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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chapter Thirteen: Movements and Populist Revolts

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

William Aberhart would not have liked scouting much, even if it had been around when he was a boy. If he went into the woods, it was only to practice future sermons, inspired by the revival meetings of the day.

He never had many friends, simply because he was too domineering, and though he excelled at sports he was not a team player. His time spent alone was used in study, or teaching himself to play musical instruments.

He would have liked the way that the boy scouts became militarized though, because he liked everything to be mechanical. It was once said that as a teacher he made a good dog trainer, and while his students were expected to memorize their work, they were not really encouraged to think for themselves.

In 1903, Aberhart wrote that he thought of his classroom as a battlefield, and admired the organizational skills of Oliver Cromwell. However, Cromwell's skills were not in organizing, but in brutality, and some of that was used to keep the children in line.

My son was at Crescent Heights, and I consider that Aberhart had a complete disregard of other persons' rights. Students were almost always afraid of him, and I believe his teachers were half-afraid of him too ... his idea of education was simply, "drill things into people mechanically, make them memorize." My fundamental criticism of him is that he wasn't humanitarian enough. He was much too domineering, and he didn't treat people as human beings: they were just pawns in his scheme of things.

On one occasion, Aberhart struck down a boy for refusing to admit he had been impudent to a lady teacher. In considering Aberhart, you must never forget that his was the most violent temper it is possible for a human being to have, and the students at Crescent Heights suffered from that terrible temper for twenty years. Ask his admirers about the story, and see if they can explain away his treatment of that boy! (1)

I think it's important to study the youth movements of the day, because they played an integral part, not only in the social history of the period, but also in the mindset of future military, academic and political leaders.

And though they originally began as a "back to nature" movement, inspired by the naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, they took on a more regimental role, with emphasis on taking orders. They were no longer just scouts, but good future soldiers.

Though all this was recognised after a time, probably few people - even good judges-thought of the Boy Scouts as being of any material value in war-time; but they were quickly undeceived. In the first place, it is wonderful, when one considers how young the movement is, to note the number of ex-Boy Scouts who have found their way into the Army. Their Scout training is greatly in favour of their becoming good soldiers : all that is required is the military drill and a knowledge of the rifle.

It is noteworthy that men and boys who have been trained as Scouts are much quicker to settle down to their new life in the army. Precisely the same thing has happened abroad. Scouts are found in all countries, dressed in the same fashion, holding to the same Scout law, and striving after the same ideals. In Germany, which few of us at the present moment are inclined to take as an example. there are over 50,000 Boy Scouts. They have aided the authorities by acting as cyclist-messengers. (2)

There were a few random scout troops in Canada by 1907, but they did not become organized until 1910, on the advice of Baden-Powell.

But across Europe and even North America, movements like these were not only for the youth, though they usually made up the bulk of the memberships, but they provided an opportunity for intellectual debate as they became political vehicles for change.

And they also provided foot soldiers against the new enemy: Communism.


1. The Social Credit Movement in Alberta, By: John A. Irving, University of Toronto Press, 1959, pg. 22

2. Five Years on the Western Front: Boy Scouts in War Time, By Philip Gibbs, 1919

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