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Rural youth in transition : growing up in Williams Lake, British Columbia, 1945-1975 Arruda, Antonio Filomeno

Abstract

Histories o f childhood and youth have generally focused upon social policy toward young people. This dissertation chronicles the actual experiences of youth growing up in and around Williams Lake in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of British Columbia, a "western" community surrounded by open spaces, ranches, and Aboriginal reservations. Williams Lake underwent economic, demographic, spatial as well as social transformation in the first three decades following the Second World War. Forty-three oral interviews with two sets o f subjects who were adolescents in the study area furnished the bulk of the primary evidence. Most of the first "generation" were bom in the Great Depression and were teens sometime between 1945 and 1955. The second generation are "baby-boomers" bom between 1947 and 1962 who were teens between 1965 and 1975. This joint narrative details select aspects o f their lives at school, at paid and unpaid labour, with friends, and at leisure. It suggests changes and continuities in the experience of local youth between 1945 and 1975. First generation non-Aboriginal subjects grew up with a somewhat coherent peer group albeit with relatively little physical and social contact with Aboriginal youth. Gendered domestic labour around home and property honed work skills and dispositions from an early age. The emergence of local sawmills greatly expanded work options for males but not females. Males also enjoyed comparatively more spatial and temporal freedom throughout their youth. Second generation subjects grew up in a context of greater urbanization and access to mass culture. The merger of regional youth in the high school along with natural population growth, demographic change including the enrollment of first Aboriginal and then Indo-Canadian youth encouraged factions as well as cultural gulfs among youth in the school and community. Their leisure was comparatively less divided, at least on the basis of gender, as many non-Aboriginal parents eased traditional restrictions upon daughters. With notable exceptions this generation contributed less labour to their household and directed part- and full-time earnings into satisfying their own personal interests. The author suggests the pattern of youths' recreational use of hinterlands during the period reflects common practice in many Canadian communities located in similar rural and isolated settings. He illustrates how factors such as family affluence and circumstances, gender, "race" and ethnicity continued to mediate the experience of growing up in this post-war period. He concludes many more local accounts of the experiences of youth are needed before any attempt is made at an inclusive national historical synthesis of growing up in Canada after the Second World War.

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