By Sue Bryant,
As the Second World War drew to a close, communities throughout the province were concerned with the lack of opportunities for teenagers. Times were changing, towns were getting larger, and newspapers were drawing attention to the potential rise of juvenile delinquency due to increased spare time.
The American-born “Teen Town” movement was born of this modern concern. In 1942, teenagers began to create their own miniature civic organizations that provided both entertainment and a taste of how society operated.
B.C.’s first Teen Town — founded in Penticton, October, 1944 — quickly opened the door for many others around the province, including several chapters in Surrey.
Four basic rules made up the backbone of Teen Town – no drinking, no smoking, no profanity and no gambling.
Each Teen Town had a mayor, an alderman and roles such as city engineer, city clerk, treasurer and city police. While an adult advisor was needed to sponsor the organization, each Teen Town was set up as a self-governing body that would organize events, fundraise, and support the community.
In Surrey, the first Teen Town was started by Queen Elizabeth Secondary School students in March, 1946. Within a few months, there were chapters active in Fleetwood, White Rock and Clayton. By November, the largest of the local Teen Towns began in Cloverdale.
Jack Hutchings, B.C. Teen Town Council assistant director, came to Surrey soon after to speak to a large group of teens and parents. His rousing speech emphasized the importance of personal responsibility and improvement, as well as good citizenship, all of which could be accomplished, he said, by acquainting Teen Town members with methods of local governments.
The first main event organized by the Cloverdale Teen Town was a Christmas Dance. Although the chapter was less than a month old, more than 150 teens attended. Special charter buses brought in members from across the Fraser Valley. The Cloverdale Opera House proved the perfect place for entertaining, and would serve as the backdrop for many future fundraising opportunities.
In these miniature municipalities run by the leaders of the future, the young ladies were just as likely to be voted into leadership roles as were the young men. Cloverdale’s first Teen Town mayor was Doreen Smith and one of the first mayors in Clayton was Joyce Russell.
By 1947, the Teen Town movement had increased to 10,000 members throughout B.C. Surrey had gained two more clubs in Sullivan and Green Timbers, bringing the total to six chapters within the municipality.
Dances were the mainstay of the Teen Towns’ fundraising activities, and themes showcased the creativity of the youth organizers who had finally been given an opportunity to plan their own events. Ever-popular was the Hayseed Dance, where party-goers wore denim and plaid, and the Sock Hop, where everyone danced in their stocking feet. Teens would cut a rug every other weekend between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.
The clubs also gave an opportunity to connect with Teen Town members in other communities. The Clayton and Brookswood Teen Towns traded musical acts at each other’s dances, for instance, and the Cloverdale Teen Town had a strong alliance with the White Rock and Ladner Teen Towns. An annual conference was held, bringing young leaders together to discuss what worked and what didn’t for their respective clubs.
| Irwin Tesar’s Cloverdale Teen Town membership card, 1953. The four basic rules of the organization are outlined: no smoking, no drinking, no profanity and no gambling.
Courtesy of the Surrey Archives / 2013.0004
As the movement grew, the clubs diversified their events. The Cloverdale and Clayton Teen Towns had a healthy sports portfolio, with ping pong and softball being the most-favoured activities. As teens found it costly to hire live music, they moved towards playing records instead — disc jockey competitions were born. Cloverdale’s Rod Stobart was the champion Fraser Valley “Platter Spinner” for his musical mixes from Findon’s Radio Service in Newton. Fundraising for local charities such as the “March of Dimes” and local flood relief was also an important part of Teen Town activities.
It was not all without controversy. Cloverdale Teen Town took on the local merchants in May 1947 when the price of chocolate bars rose from five cents to eight cents. “Bring Back the Nickel Bars” protests could be seen throughout the main streets of Cloverdale. Eventually, a compromise was met when local merchants agreed to sell present stock at 5 cents, but the increase for future stock would have to stand.
The Teen Town platform provided a great source of education and collaboration for future leaders. In September 1949, Bob Bose was elected as Cloverdale’s Teen Town mayor in a foreshadow of things to come. Bose recalled he was the last Teen Town mayor to serve in the Opera House before it was lost to fire. He has fond memories of attending conferences where he was able to meet with other Teen Town officials who would also become leaders in their adult careers. One of Bose’s most notable connections would be with Ridge-Meadow’s Teen Town mayor Robert Mundell, who would later be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1999.
The Teen Town movement continued to provide a strong structure for teens until the late 1950s, when new community centres were built large enough to provide recreational activities for youth. Although the civic engagement model became less popular over the years, and the clubs eventually dissolved, Teen Towns had already provided an opportunity for a generation of young people to learn the importance of community involvement — memories treasured fondly to this day.