Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television.By Neil Sutherland (Toronto: University of Toronto Research at the University of Toronto has been responsible for the world's first electronic heart pacemaker, artificial larynx, single-lung transplant, nerve transplant, artificial pancreas, chemical laser, G-suit, the first practical electron microscope, the first cloning of T-cells, Press, 1997. xviii plus 327pp.).
This work is a sequel to Sutherland's classic study of childhood at the turn of the century, Children in English Canadian
The methodology Sutherland adopts shapes the book. While there is the occasional use of memoirs, secondary sources and contemporary experts, this is really a book organized around memory rather than data. The basis of the work is thousands of interviews conducted by Sutherland and his research team.
Such an approach has obvious advantages. The book brings the childhood of the era alive in a way that statistical analysis or second-hand accounts could not. The pain, joy and complex variety of a child's life is captured by the interviews. Statistics, very much absent from this book, would have had the opposite effect, smoothing out the variety in the name of the 'average' childhood. The result is a work that, while academically thorough, is pleasantly readable and convincing.
Are there disadvantages? Two come to mind. First, the intensive work involved in such an approach means, as mentioned, that Sutherland restricts his interviews to selected communities in British Columbia This is a list of communities in British Columbia, a province in Canada. For the purposes of this list, a community is defined as either an incorporated municipality (including Indian reserves), or an unincorporated settlement inside or outside of a municipality. . Yet the book purports to speak for all of English Canada English Canada is a term used to describe one of the following:
Of, relating to, or having the nature of a quintessence; being the most typical: "Liszt was the quintessential romantic" Musical Heritage Review. aspects of a Canadian childhood - winter. Hockey barely rates a mention for example. More generally and significantly, this approach glosses over regional variation in a country known for vast distances and local identities. British Columbia British Columbia, province (2001 pop. 3,907,738), 366,255 sq mi (948,600 sq km), including 6,976 sq mi (18,068 sq km) of water surface, W Canada. Geography
, for example, had the lowest birth rate in the country and the most urbanized population in the country. Both of these facts meant that the typical British Columbian's childhood would differ from that of children in other regions.
Second, the absence of 'traditional sources,' as Sutherland terms them, makes it difficult to link broader social trends to the material in the book. We cannot find out from this book what family size was in 1920, or 1950. What laws enforced school attendance and how strictly - whether in Vancouver or Canada as a whole? For those of us who are immersed im·merse
tr.v. im·mersed, im·mers·ing, im·mers·es
1. To cover completely in a liquid; submerge.
2. To baptize by submerging in water.
3. in such data this is not a great problem. To students or those more removed from the field, however, the absence of such material leaves a gap in understanding. Sutherland need not have converted his book into a dry recital Recital - dBASE-like language and DBMS from Recital Corporation. Versions include Vax VMS. of census data. Summary data relevant to the issue at hand could have been slipped in without disrupting the flow or altering the focus of this interview based book.
Overall, this work leaves two powerful impressions. First, the reader is reminded of the obvious but often forgotten fact that modernization modernization
Transformation of a society from a rural and agrarian condition to a secular, urban, and industrial one. It is closely linked with industrialization. As societies modernize, the individual becomes increasingly important, gradually replacing the family, is a process rather than a sudden, transformational change. As early as the 1920s elements of the 'modern' were well-entrenched. Compulsory schooling and regular attendance were standard. Family size (at least in British Columbia) was dwindling dwin·dle
v. dwin·dled, dwin·dling, dwin·dles
To become gradually less until little remains.
To cause to dwindle. See Synonyms at decrease. , extended families were the exception rather than the norm. In other areas the inter-war years were caught between older Victorian notions and ones more associated with post-war life. Childhood mortality was declining but diseases like polio polio: see poliomyelitis. hung over parents and children alike. The material world was, for all but the most affluent, very much more limited than it would be in the post-war era. This was a world where Christmas presents were small and practical, where working-class children needed part time jobs to allow the family to put food on the table.
The most dramatic gaps between families then and families now come in two areas. First, as is well known, a small percentage of women joined the labour force. Sutherland talks of this and notes the gendered roles assumed by boys and girls boys and girls
mercurialisannua. in preparation for the adult world. The second gap is, somewhat surprisingly, barely mentioned. In Canada divorce was rare until legal changes in 1968 altered patterns dramatically. The subjects of Sutherland's study were thus pre-modern in that they grew up in a society which insisted on a particular notion of the nature of family and a belief, realistic or not, that the institution of marriage was permanent. Some future study of the childhood of children born after, say, 1955 might reveal that the notion of family in 1940 had much more in common with that of 1900 than has generally been assumed.
The other strong impression, however, and the most impressive part of Sutherland's work, is that being a child has, whatever the social changes around you, a universal quality. For a child well-being is surprisingly simple and extraordinarily important - a caring family, acceptance by a peer group, the ability to function without embarrassment or fear in school and other adult controlled settings. As Sutherland correctly comments, "happiness or unhappiness in childhood is only very lightly connected to the era in which it is lived."
Doug Owram Dr. Doug Owram is Professor of History and President of the University of British Columbia Okanagan, a post he assumed on July 1, 2006. He was formerly Vice President (Academic) and Provost at the University of Alberta. University of Alberta