Monday, April 11, 2011

Open Letter to my SS11 students

The Fading Echo...

Do you realize that you are the last of a generation? Fifty years from now you will be telling youngsters about life in the olden days, and they’ll be amazed that you were born in the 1900s. Some people call you the Echo or Boomerang Generation, the children of the postwar Baby Boom that changed the face of Canada, and for some of you the “Generation X” that followed. Others call you the Millennium Generation or Generation Y, the ones born at the twilight of the 20th Century. Take a look at the graph to see where you fit. Canadian Demographics - births per year 1921-2006 (source

Most of your parents and some of your grandparents were “Boomers” -- the big spike from 1946-1964. You are near the last part of the “echo” from about 1980-1999. So what? What’s interesting about the graph, about Canadian society, is that the generation before the war was not so big to begin with and is getting smaller all the time. These are your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and other people now in their 70s and older, people who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two. Almost all of the WWI vets have now passed (two are still alive as I write this, both 110 years old and living in the U.K.). Canada’s last WWI vet died in 2010. We have about 140,000 WWII vets still alive (less than half of 1% of our population). The youngest of these vets are about 83 yrs old. We have just a few years before there are just a handful of vets still with us. Of course, many other “pre-boomers” are with us, but they, too, will be less visible in the coming years. It is important that their stories are told, and that their unique perspectives on Canadian history in middle of the 1900s is preserved.

So, you are the last generation that will be born that can reach back past the “50 Year Gap” and ask questions of men and women who remember the Great Depression, World War Two, and the beginning of the Cold War. For many this was a rural life -- few had televisions, electricity, or automobiles -- Canada is now about 80% urbanized, but less than 50% in the 1930s, so chances are pretty good your great-grandparents grew up on a farm or in a small town. For many this was a time of restraint, conserving resources and fixing rather than replacing items that were broken. Those from beyond the 50 Year Gap know all about preserves and homemade bread, polishing shoes, and plucking birds. They’ll have stories of the war, of travel on ships, of hard work and strange accidents. They’ll have an opinion on Diefenbaker vs Pearson, on the building of the Berlin Wall but also its tearing down. Most importantly, their stories are personal and biased and expert and unusual all at once. When seen as a whole, their story is that of Canada itself, the foundations of modern society inherited by the Baby Boomers and those who followed, including you.