Reviews in the British Journal of Canadian Studies
A selection of reviews by Ged Martin in the British Journal of Canadian Studies, the journal of the British Association for Canadian Studies (BACS).
J.I. Little, Borderland Religion: The Emergence of an English-Canadian Identity, 1792-1852 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), xv + 386 pp. Cloth.
Ostensibly, this book is a history of organised (and some disorganised) religion in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. But in its implications, it is far more than a local study. Little argues strongly for the integration of religious history with the perceived ‘mainstream’ political and social story. He challenges the recent fashion for studying the Townships as part of an international ‘borderlands’. True, the Townships were largely settled by Americans, not all of them Loyalists. They retained New England habits, ignored customs posts and even counterfeited US currency. But Little argues that the region was also shaped by influences from the imperial centre, calling his approach ‘borderline’ by comparison. The Townships were largely Protestant, and considers the major churches in turn, tracing how those of American origin diverged from their origins. The War of 1812 forced some choices as did, to a lesser degree, the 1837-38 rebellions, so that the annexation movement of 1849 proved short-lived. The core of Little’s argument is about organisation backed by external support. Congregationalists and Baptists were largely abandoned by their republican neighbours. Americans could never decide whether Canada was tax-free paradise or a monarchical despotism. Either way, it did not seem a promising field for outreach activity. New England Protestantism was so deeply imbued with Calvinism that missionary work seemed pointless anyway. Left to their own fragile structures, Protestant churches in the Townships were more likely to be destabilised than strengthened by religious revivals: a Justice of the Peace was brought in to police a Methodist ‘love feast’ in 1829. In the early 1840s, they were ravaged by messianic movements which predicted the end of the world, a mystical seven years from the rebellions.
By contrast, the British-oriented churches, especially the Anglicans, could call upon external support, from missionary societies and well-wishers. (They also had valuable cash from the clergy reserves, a point which Little does not emphasise.) As a result, many Township people became census Anglicans, an identity which Little sees as fertilised from without. He calls the result ‘a distinctly Canadian hybrid or synthesis’ (89) although he later acknowledges it to have been ‘somewhat lumpy’ (285). These downloaded Yankee Anglicans were an odd crew. Since they had joined a wealthy church, they declined to pay their clergy: one congregation even refused to buy a stove. They also refused to join in responses, demanded baptism by total immersion and ignored ritualistic attempts to encourage chanting and (of all things) churching.
This is an important book, but perhaps it claims too much. The Townships provide an important strand in the anglophone Quebec identity: perhaps their Anglicanism explains why the region often elected Quebec’s only Conservative MPs, in contrast to solidly Liberal Anglo-Montreal. But are the Eastern Townships more than an intriguing but isolated footnote to English-Canadian identity as a whole? I winced at ‘was comprised of’ on page 233.
William Johnston, A War of Patrols: Canadian Army Operations in Korea (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003), xx + 426 pp. Cloth. ISBN 0 780774 810081.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Canada contributed a Special Force, variously known as 25th Brigade, the Second Battalions or Rocky’s Army. This initial contribution to the American-led United Nations Forces was speedily raised from men who had served in the Second World War: as Johnston points out, it was the only occasion in the country’s history when Canada entered an overseas conflict with a large pool of ready trained recruits who had recent battle experience. Subsequently, the Special Force troops were replaced by regulars, who were critical of their forerunners. Not much has been written about the Canadians in Korea. 309 deaths in action represented an appreciable loss for the peaceable kingdom, but hardly the basis for a miniature publishing industry. Johnston’s comprehensive study forms part of the Canadian War Museum’s series, Studies in Military History. While it provides a detailed chronicle of operations, this is no bland ‘official history’. Johnston contests ad indeed inverts the denigration of the Special Force troops, and is scathing about the leadership and fighting qualities of many regular officers ─ a criticism of some wider import, since it was Korea veterans who would run the army until the 1970s. The hero of the book is unquestionably Brigadier John M. Rockingham, known and trusted by the soldiers from his courageous and resourceful service in the Normandy campaign, and who once confided that he was ‘not particularly keen about soldiering when there is no fighting involved’. (p. 206) As in all war histories, there are intriguing cameos: in December 1952, two Canadians patrolling in thick snow reached to within 200 yards of Chinese positions and, on open ground, stamped out the message, ‘Merry Christmas from C Company’. It was a thoughtful gesture, the more so as the men were from the Van Doos and courteously assumed that the enemy knew no French. In 1951, the Canadian brigade joined British, Australian and New Zealand troops to form the 1st Commonwealth Division. Officers felt more at ease under British than American command, for instance preferring the precision of British battle orders to the John-Wayne-gung-ho style and content of American directions. This was to be the last time that troops from the four countries fought side-by-side under joint command. There are seventeen maps and a profusion of contemporary photographs that have reproduced unusually well as text illustrations.
Jackson W. Armstrong (ed.), Seven Eggs Today: The Diaries of Mary Armstrong 1859 and 1869 (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2004), xvi + 228 pp. Cloth. ISBN 0 88920 440 3.
Mary Armstrong was an English immigrant. Her husband was a butcher and her son became a doctor. The Armstrongs lived on a small block up Yonge Street just beyond the expanding Toronto suburbs, where they ran cows and hens, thus providing Mary with a small line of business and this volume with its title. Her surviving diaries cover five months of 1859 and seven months of 1869. This might seem a slender foundation to carry the formidable Introduction of genealogy, sociological analysis and diary theory, but both text and commentary are a worthwhile contribution to the publisher’s Life Writing Series. Paradoxically, as a witness of contemporary affairs, Mary Armstrong is perhaps most valuable in reminding us just how little the public sphere intruded on daily life. In a rare aside, she dismissed the unease of Torontonians when the provincial seat of government departed for Quebec in 1859: ‘I expect there will always be people enough, to buy all the eggs and butter I have to spare, and … the fields will look as green, the birds will sing as sweetly as ever and I shall not miss the passing of the Governor’s Carriage.’ (p. 102) The editor is a fifth-generation descendant of the diarist who began his project as an undergraduate at Queen’s University. His comprehensive Endnotes confirm a scholar in the making.
James V. Wright and Jean-Luc Pilon (eds), A Passion for the Past: Papers in Honour of James F. Pendergast (Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization Mercury Series, Archaeology Paper 164, 2004), xix + 465 pp. Paper. $ . ISBN 0-660-19106-7.
James F. Pendergast, who died in 2000, was a retired army officer who, according to a graceful editorial tribute, made contributions to Canadian archaeology that transcended the boundaries between the amateur and the professional. Most of the 22 papers in this collection deal with the St Lawrence Iroquoian cultures that he studied, with the archaeology appropriately taking aboard perspectives from related disciplines such as anthropology and cosmology. Several authors consider the Wendat, others discuss the role of the river system and the extent to which Iroquoian cultures extended into what is now the northern United States. The collection also draws attention to the work of an earlier self-trained archaeologist, T. W. Edwin Sowter, and includes Sowter’s previously unpublished diatribe of 1909 against relic hunters. Most contributions are prefaced byh abstracts in both official languages. Selection is invidious, but mention may be made of a thoughtful discussion, by Stephen Chrisomalis and Bruce G. Trigger, of the problems of identifying prehistoric ethnicity. They doubt the value of conflating the concepts of race, language and culture, warning that ‘to project ethnicity into the distant past is to risk playing into the hands of nationalist and other political forces’ (p. 430). The ‘insight and contagious enthusiasm’ of Jim Pendergast (p. 47) shines through the entire volume.
Ian Radforth, Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), xii + 469 pp. Cloth. ISBN 0-8020-4835-8. Paper. ISBN 0-8020-8665-9.
The visit of the future Edward VII to British North America in 1860 was the first overseas royal tour. Celebratory accounts followed his entourage from St John’s to Detroit and on through the United States. More usefully, Ian Radforth treats the episode as a series of overlapping snapshots. He shows how communities planned to receive their visitor, and how they were portrayed by those who accompanied him. Blacks and women were excluded from the public sphere although the octogenarian Laura Secord signed one address of welcome. Aboriginal people were presented as caricatures. Excitement was intense: one Montrealer was trampled to death, a French journalist had to apologise for revealing that the Prince was physically unimpressive and even the ageing Papineau fired a salute for the royal party. Groups calling themselves Calithumpians and Physiogs parodied the ceremonies with charivari. In French Canada, as yet lacking a secular civic identity, priests were prominent participants. But, unlike George VI in 1939, the Prince travelled in a British, not a Canadian capacity. Since Orange processions were banned in Ireland, the Prince’s adviser, the Duke of Newcastle, refused to countenance the Order’s manifestations in Upper Canada, and a stand-off at Kingston severely embarrassed John A. Macdonald. One curious feature of the provincial self-portrayal is the virtual absence of allusion to intercolonial union. The sole politician quoted on the subject, David Reesor, later opposed Confederation. Radforth’s approach should form a model for similar studies. It is therefore a pity that there are so many editorial blemishes. The Prince’s minder, the Earl of St Germans, is consistently misnamed. There are slips in the spelling of such prominent figures as Sandford Fleming, Casimir Gzowski, Allan MacNab, Samuel Tilley and Philip Vankoughnet, while the Canadian cabinet minister Sidney Smith is both misspelled and incorrectly knighted. Handkerchiefs are twice ‘waived’, and a quick body check disproves the statement that one mayor wore a robe trimmed with ‘martin fur’ (p. 5). A racist cartoon shows the Irish as ‘Simeon-faced’ (p. 347): perhaps ‘simian’ is intended? The Canadian tour was a dry run for a state visit to Ireland, where well-wishers arranged for the Prince to lose his virginity to an actress. Queen Victoria insisted the episode hurried her shocked husband to his early grave. Perhaps Canada was not so exotic after all.
Sidney Allinson, Jeremy Kane: A Canadian Historical Adventure Novel of the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion, and its Brutal Aftermath in the Australian Penal Colonies, (Princeton NJ, Xlibris Corporation, 1998), 366 pp. Paper. ISBN 0 7388 0101 1
This is a lively yarn about a young man who gets caught up in the Mackenzie rebellion of 1837. When Jeremy Kane is sentenced to the gallows, his virgin girl friend goes to a Family Compact official to plead for his life. He rapes her and then sneeringly reveals that her sacrifice was in vain: Jeremy had already been reprieved to be transported to the hellish convict colonies of Australia. At this point the plot has artistically linked hero and heroine, with both suffering a Fate Worse Than Death. Allinson claims that his "main aim is to simply entertain", and split infinitives do indeed punctuate the hanging, caning and flogging of the narrative. He also claims that much of his tale "actually happened" and that wherever possible his characters "speak in their own recorded words". Here we come to the core issue of any historical novel: how far is it a documentary and to what extent an imaginative reconstruction? Allinson creates a parliamentary clash between Mackenzie and Archdeacon Strachan - impossible, because they sat in different houses of the legislature. Even less plausible is the Speaker's invitation to the lieutenant-governor to speak in the debate. Indeed, Sir Francis Bond Head receives caricature treatment. He was not hastily knighted by Queen Victoria to be sent out to govern Upper Canada (or "Ontario" as Allinson anachronistically calls it). He was not worried about losing his pension: in his time, there was no gubernatorial pension scheme. He did not insist on dragging his wife through official functions when she was heavily pregnant with her sixth child. Lady Head's health did indeed suffer after she gave birth a fourth time within six years of their marriage in 1816, but thereafter the pregnancies ceased. We must all draw our own conclusions. Mine is that Head was a caring husband who depended upon a close and mutually loving relationship. Allinson appears to assume that because the Compact were bad guys politically, it is fair to demonise them generally. As for using their own words, I doubt whether "blighter", "squirt", "schnozzle" and "okay" were in contemporary use and I have yet to find a Jeremy in nineteenth-century Canada. The story ends happily.
Gordon L. Barnhart, "Peace, Progress and Prosperity": A biography of Saskatchewan's first premier, T. Walter Scott (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2000), viii + 188 pp. Paper. ISBN 0 88977 142 1.
Walter Scott was born in Ontario in 1867. He moved west as a young man and served from 1905 to 1912 as first premier of Saskatchewan. He helped build the newly created province, and was largely responsible for giving it a university and fine legislative buildings. Barnhart has woven a careful tale of Scott's adaptation to internal migration. "I longed for Ontario the whole nine years from the time I went out in 1885 until I got back home the first time in 1894." Sadly, in later life he suffered a mental breakdown, attributed here to the strain of his illegitimate (but carefully disguised) birth. The author also gives an account of the origins of Saskatchewan politics. For instance, it is striking to note that Scott's three cabinet colleagues in the original mini-ministry were all parachuted to run in doubtful ridings, which throws curious light on our usual assumptions of the bottom-up nature of prairie politics. If the book disappoints in any way, it is in its decision not to take the story back beyond Ontario. Barnhart refers to research on the culture of ex-nuptial births in rural Scotland, but it might have filled out the broader picture to know a little more about the background of the Scotts and Robsons and McDonalds of his early years. On the plus side, the biography is well illustrated and its generous use of quotation makes it both useful and interesting.
Gerald Friesen, Citizens and Nation: An Essay on History, Communication, and Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000). x + 307 pp. Cloth ISBN 0 8020 4709 2. Paper ISBN 0 8020 8283 1.
Gerald Friesen is one of Canada's most admired historians. This book began as a series of lectures in the Canadian Studies programme of the University of Messina. Friesen has taken a series of personal narratives to weave together the life histories of a group of Canadians, including aboriginal people and migrants. The aim is to reinterpret the shared history of Canada and Canadians within a four-phase framework of time and space, starting with the oral tradition of native peoples and coming up to the present day communications system of screen-capitalism. The study is based upon a formidable base of theoretical reference. It concludes with a powerful evocation of the parameters of the national identity, in a series of powerful sentences each beginning: "To be a Canadian…". It is thus with a sense of personal inadequacy that this reviewer must report his own inability to understand the argument. Perhaps the problem lies in the fundamental duality behind the study of history, that we seek both to identify the formative influences of the past upon the present and to help the latter break free from the constraints of the former. But perhaps it is a book that no outsider can fully comprehend.
Marlene Shore (ed.), The Contested Past: Reading Canada's History. Selections from the Canadian Historical Review (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), xv + 353pp. Cloth / Paper. £35 / £15. ISBN 0-8020-4305-4 / 0-8020-8133-9.
Invited in 1977 to comment on the state of Canadian historical writing, H.J. Hanham, the New Zealand-born specialist in Victorian Britain, confessed that he read Acadiensis 'just for fun', but that he was repelled by an invisible injunction on the cover of the Canadian Historical Review that said 'it is your duty to read this journal - every word of it'. Marlene Shore's thoughtful mini-history of the CHR mentions the conceptual challenges implicit in the foundation of such publications as the Revue d'histoire de l'Amérique francaise, Social History/ Histoire Sociale and Labour / Le Travail, but she does not take much account of the regionally-focused journals, nor of the fact that the Journal of Canadian Studies has carried innovative articles on the country's past. Following her essay there are reprints or extracts from about seventy CHR articles, some of them very truncated: Hanham appears, but in two and a half pages, minus the jibe quoted above. The material is organised into four Parts, three of them both thematic and defined by time, and all prefaced by a Commentary. The four Parts are further sub-divided into coherent sections. It is good that a journal should examine itself in this way, but the intending reader should note that this is a volume of selections from selections, not one that provides full reprints of key articles.
Martin L. Friedland, The University of Toronto: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002). xiii + 764 pp. Cloth. £45. ISBN 0-8020-4429-8.
Institutional histories are a problem, but as academic problems go, a nice one. Nostalgic alumni may wish for a commemorative volume full of cameo portraits of notable eccentrics in a catalogue of buildings and bequests. Educational historians will look for analysis of curriculum, social scientists for measurements of inclusivity, minority groups for recognition of prejudice - and so on. Authors from outside rarely get the 'feel' of an institution; insiders often know far too much scandal that they hardly dare write about the recent past at all. Here, author and publisher are to be congratulated on a civilised text that is handsomely produced and attractively illustrated. Martin L. Friedland is an emeritus professor of Law who has lived some of what he has written about it. He also has the advantage over many of us from British higher education in obviously having loved the culture and values of the place. (In the 1995 budgetary crisis, academic salaries were frozen but administrators actually got a pay cut: can anyone imagine that happening in a British university?) Friedland handles the many issues in the university's history deftly and with economy: see, for example, his discussion of the appointment of Jews and the founding of suburban colleges. Some will be disappointed that he does not pillory Premier Mike Harris but, one suspects, to a true insider, in the long sweep of the U of T, the Common Sense Revolution will prove just a minor blip. The book ends with Friedland guiding us on a walk around the campus on Millennium Eve 1999, before catching a taxi home at four o'clock in the morning. I was sorry to see him depart.
R. Kenneth Carty, William Cross and Lisa Young, Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics (UBC Press, Vancouver, 2000), x + 265pp. Cloth. ISBN 0 7748 0777 6.
This book investigates the consequences for Canadian politics of the 1993 Conservative electoral massacre. Examining the 1997 election, it explores how party organisations responded to new technologies and challenges. The analysis is predicated upon Carty's theory that Canada has experienced three party systems, each destabilised by Conservative landslides in 1917, 1958 and 1984. In 1993, the third 'pan-Canadian' system 'reached the end of its natural life' and must be rebuilt. The book is thoughtful and informative, but the theory is limited use. The three landmarks are not identical: 1917 was a wartime Anglo-Saxon upsurge, a revolt of Liberal politicians who quickly regrouped. 1993 may be placed in a longer perspective. Because of its complexity, post-Confederation Canada has sustained only one party of government at any time, first the Macdonald Conservatives, and in the twentieth century the Liberals. This party has been concerned with power rather than issues. A second party, in the twentieth century usually the Tories, has offered a skeletal alternative, but repeated electoral failure condemned it an oppositionist attitude. Other parties were movements of witness and protest, sustained by idealism and anger. The absence of interest in electoral reform or coalition government illustrates that such parties are not seriously interested in achieving power. In a sense, Canada does not possess a party 'system' at all. Why did Laurier's party manage to replace Macdonald's, when the Conservatives failed to consolidate their bridgeheads after 1930, 1958 and 1984? Quebec provides some of the answer, but only as part of successful inter-regional brokerage, in which there is continuity from Laurier to Mackenzie King and Trudeau. Only in 1930 and 1988 did the Tories win seats in Quebec in issues-based campaigns. They owed their victories in 1911 and 1958 to support from nationaliste elements, but found even these culturally conservative allies hard to assimilate. When nationalism turned secessionist, the strategy of embracing the enemy's enemy became even more precarious. At one level, what has happened since 1993 is nothing new: the Liberals once again proved that Canada can only sustain one nationwide party. The novelty lies in the bankruptcy of parliamentary oppositionism. Opposition has two roles in a democracy, informational and institutional. One exposes the government's faults, the other seeks to curb its power. Nowadays, the first function is discharged by the media, the second by the provinces. There may well be no quick way back for the Tories in Ottawa, but the party can hardly be written off when it has formed governments in seven provinces (and in two others, Quebec and British Columbia, it has no local presence) since the day Kim Campbell rejoiced that she had not sold her car. This study has little to say about the provinces, and hence probably misses the real nature of the Canadian party mosaic today. There is no justification in a scholarly monograph for the use of the contractions “hadn't” and “couldn't”. The typesetting has too often omitted spacing after full-stops, giving the text a home-made appearance.
John Griffith Armstrong, The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy: Inquiry and Intrigue (UBC Press, Vancouver, 2002), x + 246 pp. Cloth. ISBN 0 7748 0890 X.
On a winter morning in 1917, two small merchant ships collided in Halifax harbour. One, the Mont Blanc, blew up, devastating the city centre and killing 1,600 people. The Halifax explosion is a well-known tragedy, but curiously this is the first scholarly study. The author's interest was aroused by the letters of his grandfather, who constitutes a constant presence in the book. This is a meticulous study of harrowing tale: High MacLennan fans will be reassured to know that the barometer was indeed rising. Some heroic myths are shattered, but many people emerge from the episode with credit. While Canada's navy was still struggling with its “tinpot” origins, Armstrong argues that the strong presence in Halifax of the army helped contain the disaster. Significantly, it was not necessary to proclaim martial law. The disaster occurred just ten days before the divisive conscription election, yet the prime minister, Borden, broke off his campaign and made no attempt to capitalise on rumours of a German plot. (The Halifax Herald was less scrupulous, drawing a parallel between Quebec's opposition to the War and the speed with which the French crew of the Mont Blanc took off into the depths of Dartmouth, failing to warn that their abandoned vessel was a bomb.) Inevitably, people demanded why a munitions ship was allowed to proceed unescorted through a busy port. The truth was that, in wartime, most ships in Halifax were full of explosives. An attempt was made to blame a middle-ranking officer for failing to implement procedures that those censuring him had omitted to provide, but happily this failed. Armstrong draws a brief and unpersuasive link between1917 and the Halifax “riots” (so-called) of May 1945. Readers are more likely to muse on December the Sixth through the filter of September the Eleventh: the sacrifice of emergency crews rushing to the disaster is a poignant parallel. It is chilling to reflect that a tramp steamer of just 3121 tons, packed with standard chemicals, could trigger an explosion equal to 2.4 million kilograms of high explosives, and felt even in Charlottetown. Armstrong's book successfully launches a series of Studies in Military History from the Canadian War Museum.
Jean-Pierre Wallot, ed., Le débat qui n'a pas eu lieu: La Commission Pepin-Robartes quelque vingt ans après (Ottawa: Les Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa: Collection Amérique francaise, no. 9), 148 pp. Paper. $22.95. ISBN 2-7603-0550-3
In 1977, reeling from the shock of the election of a separatist government in Quebec, the federal government established the Pepin-Robartes Commission, headed by two distinguished provincial politicians, to examine ways forward for the country. Their report, two years later, generally recommended decentralisation, a strategy that did not appeal to Trudeau. As a result, so insisted the participants at a University of Ottawa colloquium in 2001, Canada has still to have the debate that the Commission's ideas merit. The collection includes an introductory overview and eight papers, with the expected strong focus on issues of language and nationality. Gérald-A. Beaudoin, who contributed to the Commission, provides a useful overview of its thinking, along with an update assessing its relevance today. Alain-G. Gagnon warns of the dangers of a constitution that is virtually incapable of amendment. The other contributors are André Burelle, Fernand Harvey, Linda Cardinal with Marie-Eve Hudon, Bernard Bonin, John Richards and Gilles Paquet. These are names to be conjured with, and there is surely a case for an English translation.
Terry Crowley, Marriage of Minds: Isabel and Oscar Skelton Reinventing Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), xiii + 328 pp. £40 (cloth)/ £ 20 (paper). ISBN 0-8020-0932-8 (cloth); 0-8020-7902-4 (paper).
This is a portrait of a marriage and of the two individuals yoked within it. O.D. Skelton is a name known to students of the evolution of Canadian external policy, but the link is not always made with Isabel Skelton, biographer of D'Arcy McGee and one of the first social historians to attempt to highlight the role of women in the Canadian past. They met at Queen's University, and it was there that Oscar made his early career as an academic, both in History and Political Science. His book on socialism was praised in identical terms, as the best book on the subject by a non-believer, by both Lenin and Sidney Webb. The Skeltons' subsequent move to Ottawa, where he became senior civil servant in External Affairs, was less matrimonially catastrophic than in the parallel case of Marion and Lester Pearson, but it did cause some estrangement between them. This took the form of a row over buying a house: it is ominous when two historians call their home “Edgehill”, the opening battle of the English Civil War. Crowley's thoughtful study is valuable in suggesting that Skelton was much less of a grey eminence than some have assumed: it was the politicians, notably Mackenzie King, who made the key policy decisions. Occasionally his analytical framework can be a little oppressive: Foucault makes two appearances, and the vapid term “colonialism'” pops up from time to time. Too much theory can obscure the values of the time, as when Crowley finds it “puzzling” that Oscar expected his wife to take the main burden of parenting while he earned the money. This was an entirely standard attitude until very recently, and who can say that it may not become so again? More intriguing, surely, is the fact that Skelton, so suspicious of British diplomacy, sent his elder son to boarding school in England. Both boys turned out to be wild youngsters, and it is not clear whether this was the result of heredity or upbringing. A few errors have crept through the editing process. Almonte in eastern Ontario gains an extra letter, the British historian David Cannadine appears as 'Carradine', and a London department store becomes 'Herrod's'. I was delighted to learn that Isabella once called the historian Donald Creighton “a shallow, pompous imperialist” (p. 258), and everything must be forgiven the author who so memorably characterises the young Professor Skelton as “vigorous in print, rigorous in class” (p. 87).
Raymond J.A. Huel, Archbishop A,-A. Taché of St. Boniface: The "Good Fight" and the Illusive Vision (Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 2003), xxv + 429 pp. Paper. £21-99. ISBN 0-88864-406-X.
By a paradox, Archbishop Taché owes his place in the textbook narrative of Canadian history to his absence at a key moment. In 1869, as the francophone, Catholic population of the Red River boiled into revolt, he was on his way to the Vatican Council in Rome. Bereft of the natural leadership of a pastor who was the nephew of the premier who had led Canada's Great Coalition in 1864-5, so it seemed, the Métis turned instead to Louis Riel, the young man whom Taché himself had packed off to Lower Canada to train for the priesthood. Raymond J.A. Huel is well equipped to write this biography: he has edited both the collected outpourings of Riel and a series of histories of the Oblate missionary order. The result is a study which is strong on the organisational aspects of re-creating Catholic structures in the North-West. But I am left wondering whether Taché's absence in 1869 was so important after all. He had been fast-tracked into the episcopacy: coadjutor at 26, bishop (and later archbishop) at 31. The combination of personal inexperience with spiritual authority was hardly conducive to learning political skills on the job. His contribution to “solving” the Red River problem after his return was a crude attempt to bounce the Dominion government into overlooking Riel's murder (as Protestants saw it) of Thomas Scott. His mishandling of the amnesty issue left him generally distrusted in Ottawa. From then on it was all downhill, both politically and demographically. The vision of a French Manitoba, even of a serious francophone enclave, quickly disappeared, and Taché fell back on hopes that Irish immigration might at least preserve a Catholic presence. In 1885, he failed to save Riel from the gallows, but discouraged full-scale denunciation of his grisly fate for fear of an anglophone Protestant backlash. The deluge descended soon afterwards in the form of the Manitoba Schools dispute that darkened his final years. In some respects, the strength of Huel's focus on Taché as an administrator is balanced by its relative narrowness. Both the 1869 and 1885 crises receive bald treatment, while the founding of the dynamic and intolerantly anglicising city of Winnipeg in 1873 seems mentioned almost in passing. (Although Taché's missionary church claimed to depend on the offerings of the Quebec faithful, detractors alleged that his archdiocese made indecent amounts of cash from the resulting property boom.) While the failure to develop a French province in the West is a central theme, there is no mention of the work of A.I. Silver on this subject. Even Taché's initial dedication to missionary work among Aboriginal people (as a young priest he learnt to preach in Chipewyan) vanishes in the density of the subsequent narrative. Perhaps this was for the best: in 1855, he administered the last rites to a native woman who was six months pregnant, and then demanded a posthumous caesarian section so that he could baptise the dead foetus. Huel's massive and detailed prose reads easily, except where he uses “brochure” for “pamphlet”. Indeed, it is not always clear when and why the author thinks French phrases should be translated or left in the original. When Taché modestly wrote that he had been ordained “despite his indignity” (p. 17), he was almost certainly using a French word that better translates as “unworthiness”. Overall, although (or perhaps, because) Huel distinguishes his approach from that of Jean Hamelin, his book is best read in parallel with Hamelin's more economical (and nationaliste) essay in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. The DCB would also confirm that Etienne-Paschal Taché, the famous uncle, was the grandson, not the son, of the founder of the family in Canada.