanctioned “psychosocial moratorium,” bridging the familial dependence of children and the worldly independence of adults.4 The quaint-sounding notion of “coming of age,” consequently , has as much to do with cultural meanings upheld, reproduced, and encoded by such institutions as family, church, school, and law—and, more recently, the state and its agencies—as with the biological changes of puberty. The subject of “becoming adult” is as complicated for historians as it has been for both youth and the avid youth-watchers of the century just past who populate this study. At the most basic level, how do we locate the points of entry and exit, as well as the main physiological, psychological, sociological and cultural characteristics of so liminal and transitional—transitory, actually—a life stage? How do we avoid conjuring a universal adolescence, ensuring that we account for the ways in which class, gender, race, region, culture, and historical circumstance differentiate adolescent experiences? How does this necessary acknowledgement of the contingent and mutable nature of adolescence affect the ways in which historians make sense of adolescence in the past? Can we gauge in any meaningful manner how principal national and world-historic events shape a generation’s collective biography? In grappling with these issues, my objective is to capture a...


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