Building Boys, Building Canada: The Boy Scout Movement in Canada, 1908-1970
Trepanier, James Daniel
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This dissertation examines Canada’s largest organization for boys of the twentieth century - the Boy Scouts. In Scouting for Boys , Robert Baden Powell argued that Scouting provided a universal model for countries of the British Empire to develop the physical, mental and spiritual development of boys. The process of transplanting Baden-Powell’s movement to Canada led to the establishment of two separate organizations, divided along linguistic and religious lines. The movement also extended its reach to the Canadian North as missionaries and government officials adopted the movement in residential and day schools across the country. The Canadian Scout movement provides a compelling lens to understand how language, religion, race and class shaped the construction of Canadian boyhoods. This dissertation taps into the archival records of the Boy Scout movement, Canadian churches, state records, and private collections from the 1910s through to the 1960s to examine the motivations, objectives and tensions within the Scout movement’s network of institutional and cultural support. It argues that, as part of the frequent renewal of masculinities, Scouting and its supporters embraced the modern and the antimodern in order to shore up, revive, or reinvigorate masculinities that were deemed to be threatened. Perceptions of what boys needed were not always complementary and reflected broader religious, linguistic and racial assumptions and expectations about masculinity. The relationship between Scouting and Canadian churches, for instance, was fluid - reflecting a more complicated picture of religiosity in the postwar period than existing scholarship has considered. The relationship between French-Canadian and English-Canadian Scouting was also complex and symptomatic of larger shifting relationships between the French-Canadian diaspora, Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Northern nationalists, meanwhile, latched onto the Scout movement as a means of promoting particular “ideas of north” for southern boys and northern Aboriginal and Inuit boys. These different supporters were, however, tied together by a shared desire to mitigate the perceived “feminizing” effects of modern life through a “modernizing antimodernism.” Masculinity’s ties to political and social citizenship remained strong well into the 1960s as Scouting’s coalition of supporters sustained the belief that building better boys was the key to building a better Canada.