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Childhood in Calgary’s Postwar Suburbs: Kids, Bullets, and Boom, 1950–1965

  • James Onusko
Cover of Volume 43, Number 2, Spring 2015, pp. 5-67, Urban History Review

Article body

I remember being a little scared, I think because we practised these drills. I don’t think we understood why we were doing them … other than the Soviet Union was a bad place, maybe they could invade, and communism was bad. It must have been when I was in lower elementary, end of the 1950s, and the early 1960s.[1]

An enduring popular image of post–Second World War suburbia is one that highlights a stable and comparatively undifferentiated experience for Canadian children. Much of the popular and scholarly literature on Canadian, American, and British postwar suburbs tends to portray them as exclusively middle class, homogeneous, conformist, conservative, and alienating. While there continues to be lively debate about this, negative views of the suburbs are in the majority in both the popular and academic literature.[2] These prevailing views persist in the work of academics, popular fiction writers, and artists.[3]

Histories of the suburbs, and the lifestyles of the people who have inhabited them, have been a popular subject for historians in Canada and elsewhere, for more than four decades. Hundreds of scholars, primarily in history, psychology, sociology, economics, geography, and urban studies, have produced significant academic work. Whereas the majority, if not all representations of the postwar suburbs have tended to the negative, some scholars and commentators view them as having offered a viable choice to several families of varying socioeconomic classes. While Canadian suburbs appeared similar in outward appearance, increasingly so in the post–Second World War era, this has not necessarily meant that the suburbs have created total homogenization in the built environment, lifestyles, attitudes, and values of their inhabitants.

The intersections between suburbia, children, and adolescents are important ones. Suburban living has become the definitive housing choice for a large majority of North American people since the end of the Second World War.[4] Suburbs embody substantial economic, political, and cultural power in Canada and the United States. It has been accepted by many observers that leisure and a relatively carefree life increasingly defined large parts of the experience for children in this period, although some scholars have shown a different side to the experiences for some young people.[5] Whereas this was not the exclusive one, the common refrain has been that everyday Canadians wanted to move forward with their lives, following the horrors of the Second World War, and the lasting remnants of the earlier Great Depression. Toronto’s Crestwood children, who had been reared in an environment of prosperity and success, who came to feel that life’s opportunities were limitless, that they could become anything they wished to become, have been an iconic representation of suburban children from this era.[6] In an American context, and applicable to Canada as well, historian Elaine Tyler May demonstrates that suburbia was represented as stable, prosperous, and peaceful, in arguing for the superiority of Western capitalism in the Cold War era.[7]

However, this article takes an alternate view. I argue that suburban young people, across gender lines,[8] were exposed to aggressive imagery, discursive constructs, and everyday practices in an attempt to discipline them for possible military service and ongoing participation in civilian defence, and that they internalized much of these practices. The resulting general atmosphere prepared children and adolescents to engage “enemies,” under the auspices of the Cold War that lay within and outside postwar childhood spaces.[9] For some, the postwar label suggests that the war may have evaporated from the minds of children, yet this was not the case.[10] Evidence is based on oral history interviews, images produced for children in this time, newspaper editorials, and the school-based literature and art produced by students from postwar Calgary suburbia.

Figure 1, and dozens of related advertisements, appeared throughout Calgary’s school yearbooks and other publications in the postwar era, and illustrates the attempts by some adults to solicit youth for direct military service as the Cold War was waged.[11]

Figure 1

Crescent Heights High School Bugle 1951–52

Crescent Heights High School Bugle 1951–52
Courtesy of Glenbow Archives collection

-> See the list of figures

This was a period of profound social change and upheaval for people of all ages, despite the claims that, for many, and middle-class children in particular, this was a time of peacefulness and stability. Overarching discursive constructions, particularly in contemporary popular culture, and in subsequent movies, television series,[12] and literature focused on the 1950s and early 1960s indicates that younger children, and adolescents especially, were physically shielded from theatres of war and their effects in the twenty years following the end of the Second World War.[13]

Quite clearly, the broad societal concerns of adults in Canada and the United States focused on the perceived threat of the spread of communism and the concomitant threat of nuclear war brought home by events such as the Korean War, a U2 spy plane shot down over the USSR in 1960, the unrealized Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, along with the Vietnam War and its later escalation and expansion by the mid-1960s.[14] Some of these adult concerns were presented in literary culture produced by children found in the archival record, and the oral history interviews undertaken, that focused at times on the ongoing Cold War and both the First and Second World Wars.

In the context of broader research methodologies, the oral history fieldwork offered a profound and meaningful change in dialogue. I began speaking with, and most importantly, listening to people, not just critically analyzing archival sources. I conducted nineteen oral history interviews with individuals who grew up in the Calgary suburbs. With a small number of interviewees, coincidentally, initial contact was made at archival institutions and Banff Trail schools in Calgary, where I researched. I also posted an on-line notice on the active and popular Banff Trail community website. From there, I employed a snowballing technique to find further interviewees from this initial group. In other terms, a chain of acquaintanceship was established as a result of this methodology.[15] This yielded the bulk of my research participants. I did try to maintain a basic gender and age balance—attempting to find an array of people born in the late 1940s through the late 1950s. These individuals now reside across North America. The request for anonymity was at their discretion. I used a combination of in-person and telephone interviews in conducting these conversations that lasted from twenty minutes to nearly two hours. All interviewees responded to thirty-four questions, some of which were direct, but many were open-ended, with an opportunity for interviewees to shape their responses. The limitations in the meaning of the written record were reinforced when the memories of interviewees were brought to bear on archival documents. It has become a truism among many oral historians that while the written record is often accurate, it is not necessarily true.[16] Accuracy is based mainly on facts, while the truth often requires nuance, interpretation, and context for fuller meanings.

When research participants were asked about the 1950s and 1960s from the perspective of their childhoods, I had to be aware that their memories would not consist only of personal experiences—things that undoubtedly happened to them and to those closest to them—but that individual memories were also recalled in the context of the memories of their family and friends. It is clear that when interviewed about the habits and routines of everyday life, even decades afterward, many people are able to recall in considerable detail the things they carried out continually: their walks to and from school, conversations around the dinner table, and regular weekend rituals.[17] The quality, vividness, and depth of an individual’s memory of a specific event, series of events, or experiences depends upon the encoding that happened at the time being recalled, and the circumstances in which the remembering is taking place.[18] I am mindful that the individual stories of interviewees often cast light on the collective scripts of other young children and adolescents from this period.[19] These memories can be organized into two basic script categories. Routinized or daily activities tend to be situational and are often common to several people. Conversely, scripts can be personal. They may take place within situational scripts, but they deviate from broader situational scripts that most of us use to organize our memories of childhood.[20] Therefore, corroboration and substantiation marked many of the stories that emerged from the group of research participants that I have worked with and allowed me to create connective webs to other young people’s experiences. The interview text became a document infused with the agency of the interviewer and the research participant.[21] However, as Michael Frisch has argued persuasively, the historian holds final interpretive authority in relaying the story.[22] None of these processes are smooth, and practitioners must consider the contradictions and tensions within individual scripts and across the broader spectrum of interviews. A key outcome has been that the oral histories provided much-needed nuance, further explanation and context to the written word.

Suburban children and adolescents engaged with and used several forms of military imagery, literary culture, everyday practices, and play to negotiate their bounded childhood space—primarily schools, streets, homes, parks, and unsupervised sites—throughout the postwar period. Primary research began with archival work that focused on childhood in Calgary’s post–Second World War suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s,[23] along with the interviews with individuals who grew up in the communities of Banff Trail and Charleswood in northwest Calgary.[24] Calgary, and its burgeoning suburbs in particular, has had relatively little written about it in this period, and I address that point directly.[25] Other studies of Canadian suburban spaces have focused overwhelmingly on the experiences of central Canadians, with few comparisons with other regions.[26] In many ways, post–Second World War Calgary emerged from its metaphorical childhood, experienced its adolescence, and matured into early adulthood in the years covered in this article. Its population exploded, the number of its elementary, junior high, and secondary schools mushroomed, it gained its own university near the Banff Trail suburb, expanded other post-secondary educational institutions, increased shopping and cultural opportunities, and built significant new infrastructure in the postwar era. Calgary’s suburban development also paralleled the national pattern of becoming increasingly corporatized and planned towards the end of this period.[27]

While it is clear that discussions and images of war were generated consistently within the wider adult culture, they were not immediately transferred to children. Young people negotiated these constructs and refracted them through their own childhood cultures and spaces at school, in the home, and at play. In addition, children’s agency is a key consideration as children and adolescents can potentially reclaim the dominance of hegemonic forces for progressive purposes.[28] Work in the past fifteen years by prominent scholars of the history of childhood such as Paula Fass, Stephen Mintz, Mona Gleason, Tamara Myers, Joan Sangster, and Cynthia Comacchio reflects this changing position on agency, in contrast to some of the earliest work in the field by Philippe Ariès and Neil Sutherland, who, at least initially, did not explore children’s agency to the same degree.[29] When I refer to children and adolescents having exercised agency, I use agency in the broadest context to describe a person, regardless of age, in an active role versus a passive one.[30] Upon reaching adolescence, most young people were choosing whether or not to work outside the home, what extracurricular activities to participate in, how to manage personal finances, who their friends were, how they would spend their spare time, how long they would spend with immediate and extended family members, and what direction their formal education would take, in the present and in the future. So while the impact on children by adults associated with influential institutions such as schools and churches is undeniable, what children produce remains their own, despite adult guidance and direction. As cultural theorist Dick Hebdige has demonstrated, fashions, music, and objects are the means whereby dominated groups may express their unwillingness to be organized into the dominant order.[31] Some of what I have located shows, at least in part, a willingness to reflect the dominant order rather than subvert it. Some individual representations were marked by elements of both—further illustrating some of the complexities and tensions in young people’s everyday lives. The nudging to conform and reflect the dominant order was often encouraged by older siblings, parents, extended family members, teachers, and other community leaders, yet as these young people aged, the choice to reject or reflect was real.

Previous full-length monographs on the history of postwar Canadian suburbs have lacked one critical component—the primary consideration of age, and particularly children and adolescents.[32] In this article, I concentrate on the school-age years of kindergarten through the end of high school. Children, as I define them, are six through twelve years of age. I use adolescent as an age category, and define it as ages thirteen through nineteen.[33] For this article, youth is used interchangeably with adolescent(s).

To understand immediate postwar suburban childhoods, it is critical to recognize that the period’s family patterns—a high birth rate, a relatively stable divorce rate, and a comparatively low number of mothers in the workforce, at least in the first decade of the postwar period—were a historical aberration and out of line with long-term historical trends across the continent.[34] Historians note that youth and modernity became entwined by this period, signifying at once profound angst and hope. Embedded with contradictions, youth moved from being a classification of subordination and, increasingly throughout the twentieth century, for most, also a powerful symbol of a desirable state of being.[35]

As a city, postwar Calgary experienced a coming of age of its own. In this period, Calgary established itself as the corporate base for most major oil companies in Canada, and saw its population grow from 104,718 in 1950,[36] to 235,428 by 1960,[37] and by 1970, 385,436.[38] This was a remarkable transformation, as such rates are rarely seen in a city of this size and age (Fort Calgary was established in 1875), even in the booming postwar period across the continent. The city nearly quadrupled in population from the late 1940s through the late 1960s. The overwhelming majority of the growth, common across many Canadian cityscapes, was centred in the suburbs. While similar growth had not been seen in Canada for decades, the suburbs were not merely a postwar phenomenon.

Historians of the suburbs have shown that early twentieth-century Canadian suburbs came in a wide range of densities, planning forms, land-use mixes, relationships to nearby urbanized areas, house types, and overall costs.[39] My definition of the suburbs differs from that of most economists, sociologists, and urban geographers in that it reflects historical considerations and features four qualities: they exist on the edges and fringes of cities, just outside the boundaries of cities, and—most important—they are a measurable distance from a city’s central business district; they are less densely populated vis-à-vis other urban areas and feature primarily single-family housing; they have comparatively high levels of home-owner occupation versus renting; and finally, in their earliest stages they may have “rural” qualities (nearby farms, large swaths of open space, little commercial development, and few roadways), but after a period between two to five years following establishment, suburban communities are unmistakably urban. This is not to posit that there was no variance across the country. In suburbs outside of Toronto for instance, the new postwar communities could be much more than ten kilometres from the downtown core, which was therefore inaccessible to younger children by foot or on their bikes. Conversely, in cities such as Calgary and Edmonton, where suburban development occurred mainly within previously established, annexed city limits, these suburbs, while still on the edges of these less-populated cities, were often only four or five kilometres from the central business district.[40]

I focus on one representative postwar Calgary suburb, Banff Trail. It meets the criteria outlined above and, in particular, it held both rural and urban characteristics for several years following the construction of its first homes. An early Banff Trail resident recalled having “thought we were out in the country. There was nothing there! Pheasants, rabbits and prairie chickens all came to our door. It was much simpler then.”[41] Some former residents in describing the Banff Trail suburb have called it Capitol Hill and have included Confederation Park, McMahon Stadium, and Foothills Stadium as being part of their larger community.[42] The City of Calgary also changed the boundaries of the community as the area grew and small disputes between Banff Trail and neighbouring Charleswood—part of the larger Tri-Wood area of northwest Calgary—surfaced by the mid-1960s in documents in the archival record.[43]

In the early 1950s, Banff Trail lots were purchased directly from the City of Calgary. It was one of the last communities to do so in Calgary in the immediate postwar period and reflected similar changes in many Canadian cities. Calgary was not spared the increasing influence of large private developers, such as the ubiquitous Carma in Calgary.[44] Striving to be expansive in my definition of community, I interviewed some people who spent a lot of time in Banff Trail, but had lived in neighbouring Charleswood. This provided some subtle contrast and nuance rather than a study featuring Banff Trail residents exclusively, as the nascent suburb population numbered only in the hundreds in in its earliest years.[45] All of these Charleswood participants had had friends in Banff Trail; adult-instituted boundaries were in many ways inconsequential to childhood relationships and associated everyday activities. These interviewees attended the suburban schools that were central to their experiences. So young people’s lives were not restricted to their individual communities when they attended school, played sports, met with friends and, at times, went to their first jobs to babysit, deliver newspapers, cut grass, and shovel snow. Not all activities were benign.

Figure 2

Crescent Heights High School Bugle 1951–52

Crescent Heights High School Bugle 1951–52
Courtesy of Glenbow Archives collection

-> See the list of figures

Some of the most revealing sources related to war and paramilitary activities, were found in student yearbooks, school newspapers, and newsletters. Students did not always hold final editorial control over what they produced for these publications. Some young writers and student editors had relatively little formal guidance and oversight in their work, likely because they were chosen for their strong writing skills, relative maturity, and ability to offer neutral-sounding viewpoints in their writing.[46] These publications were also filled with texts with mature and sobering themes that adults designed for young students. It is an important reminder that adult editors could be directly involved with yearbook content. A page from a 1950s school yearbook (figure 2) is a pithy example of recruitment by some paramilitary organizations within high schools across the country.[47] It contains gendered messaging, appealing directly to young males, offering the opportunity to learn skills that transfer directly to military life that military recruiters hope will follow.

As one student article from the mid-1950s noted, the United States Atomic Energy Commission was testing atomic bombs in the southwestern United States, with the Canadian military involved as well. According to this article, little had been previously revealed to the general public, but recently, spectators had been invited to watch the testing:

There were radiomen, reporters, television operator contingents of the Canadian Army and some ordinary public spectators allowed on the scene. Most personnel were so overjoyed at being allowed to see an Atomic blast that not one complaint was heard. The blast scheduled for the next day was cancelled, much to the disappointment of everyone. Because of high winds, rain and other climatic disturbances, the day was postponed for well over one week … When the bomb was dropped, at 5:30 a.m., a brilliant flash illuminated the area for miles around, followed by a sudden surge of heat. When contact was made with the closest trench, the spectators there were quite disgruntled, because after flying dirt and rock, blown into the air by the bomb has landed on their helmets, a cloud of dust had surrounded them, so preventing them from seeing anything.[48]

There was a celebratory atmosphere, without critical analysis of the devastation wrought by atomic bombs dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the close of the Second World War, just a few years earlier. The article closes with further speculation that people had not enjoyed their viewing of the explosion because there had been relative lack of drama, and this might have been why, despite its importance, little was mentioned in the mainstream press about it.[49]

Another arresting image reflects how art, pervasive fear, and aggressive imagery also manifested in the lives of young suburbanites (figure 3). One student drawing from the 1950s offers a snapshot of the art children produced in contemporary school publications. It appears to have been inspired, at least in part, from hand-to-hand combat that defined an earlier era, and the soldier’s headgear in the foreground reflects Canada’s enemy combatants from both the First and Second World Wars.[50] Cancer had also begun to enter the consciousness of some youngsters. When interviewed, several baby boomers recalled that suburban community members of all ages were victims of cancer in this era, although they universally remembered that the disease did not have the exposure that it does today. The battle with cancer was being established in the collective mind set of schoolchildren just as the battle against polio was waning after the introduction of the Salk vaccine.

Another school newspaper article detailed the preparations in Calgary for an international Scouting jamboree, the corresponding trip to Ottawa, and what happened following the troops’ arrival. The Scouts’ disciplining, testing, and achievements were emphasized, while the exemplary qualities of the Calgary troops and their activities at the jamboree were highlighted. There is a palpable sense of shared duties, hard work, and camaraderie among the Scouts throughout the article. This atmosphere fitted well with the growing Calgary suburban neighbourhoods where Scout leaders were often community members—fathers in almost all instances—who were interested in helping to mould young people physically, socially, intellectually, and spiritually into “good” citizens within a paramilitary context. Generally speaking, local adults from the community—specifically, predominantly the male members of the United Church—organized the local troops. Banff Trail was no exception:

We painted “chuckwagons,” spliced hundreds of ropes, packed tents and equipment, practised skits and songs, and learned how to spin ropes. Besides passing many tests and badges we made small articles to trade with foreign scouts. We finally got to Connaught Camp which is just outside of Ottawa, and “piled off” the train into one hundred degree temperatures with one hundred per cent humidity. After about five hours and ten showers later, we had the camp set up. We then put on our “Stetsons” and “jeans,” got our chuckwagons out and proceeded to “live-up” the camp for the first of many times.[51]

The article ends with a list of the attending countries and notes that 3,500 Scouts had gathered, including the Calgarians. While there were several references to the extracurricular activities associated with the jamboree, the “productive” tests and badge achievements that are referenced throughout the piece reflect general goals of the Scouting movement. The desire by some Canadian boys to seek paramilitary engagements, or direct military action itself, has a long history in Canada. Historian Tim Cook estimates that as many as 20,000 underage soldiers likely served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War.[52]

At times, school newspapers revealed an abiding awareness of the Cold War, the atomic bomb, as well as organizations and events that fostered and promoted militaristic training. Mainstream newspapers emphasized that students were growing up in a context in which war remained prominent. The Albertan, the more conservative of the two Calgary dailies, ran an editorial that criticized the context in which young people were growing up in by the 1960s, and young people’s “inappropriate” reactions to the issues of the era. It emphasizes a perceived loss of “values” and “maturity,” and the idea that children had been raised within a context of great upheaval characterized by a “barbarous age,” “war,” and “rebellion.” The editorial ends with the sentiment that pervasive lying in society, particularly in the context of the Cold War and continuing military operations, has corrupted young people beyond the point where they can distinguish between right and wrong. It is condescending and reflects the idea of a protected childhood, portraying young people as incapable of engaging with these discourses and shaping them in any meaningful way for their own use:

Young people today deserve our deepest sympathy for they have been born into a savage, barbarous age, in many respects worse than that of Samson’s day. Youth lack sensible discipline, and, without rules to guide them, never learn rules for mature living … They have no real knowledge of their place in society … Children today have been brought up in the atmosphere of war and rebellion. Many believe there is nothing wrong with stealing; it’s being caught that’s the sin. All about them they see violence with the psychological accompaniments of fury, madness, hatred and terrorism. Hatred always accompanies violence. Youth see that the older generation has made lying a way of life. They see the lies about Vietnam, about the lives of public men, about disarmament talks and nuclear bomb testing.[53]

Figure 3

Crescent Heights High School Bugle 1957–58

Crescent Heights High School Bugle 1957–58
Courtesy of Glenbow Archives collection

-> See the list of figures

Appearing in the mid-1960s, this editorial demonstrates a prominent strand running through the period reflected in other mainstream, national publications: an ongoing focus on war and its relevance to the everyday lives of young people.[54] It also illustrates a prevailing discourse that young people lack discipline and the ability to follow the dominant rules of society. It is a refrain found across time in the history of childhood and adolescence.

As noted in one of the articles above, Scouting for some young people was an important part of their social lives. It was key in establishing and maintaining social links with friends, in addition to the broader institutional goals of discipline and training.[55] One interviewee remembered, “[Scouts] was something [my parents] would have just signed me up for at six or seven. Almost all of my close friends were from that group of boys. At one time, I remember people talking about [the fact that] St. David’s had one of the largest Scouting programs in all of Canada—four Scout troops with twenty-four boys in each.”[56]

On the surface, this surge in Scouting in Calgary seems to contradict broader national trends noted by Doug Owram that were marked by a significant decline in religious service attendance and activities like Scouting in the immediate postwar period.[57] A sense of community emerged quickly in Banff Trail, as it did in many Canadian suburban communities, with leaders stepping up almost immediately among the active parent group. While Banff Trail was not an affluent suburb, it does speak to the additional leisure time available to many working-class and middle-class parents in the postwar period. Insofar as the higher Scouting numbers are concerned, the higher concentration of American families, particularly from the southern United States associated with the oil and gas industry, and their accompanying values, may have been contributing factors. While many Americans moved to Canada to dodge the draft during this period, it is highly unlikely that oil industry executives moved to Calgary for this reason.

The interviewee who spoke of Scouting also vividly recalled the Vietnam War, and that among certain groups of adolescents it was a significant topic of discussion in school classrooms. His memory suggests that suburban youngsters were in fact engaged, and indeed connected with seemingly far-flung international events. There was no consensus in the literature or among interviewees about the Vietnam War. However, discussion about the war in school newspapers and yearbooks, was decidedly anti-war by the mid-1960s. Yet, speaking from the perspective of childhood, some interviewees and school articles argued that the Vietnam War was necessary to combat the potential reach of communism. In other words, these suburban spaces were not isolated enclaves in which young people were sheltered from the “real” world: “In terms of Vietnam, one of my Scout buddies, he was American; lots of Americans in the oil business in Calgary in those days. His father had been shipped up from Oklahoma. He was very anxious to be part of that so he joined up. He had to be part of it, [although ultimately he] spent the entire service sitting in an office, typing. I remember a couple of teachers would throw it open for discussion. Particularly with the group of people I was with.”[58]

While some interviewees spoke of Scouting, others wanted to discuss the kinds of play, supervised and unsupervised, that dominated their playtimes. Again, war was on their minds. Suburban backyard spaces offered completely new experiences for children and were often significantly larger than where they had played in inner-city communities. Some yards could accommodate elaborate play areas that allowed youngsters to reflect and reconstitute broader themes from the late 1950s and early 1960s.[59] As Bruce remembered, discussion of rockets was a key part of his and his playmates’ outdoor activities. His backyard held “a rocket launching set of three or four launchers. We dug in the backyard, and we would make missile silos like Americans had in Montana, and we buried these things down and practised launching them. It was a huge thing during playtime in our lives, the boys especially.”[60] Thus, the broader continentalism that accelerated in this period, particularly economically, was also present in childhood play cultures.[61] It was also common for children to spend parts of their summer holidays on extended family car vacations in the United States.

He also recalled the influence that the military and war more generally had on his consciousness and on his choices of which organizations to join. He was one of a handful of individuals to mention that many residents in this particular suburb seemed to support the military, reflecting broader “conservative” values that marked the times for many North Americans. He referenced the Second World War in one part of his interview:

Of course the war, sacrifices that Canadians had made, so there was a great respect around Remembrance Day. I went into cadets with that interest. It didn’t mean I wanted to be in the Armed Forces necessarily, but a respect for that. Dad told me a lot of stories about the war and what had happened to him and my uncle. That shaped our respect for the Armed Forces and the military, it was a positive attitude towards that … and within the context of Banff Trail there was pretty pro-military, [and overall] support for what had happened in the war.[62]

Bruce clearly recalled that his belief system as a child was part of a larger one reflected in this postwar suburb. It seemed to be supported by both family members and other community members with whom he associated.

Quite clearly, the Cold War had left an important imprint on this interviewee’s childhood. A flood of memories on this topic included school-related discipline experienced by young suburbanites in Scouting and cadets in the postwar era. It also reflected elements of his suburban homes and larger neighbourhood on the northwestern edge of Calgary. It meant that fleeing the city would take only a few minutes. Because postwar suburban communities were often built around local schools, children could be home within minutes, either by walking or biking.

That was big, ’62 and the Castro thing. I can remember we had to run home from the school and they would set a timer and the parents would record the time it took you to run home; it was grade two or three. We didn’t have the air raid siren, they had one at Capitol Hill School … and that was the signal for everyone to go home and you could hear that thing from miles away … it was kind of scary at the time … The Soviet Union, they were the enemy; [and they] represented kind of the opposition and so on, and you had to be careful about what you said about them. Certainly in the sixties it was us against them. I can remember the evacuation signs, had Emergency Evacuation Route [written on them]. [If something were to happen] your dad would come home from work with the one car you had. You’d be home already, because you’d run home and your parents would be ready to load the car quickly and leave town.[63]

In his mind, the battle lines based on the Cold War had been very clearly drawn. His recollections were highly visual, and he easily recalled the disciplining that had been instilled by these routines. His father would also have come racing home while his mother, presumably, would already be working in the home and be ready to leave quickly as well.

Not all of these related memories were gender-specific, as women also had recollections of war and what it had meant to them as young girls at school and at home, even though almost all of the recruitment posters and literature were geared exclusively to young men. While women were responsible for much of the civil defence organizing,[64] civil defence discourse focused on men leading the efforts on the home front with women as support.[65] One research participant did not think of war or the military as being particularly significant, at least at initial recall, but then several memories came to mind as we discussed some of these themes. As she remembers, the school curriculum itself was an important source of children’s information about war in several forms when family was not: “Well, in school yeah, we studied World War II, and certainly things were brought up. I don’t remember it being a huge topic of discussion. I don’t remember it being that big an impact. My uncle never wanted to talk about it. Because my dad never served, it was never brought up much. I know from my cousins, their dad didn’t like to talk about it.”[66] It was clear that even as children, cousins had discussed how certain topics may have been off limits in some conversations.

While he discussed the Cold War, another participant’s memories focused on the comfort of knowing that the United States was an ally and having a ‘Big Brother’ watching over Canada was a positive thing—a view that surveillance from a childhood perspective was positive and comforting to a degree.[67] This interviewee also stressed that there was an overriding sense of concern and angst for adults, adolescents, and children, although he did note that not all children felt the same way as he did at the time. Finally, he offered that the relatively positive view of the United States from his childhood does not remain with some baby boomers in the present day:

I definitely remember the reverence around November 11 and Remembrance Day. I remember appreciating it in a much more solemn way than my fellow kids. I remember being hyper-aware of the respect factor and World War II. It was more of a topic than it is now. I remember a sense of American history being pervasive; Big Brother watching over us from the States. I remember it being much more respectful of the United States. I can remember still feeling the effects of sort of the Cold War and the scares and the missiles of October and Khrushchev. People were still nervous about where the world was going. I remember that being pervasive and that kind of awareness.[68]

It is clear that this interviewee believed the Canadian-American military links were positive and a necessary buffer to the overriding fears of both young and old, in the context of the Cold War and potential Russian aggressiveness. This demonstrates well the complexities of childhood and adolescent experiences.

Other suburban baby boomers recalled that events and subsequent memories of the First World War had an effect on their families, in addition to those of the Second World War. Stories about the First Word World War emerged as having had a lasting impact on some postwar childhoods:

Most of how things impacted us from the time of World War II, were mostly told to us from outside the family. I remember Dad mentioning that on the radio they were listening to how Hitler had hid out in the bunkers and finally it was victory for the American troops and the English. I was more interested in the World War I stories. In fact, Dad’s father had a wonderful story that got written up in Reader’s Digest about World War I. Swapping buttons at the front and on Christmas Eve, going out with a football and playing with the enemy on a field … on Christmas Eve.[69]

This interviewee also recalled several war-related images from the post–Second World War era, and she remembered her mother’s palpable fears during that time. “I remember in church people talking about the Iron Curtain. I know that Mom was very scared at the time, back in the fifties, with the first terrible bombs that were created [actually the 1940s]. She was always aware of what was going on regarding the A-bomb.”[70] It was clear that this mother transferred some of her fear and angst to her children. Whether or not she had done this wilfully was unclear. This awareness reinforces what historian Tarah Brookfield has concluded: that women did not merely retreat politically and blissfully unaware to the quiet confines of their suburban homes.[71]

In conclusion, this research indicates that while a majority of the popular media, nostalgia, and public discourse suggests that youngsters were protected from the machinations of war and wanted to move beyond the devastating realities of the Great Depression, contemporary newspapers, young peoples’ literature and popular art, and oral histories from people who grew up in postwar Calgary indicate a more complex experience. In fact, suburban youngsters, even at relatively young ages, were exposed to aggressive imagery, discursive constructs, and influential everyday practices in an attempt to discipline them for possible military service, participation in civilian defence, and a general atmosphere that left them wary, and at times fearful, of the world around them. The overriding societal concerns of most adults often focused on the perceived threat of communism and the concomitant threat of nuclear war brought home by events by the mid-1960s. For many children and adolescents, war, or at least the threat of it, remained on their minds.

Calgary’s postwar suburban children and adolescents engaged with and used several forms of military imagery, literary culture, everyday practices, and play to negotiate their bounded childhood spaces. While these events influenced the everyday practices of many youngsters, the First and Second World Wars remained important in the minds of many. I believe that there is a need to continue to question, as some scholars have begun to do, the peaceful serenity of domesticity that supposedly defined the lives of suburban young people in the immediate postwar period. The personal histories left behind and rich records created by school-age youngsters clearly show strong undercurrents that reflect a differentiated experience for suburban young people.

Appendices

Appendices