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Immigrant Parents, Ethnic Children, and Family Formation in the Early Prairie West

Publication Abstract

Sylvester, Kenneth M. 2003. "Immigrant Parents, Ethnic Children, and Family Formation in the Early Prairie West." Canadian Historical Review, 84(4): 585-612.

In one way or another, the history of peopling the Canadian plains in modern times has been influenced by a compartmentalized view of ethnicity first theorized by McGill sociologists in the 1930s. At that time, some explanation of immigrant divergence from individualistic and anglicizing paths of development was necessary to understand the survival of Old World idioms in the western landscape. While social history has insisted that ethnic boundaries were more permeable and has drawn attention to conflict and inequality within ethnic groups, change is still largely thought about in terms of cultural preservation rather that adaptation. This article explores the expectations immigrant parents placed on children during the early settlement of the Canadian Prairies. The analysis re-examines the basis for the historical view that immigrant households placed higher expectations on their children to stay behind and to labour. It is based on a randomized household sample of the 1901 census of Canada. The results indicate that immigrant youth were not more likely to stay in their parents' homes than the native born, even in the farm economy. European youth were just as anxious to form their own households, and immigrant parents did not create structures of family life that prolonged co-residence with their children. Higher expectations to stay were either muted, because independent households were formed early, or short-lived, because ethnic differences were limited to the foreign-born generation.

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