Childhood in Calgary's Postwar Suburbs: Kids, Bullets, and Boom, 1950-1965

By Onusko, James | Urban History Review, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Childhood in Calgary's Postwar Suburbs: Kids, Bullets, and Boom, 1950-1965


Onusko, James, Urban History Review


Suburban living has become the definitive housing choice for a large majority of North Americans since the end of the Second World War. A longstanding image of the postwar suburbs highlights a stable and undifferentiated experience for young Canadians. Much of the popular and scholarly literature on these spaces tends to portray them as exclusively middle class, homogeneous, conformist, conservative, and alienating. While Canadian suburbia has appeared similar in outward appearance, increasingly more so in the postwar era, this has not necessarily meant that the suburbs have created total homogenization in the built environment, lifestyles, attitudes, and values of their inhabitants. Suburbs embody substantial economic, political, and cultural power in North America. In the past two decades a more nuanced response from academics on suburbia has emerged, in that some diversity, on several levels, is now noted. This article builds on this alternate view. I argue that young suburbanites were exposed to aggressive imagery, discursive constructs, and everyday practices in an attempt to discipline them for possible military service, ongoing participation in civilian defence, and that they internalized much of this. The resulting general atmosphere prepared them to engage "enemies," under the auspices of the Cold War that lay both within, and outside, postwar childhood spaces. Evidence is based on oral histories, images produced for children, newspaper editorials, and the school-based literature and art that suburban students created.

La banlieue est devenue le choix de residence definitif pour une grande majorite de la population nord-americaine depuis la fin de la Deuxieme Guerre mondiale. La representation populaire de la banlieue d'apres-guerre typique souligne son caractere stable offrant aux jeunes Canadiens une experience uniforme. La plupart des descriptions populaires et academiques donnent une image negative de ces banlieues, comme etant exclusivement de classe moyenne, homogenes, conformistes, conservatrices et alienantes. Alors que les banlieues canadiennes semblent uniformes en apparence --tendance s'accentuant au cours de l'apres-guerre--, cela n'impliquepas necessairement qu 'elles aient reussi une homogeneisation complete de l'environnement architectural, des modes de vie, des comportements et des valeurs de leur population. En realite, les banlieues ont un grand pouvoir economique, politique et culturel en Amerique du Nord. Durant les deux dernieres decennies, les chercheurs ont commence a nuancer leur perception des banlieues, au fur et a mesure qu'ils ont remarque ces elements de diversite. Cet article contribue a cette transformation de perception. On y montre que les jeunes des banlieues ont ete exposes a un imaginaire d'agression, des discours et des pratiques quotidiennes dans le but de les mouler pour le service militaire et la milice civique, ce qu'ils ont effectivement interiorises en grande partie. Dans le contexte de la guerrefroide, l'atmosphere generale qui en a resulte et qui a conditionne les jeunes a << affronter l'ennemi >> etait palpable a l'interieur et a l'exterieur des espaces de jeu de cette periode. L'analyse s'appuie sur des recits oraux, des images produites a l'intention des jeunes, des editoriaux de journaux et sur des recits et oeuvres d'art que les eleves des banlieues ont crees.

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   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. …

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