Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

13 'You Would Have Had Your Pick': Youth, Gender, and Jobs in Williams Lake, British Columbia, 1945-75

Tony F. Arruda

In 1990, Canadian historians Patricia Rooke and Rudy Schnell described the field of Canadian history of childhood and youth as a 'truly marginal subspecialty' of Canadian historical scholarship dominated by studies of the child-saving movement, juvenile immigration, and juvenile delinquency and offering up only a small volume of dissertations. 1 Not much has changed in the intervening years. In this paper, I attempt to address two further observations of the field. First, too little history has been written from the perspective of young people themselves. 2 Second, the field has yet to focus systematically upon young people's experiences in the recent past, particularly in those rural and northern areas and resource-based towns of Canada, which experienced dramatic change after the Second World War.

Williams Lake, located in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of central Interior British Columbia, provides an excellent opportunity for a historical case study of youth growing up in a rapidly transforming social, economic, and spatial context. Although historic change occurred everywhere in Canada after the Second World War ( Robert Rutherdale has pointed out, for example, that 'the most significant context' in Prince George was 'rapid growth' 3), the changes in and around Williams Lake are striking. Between 1945 and 1981, and especially between 1966 and 1971, Williams Lake experienced one of the highest rates of population growth among Canadian communities, evolving from an isolated cattle shipment village of about 500 people into a small city of 10,000 with important lumbering and service sectors.

By 1975, the end of my study period, Williams Lake had clearly developed into the so-called 'Hub of the Cariboo,' a 'central place' providing services in excess of those demanded by its own residents. 4 It boasted a mall, two large supermarkets, and specialty shops. It was the seat of the Cariboo Regional District, the District Forest Headquarters, and a host of other government services for an area population of 25,000. There were vast improvements in road and air transportation links both within the area and to urbanized southwestern British Columbia. Demographic change

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