Special Issue/Édition spéciale 1994

The Role of the Criminal Law in Redefining 'Youth' in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Upper Canada

Susan E. Houston
York University
Published November 30, 1994
How to Cite
Houston, Susan E. 1994. “The Role of the Criminal Law in Redefining ’Youth’ in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Upper Canada”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 6 (3). https://doi.org/10.32316/hse/rhe.v6i3.4616.


In the first half of the nineteenth century in the English-speaking communities of British North America, the crime of murder was relatively uncommon. Youthful 'killers' were exotic. While the circumstances of any murder case are exceptional, murder draws attention to itself. Murder trials in Upper Canada were, by mid-century, widely reported in city and small-town newspapers, while the scaffold spectacle in its infrequency could attract ten thousand curious onlookers. It is precisely because each of these two cases of youthful murder caused a sensation that I focus on them. In proposing to explore the role of the 'Law,' I take the term in its broadest sense: not only criminal legislation, judicial procedure, and penal sanctions, but the wider discussion—of crime, criminal character, guilt, evidence, and due process—which these crimes triggered. To anticipate my argument: it is in the presence—and absence—of multiple voices in the discussion that one can glimpse the outline of the shifting and gendered identities of youth.