In the port cities of Atlantic Canada, children and youth grew up in a self-declared battle front during the years of the Second World War. For these youngsters, the war had a raw immediacy; for the Battle of the Atlantic transformed the waters and streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia, beyond recognition. It was not just the navy, army, air force and merchant marine that clogged the harbour and city streets; an unprecedented influx of military vehicles, as well, invaded the city, curtailing children‟s range of movement and spaces of play.
This public lecture is an exercise in sensuous geography. Drawn from Dr. Lorenzkowski‟s larger work on the spaces of childhood in Atlantic Canada, it listens to close to forty childhood recollections of the wartime Atlantic. In making sense of the „war zone‟ that was Halifax, my interview partners evoked the allure of nocturnal urban spaces, the sounds of German U-boat attacks, and the stunning sight of the Bedford Basin, filled to the rim with war convoys. If, as Proust held in Remembrance of Things Past, the senses provide a key to both memory and the emotions, these oral recollections serve as a reminder that the spaces of childhood are very much “sensescapes” – recalled all the more vividly if her interview partners‟ younger selves had been granted (or secretively claimed) the freedom to roam in their city at war.
Dr. Barbara Lorenzkowski is an Associate Professor of History at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the author of Sounds of Ethnicity: Listening to German North America (University of Manitoba Press, 2010) and has published several book chapters and articles on the history of migration, culture and transnationalism, and the history of childhood and youth. In the early summer 2010, Dr. Lorenzkowski acted as program chair of the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, welcoming 499 CHA members to Concordia University (and still wishing she had secretly enrolled her eldest child as a conference delegate to make it an even 500). – Barbara Lorenzkowski‟s current research project is a FQRSC-funded study of “The Children‟s War: Growing Up in the Port Cities of St. John‟s (Newfoundland), Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Saint John (New Brunswick)” that is based on around ninety life-course interviews.