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211 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 threshold by 1950 or, as the poet suggests, was still “frozen in adolescence,” is a metaphorical rendering of the question of national identity that has so pervaded our history. Examining adolescence historically does much to dispel notions of what is “natural,” “inevitable,” and universal about this life stage and about generational relations. At the same time, history points to the relationship, replete with contradictions, between youth, modernity, and national identity. Adolescence became a modern phenomenon, increasingly distinct, increasingly identifiable as a special state of being—and becoming—during the years between the Great War and 1950. Yet it was never the universal experience that it was made out to be by experts and non-experts alike. Being young is not the same for all young people.1 Commonalities in age, generation, and culture do Conclusion Youth’s Dominion This is the case of a high school land, forever frozen in adolescence. — Earle Birney, “The Case of Canada,” 1948 Conclusion 5/8/06 8:24 PM Page 211 not necessarily surmount other social differences to make the young a homogeneous class. Because they occupy a subordinate stratum in the hierarchy of age (and consequently power) that orders most societies, oppression and discrimination figured in the experiences of youth in the past and continue to do so. It is nonetheless difficult to sustain any argument that young people have consistently endured the kind of group oppression or systemic discrimination affecting those singled out by class, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Nor can any strong sense of the young as a uniformly progressive, radical, “avantgarde ” force be upheld, despite the fact that they are often the first to embrace social change and that youth movements have played important roles in motivating or responding to social change. Each generation refashions the entelechy of its predecessor to reflect its own cultural-historical moment and the particular nature of the destabilizing forces that affect how its members are nurtured, schooled, trained, and employed, how they court and how they pass the time, their “inborn way of experiencing life and the world.”2 As young Canadians came of age during the Great War, the Great Depression, and World War II, not only their experience and “style” of adolescence but also their collective consciousness were necessarily shaped by these world events. As with so many of the “social problems” defined as such in the first half of the twentieth century, the modern youth problem was originally associated with working-class and immigrant families that were, in the eyes of their largely middle-class, white, Canadian-born observers, inherently problematic. The solutions promoted to contain the youth problem were fundamentally the kinds of institutions, organizations, programs, and policies that reflected their values, fears, and objectives, their very sense of what “Canadian” meant and what the nation needed. High schools, vocational courses, juvenile and family courts, state-regulated apprenticeships , the new extracurriculum, and voluntary youth associations, to name a few of the most important developments, were all firmly in the hands of adults from this social group. This is not to say that young Canadians avoided , resented, or simply ignored new opportunities for secondary school education or for participation in extracurricular activities and “outside” youth groups. The available numbers, however, as well as the autobiographical material and more impressionistic evidence, suggest that an easy majority of those who completed high school, became active in school-based extracurricular activities, and joined the approved clubs were their own children, or those least likely to be part of the youth problem. While the high school experience of youth from immigrant, rural, and less affluent families was generally shorter or more complicated than that of their more fortunate peers, their involvement in the culture of the modern high school more passive or ephemeral, and their entry into paid labour earlier and at a lower occupational rank, these teenagers nonetheless took active part in defining their generation’s moment. As popular recreation became increasingly a consumer product, dependent on a widening network of related forms of 212 / The Dominion of Youth Conclusion 5/8/06 8:24 PM Page 212 consumption—from clothing to...


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