Academic journal article Journal of Canadian Studies

[Making Western Canada: Essays on European Civilization & Settlement]

Academic journal article Journal of Canadian Studies

[Making Western Canada: Essays on European Civilization & Settlement]

Article excerpt

In 1980 historian J.MS. Careless, in response to a burst of historical scholarship related to his "limited identities," compared himself to a farmer who prayed for rain and ended up with a flood (3). If Careless's farmer were around today he would be heading for high ground because of a tidal wave warning. In the 1990s alone, tremendous advances have been made in historical writing about western Canada. The scholarship being produced by academics is increasingly complex, diverse and wide ranging. It is a collection that demonstrates that the social history revolution, with its focus on gender, class, race, ethnicity and region, continues unabated.

There are undoubtedly those who will continue to argue that in accelerating the trends of the last few years, history is being produced that is too narrowly focussed. Much of the literature, which in reality is more inclusive than the old-style national history, suffers from this potential negative only in the sense of dealing with a particular group in a particular area. In two respects, many of the works discussed herein drift much further afield than the work of previous generations of historians on western Canada: academics are increasingly employing methodologies created elsewhere, and these same writers are looking beyond western Canada in an effort at comparison. These recent works collectively suggest that region, the bulwark variable of so much of what western Canadian historical writing has been about, is becoming repeatedly secondary or potentially irrelevant with an increased emphasis on class and race, among others, as explanatory tools. That is certainly not to say that region is being replaced by nation; it is not. Instead, comparisons are being made across both national and regional boundaries.

These increasingly specialized scholarly works about western Canada have exacerbated the gap between academic and popular history that J.R. Miller alluded to in "Farewell to Monks, Eunuchs, and Vestal Virgins," which appeared on these pages in 1985. It is not all the fault of academics either. Popular history has been slow to accept the social history revolution. Instead the purveyors of broader, rollicking history continue to produce books that promote caricatures and simplicity. Hence writing about western Canadian history is really about two separate and distinct spheres -- the popular and the scholarly.

Over the past 13 years one major influence on academic literature, at least on works about the Canadian prairies, has been Gerald Friesen's The Canadian Prairies: A History, winner of the Canadian Historical Association's J.A. Macdonald prize for the best book in Canadian history. Critics rightly celebrate the book as a major step forward in the writing of prairie history. The Canadian Prairies is a synthesis of secondary sources, a work which, as its author has acknowledged, reflected the scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s. Reviewers have named various weaknesses, largely areas neglected or ignored by Friesen. One of the most significant weaknesses in the Friesen tome, as identified by Ramsay Cook among others, was the lack of material on prairie women (414). Reflecting the available scholarship, the women who appeared in The Canadian Prairies were mainly the great, not the ordinary (Moffatt 14).

Like any good work of synthesis, the holes of The Canadian Prairies inspired others to try to fill them. "Other" Voices: Historical Essays on Saskatchewan Women, edited by Aileen Moffatt and Dave De Brou, is one example of new work on prairie women. This collection of essays surveys Saskatchewan women on the basis of ethnicity, race, class, religion, rural and urban location and even regional (north-south) differences. Specific essays examine Swedish, French-speaking, Jewish, British, working-class, farming and Native women, and three recent immigrant women to Saskatchewan. Moffatt provides a background to historical writing about Saskatchewan women, while both she and De Brou attempt to place the volume into current scholarly trends in Canada focussing on writing about women and gender.

As with collections of this type, the result is a decidedly uneven one. Most of the pieces rely heavily on oral interviews, a reflection of the lack of availability of traditional source material related to women, especially those outside the dominant Anglo-Canadian group. Highlights of "Other" Voices include Theresa Healey's fascinating study of women in Saskatoon and their active role in protesting against the mistreatment of their families by relief authorities. The lives of women in the Great Depression continues to be a topic largely neglected by current scholarship; Healey's essay effectively connects class with gender as she demonstrates the resistance of some Saskatoon women to a relief system that barely provided enough resources for their families' subsistence. Anna Feldman provides a look at Jewish women. Julie Dorsch offers insight into the lives of farm women, another group with little historical visibility because of their apparent disappearance into the so-called "private sphere."

Some of the essays do not work as well as others. An interesting case in point is Nadine Small's study of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE). The rest of the women portrayed in the book tend to be those who have been marginalized because of location, ethnicity, race, class, religion or a combination of several of these categories. This is certainly not the case with the Anglo-Canadian women who worked on behalf of the glorious British Empire; they were women of privilege and power and at the centre of the dominant construction of the Saskatchewan of the period, though, of course, they still lacked power in relation to their male counterparts. As such they do make a nice contrast to the other women in the book. What then makes them different from some of the other groups profiled in the volume? The editors neglect to raise the point but clearly it is class and especially ethnicity. This is also a point Small fully fails to raise in her piece. With their calls for assimilation and other nativist pronouncements, the women who belonged to the IODE were directly at odds with non-British women in Saskatchewan. Ethnicity is also given short shrift in Mathilde Jutras's essay on French-speaking women in Saskatchewan. She writes that unlike Francophone women, "[n]on-Francophone women immigrants tried to Canadianize themselves as quickly as possible, which more or less meant anglicizing themselves" (44). This vast generalization is simply wrong. The fact that nativism publicly flourished in Saskatchewan well into the 1920s and that Anglo organizations such as the IODE spent some of their time worrying about assaults on Anglo-Canadian hegemony is evidence that many newcomers did not embrace assimilation.

The essays collectively offer a clear case against the supremacy of gender in explaining the experience of women -- in other words, there is no universal experience for women in the province of Saskatchewan. In fact, as the editors note, the book suggests that "experiences based on race, ethnicity, class, religion and language divide Saskatchewan women" (viii). Even region can dramatically change the experiences of women. In "From the Bush to the Village to the City: Pinehouse Lake Aboriginal Women Adapt to Change," Miriam McNab found, using oral interviews, that unlike southern Aboriginal people who decry the weakening of their culture through close contact with non-Aboriginal society, some in the North, specifically six women McNab interviewed from Pinehouse Lake, Saskatchewan, welcomed the benefits they believed life in a large urban centre offered them. They did not see the move away from their traditional setting and many aspects of their traditional way of life as necessarily negative, rather, the change was viewed as a means of obtaining the benefits of both societies. This essay suggests that in some respects there is not even a universal experience for Native women residing in the province.

The complexities evident in "Other" Voices journey beyond the intermixing of variables such as gender and ethnicity. The contributors include scholars from sociology, education and Native Studies. Interdisciplinary approaches have become an increasingly common trend as social historians and other scholars have moved outside traditional realms in an effort to acquire the means to recreate the lives of those marginalized by traditional sources. Prophecy of the Swan: The Upper Peace River Fur Trade of 1794-1823, by three archaeologists, David B. Burley, J. Scott Hamilton and Knut R. Fladmark, is an interesting example of this trend. In essence, the book is an environmental history of a small part of the Peace River region. Despite the importance of land in the history of western Canada, environmental history has not developed as quickly in Canada as it has in the historical works being composed about the American West.'

Prophecy of the Swan explores the human impact on the land, in the form of the fur trade, and, in turn, documents the environmental impact on the humans, both Native and non-Native, who lived or travelled through the Upper Peace River region. The authors mainly gaze at two particular fur trade posts, Rocky Mountain Portage House and St. Johns, and attempt to recreate the social lives of those who interacted in the area. They have produced an excellent example of the increasing interdisciplinary approach to some aspects of western Canadian history. Anthropological and archaeological methods are evident throughout. Much of the book, however, still relies on the written record and more traditional historical methods. In fact, Prophecy of the Swan would have been impossible without written sources, something the authors freely admit: "No matter how informative the archaeological record might be, there are aspects of fur-trade history that can never be recounted without access to written documents" (59). Their work even further demonstrates the limitations of archaeological sources when the authors admit that their 1987 expedition discovered more remnants of the 1976 expedition than of the nineteenth-century fur traders (104).

Still, this book offers new insight into the history of the fur trade. First, the evidence offers a reality check on the overdrawn stereotypes of Peter C. Newman, creator of a three-volume history of the fur trade, who, as the authors note, describes voyageurs as having the "freedom of kings" (96). They point out that in reality the lives of those who sought furs for a living were decidedly less glamorous: "Closely regulated by the officer in charge, customarily given difficult tasks in demanding conditions, and subject to cabin fever and other such maladies of the frontier, discontent and desertion were commonplace" (96). Interestingly enough, this check on the veracity of Newmanesque history comes courtesy of written records, the staple of popular historians, not archaeological evidence.

The real value of the book, however, also connects with its major weakness. Repeatedly the authors mention that St. Johns, one of the posts they examined, came to a close after local Natives murdered five Hudson's Bay Company employees in 1823. Based on archaeological evidence, specifically the abundance of hare bones instead of beaver bones, the authors conclude that the spark for those who committed homicide may have been that they found their population under pressure, even facing starvation, because of ecological damage caused by the European fur trade. Local Native people were hungry and that hunger made them desperate enough to kill (134-5). In raising these points the authors challenge directly the major academic work on the fur trade in British Columbia, Robin Fisher's Contact and Conflict. Unfortunately, these points and the challenge they raise, collectively the true significance of the entire book, cover a mere two pages. This material almost appears as an afterthought. As such, the ultimate value of Prophecy of the Swan is that it may spark other micro studies which, when considered collectively, may allow for more substantive conclusions as to the real benefits and detriments of the fur trade to people, animals and the land. Edith Burley's recently published monograph, Servants of the Honourable Company, continues the evolution of this field by offering further insight into the lives of many ordinary Hudson Bay Company workers.

Another interdisciplinary approach that like Prophecy of the Swan demonstrates promise but in the end fails to deliver is Settling the Canadian-American West, a study by two anthropologists, John W. Bennett and Seena B. Kohl, that compares the settlement of the Canadian-American West. The book recognizes a visible truth: the 49th parallel exists only on maps. Geographically there is not a dramatic difference. For those who settled in either nation's West in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, the boundary was largely irrelevant. In fact, as the authors demonstrate, there was frequent migration in the early-twentieth century from the United States to Canada and back again. The authors take a social history approach to settlement, relying heavily on personal papers of ordinary settlers: "This book is based on the use of remembered experience for understanding how people adapt to new environments and create communities" (1).

One of the strengths of Settling the Canadian-American West is the material on ordinary women who settled in the west. Various aspect of their lives, from working on the homestead, to courting, to their strategies for dealing with birth control, are discussed. Bennett and Kohl note that "controlling conception remains part of the 'hidden history' of frontier women" (89). On the other hand, the authors' reliance on personal papers gives the monograph an episodic/anecdotal quality and one rarely gets a sense of the wider trends taking place during the relevant time period. Such an approach also perhaps explains the lack of analysis regarding ethnicity and Native peoples who lived in the region before the arrival of the newcomers. Native peoples in this work are almost completely ignored. One of the dominant images that the book leaves with the reader, regrettably, is that the entire region was a blank slate waiting for European sealers to drop roots.

If Aboriginal peoples are non-existent in Settling the Canadian-American West, their presence in The Great Adventure: How the Mounties Conquered the West is one unwittingly plucked from the stereotypes of the past: Native peoples as representative of savagery. The Great Adventure, by journalists Alison Griffiths and David Cruise, is a popular account of the newly created NorthWest Mounted Police's 1874 march across Canada's recently acquired western territory. The book actually portrays itself as just the opposite of what it really is, noting the prevalence of stereotypes in previous historical writing about Native peoples: "To many of us, native people are either tragic or cardboard figures" (xi). And yet a question that arises from such rhetoric and one that is never successfully answered is how do these authors attempt to avoid similar presentations of Native peoples if they do not make an effort to use Aboriginal stories and sources? Griffiths and Cruise try very hard to be positive in their portrayal of Natives and yet terminology is employed that would not have been out of place in early-twentieth-century books on the Mounted Police, such as R.G. MacBeth's The Law Marches West and A.L. Haydon's The Riders of the Plains. In their history the authors re-create one of the original cliches of western Canada -- the savage/civilized dichotomy. Thus the Mounties "signed up to march into the wild frontier and pacify the Indians ... and bring law to a lawless land" (x). Elsewhere Cruise and Griffiths note the existence of violence, including homicide, in Native societies at the time: "such things were common in the mid-1800s across the northern Great Plains where the hand of civilization placed tenuous fingers" (44). The term "civilization" is used more than once to depict civilized, lawful white society as an implicit contrast with Native society, which clearly represents the opposite. Occasionally the comments border on the offensive: "an Indian woman in your bed did much more than provide scalp insurance" (57).

The Great Adventure is parachute history at its best -- or worst -- depending on one's perspective. Parachute history involves those without any real background in a particular topic parachuting into it, accompanied by lots of anecdotes, overdrawn characters and conclusions, and exaggerated rhetoric: "Steele wore his manhood like a badge of honour" (22); "his education at the hands of the Blood gave him a doctorate in survival" (131); "His gut screamed vengeance but his head counselled caution" (144). With parachute history subtlety is completely eschewed -- not that it really seems to matter to the outside world. Instead publicists and media move in to declare the particular book a "definitive work" on the subject and when academics move in to attack it in reviews, as they invariably do, the author or authors counterattack against the reviewers with comments based on the reviewers' age, race, gender, geographic location, lack of writing ability, etc.(f.2)

With The Great Adventure, it is ultimately never clear how the Mounties, as the book's subtitle suggests, "conquered the west." Perhaps the subtitle was meant to be ironic, but that would be giving the authors too much credit for subtlety and sophistication. Nuance is simply not pan of this genre -- parachute history is about moving in quickly and then departing for the next target just as rapidly.

Everything that The Great Adventure is not, Views From Fort Battleford is. One thing the latter is certainly about is "how the Mounties conquered the West." Walter Hildebrandt's book has less to do with Fort Battleford than with those who lived behind its walls, specifically members of the North-West Mounted Police. And his take on the nineteenth-century version of the men in scarlet is unlike anything ever seen before. First, he remarks on the traditional interpretation of the Mounted Police as presented by Parks Canada (and The Great Adventure for that matter): "When I began with the Parks Service in the late 1970s the history of Fort Battleford was being presented as a story of law and order, of valour and the establishment of civilization in the West" (ix).

Hildebrandt's approach to the Mounted Police, occasionally hampered by stilted writing, is decidedly different. He sees the Mounted Police as an expression of hegemonic control over the west by Anglo-Canadian society. Every aspect of the police was an expression of power; they were not the benevolent, neutral organization so often portrayed in the past:

The solitary Mountie, mythologized by Anglo-Canadian culture, served as a floating signifier for those who knew how power operated. ... The NWMP thus were an arm of the law which was to restrain and guide Native people (as well as the incoming white settlers) into conformity with the dominant culture and society the Mounties represented and were to disseminate (1-2).

Although ostensibly about Fort Battleford, the book's attention ranges far and wide, and includes a detailed and useful history of the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited the region in which Fort Battleford was situated. The material on Native peoples is one of the strengths of this work. Hildebrandt does an effective job of contrasting their world beliefs with those of the arriving Europeans, or, in other words, demonstrates that there was a plurality of views of the significance of Fort Battleford. He also successfully recreates European racial beliefs. First there is the categorization of Native peoples as "disloyal," "criminal," "savage," and "uncivilized" (62). Many of these negative characterizations are directed at Native peoples who attempted to resist assimilation. On occasion that resistance took the form of violence. As part of his portrayal of Native-non-Native interaction, Hildebrandt offers a much needed balanced accounting of the events that have become known as the "Frog Lake" massacre.

At times Views from Fort Battleford is a history of Native-non-Native relations, at others an environmental history, looking at the contrasting view of nature between Natives and non-Natives. Hildebrandt also examines previous writing on the nineteenth-century Mounted Police and finds it lacking. He observes the tendency of a great deal of the scholarship, including R.C. Macleod's "Canadianizing the West," to perpetuate the civilization/savagery dichotomy when dealing with the arrival of the Mounted Police in the west. What follows then is a highly nuanced study of the operations of the Mounted Police in the region. This passage from the concluding page of the book is one for the ages: "The myth of the Mounties needs to be balanced off against the historical evidence that shows them to be no more and no less than men of their times, who carried the cultural baggage of the Victorian era they were part of. They are not and should not remain above history" (111).

Views from Fort Battleford demonstrates that it is important to see the Mounties for what they were: an Anglo-Canadian all-male outfit. The author effectively captures the first aspect, but does not deal as efficiently with the role played by gender.

Hildebrandt's book is just one of several new books that begins to use the methods of the post-modernist revolution to create a completely new and more complex historical portrait of western Canada. Another exciting work is Making Western Canada, an ambitious collection of essays that fully displays the increasing complexity of historical scholarship about western Canadian history. The book, co-edited by historians Catherine Cavanaugh and Jeremy Mouat, offers nine essays, all in an effort to drive forward western Canadian history; collectively they seek to challenge "some of the myths of the Canadian West" (vii). In doing so, the editors write, "[o]ur emphasis is on the ways in which society has been made: the extent to which it was and is the product of human agency, rather than having an intangible existence (and history) beyond the interaction of groups of people" (vii).

Leading off the book is Elizabeth Jameson, an historian of the American West, apparently brought in to provide context to the essays that follow. In doing so she is only partially successful; much of the contribution reads like a simple summary of the chapters that follow.

Some of those contributions include Lyle Dick's study of the historical writing surrounding a clash between a group of Metis traders from Red River and Hudson's Bay Company employees and settlers from the Selkirk colony. Dick traces the terminology surrounding the event, specifically how it became known as the "Seven Oaks massacre" with the Metis portrayed as the aggressors. He argues that the representation of "Seven Oaks as a 'massacre' was integral to the construction of a new master narrative of progress in the West" (14). Again the notion of European society representing civilization and non-European society as savagery is replicated in the history of the topic, as related in works by some amateur historians in the nineteenth century and in the occasionally ethno-centric professional work of George F.G. Stanley and W.L. Morton, among others, in this century. It should not be a surprise that historians, in constructing the settlement of the West as progress, reflected the ethnic prejudices and biases of the society that constructed them. Dick's ultimate targets, however, are historians Carl Berger, A.B. McKillop and M. Brook Taylor who have sharply contrasted nineteenth-century historical writing with the rise of professional historical scholarship. In the case of the events at Seven Oaks, Dick finds little difference in the accounts of the two groups of historians.

The rest of collection follows Dick's strong lead. Sarah Carter explores the events of 1885 from a different angle, in this case looking at Theresa Delaney and Theresa Gowanlock, two white women, whom Big Bear protected after several of his Cree followers murdered nine whites at Frog Lake. Their stories are interesting because of the presence once again of the savage/civilized dichotomy. Big Bear and his band's treatment of the women was excellent, in contrast to white expectations and in contrast to the treatment of prisoners by the Canadian military. In the aftermath of the events, however, the two women sensationalized the accounts, de-emphasized their humane treatment, and played upon European cultural prejudice in order to sell books. Tina Loo's essay further demonstrates the complexity of Native/non-Native relations, as she examines Native participation in administering a European legal system that is in part designed to subjugate Natives. Richard Rajala's study connects class, technology and the environment to look at the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century forestry industry, but, as he notes at the end of the essay, his work has clear implications for today's climate that pits environmentalists against workers (126-7). Mark Leier's study of workers and intellectuals in the early-twentieth-century British Columbia socialist movement also has implications for elsewhere. Leier sees intellectuals as a class of their very own, with class interests to match. Employing theories developed from the writings of Michael Bakunin and Jan Waclaw Machajski, he suggests that they point to "a materialist explanation for a number Of historical events that have been portrayed as intellectual disputes over ideology and ideas" (140). Intellectuals demanded a bigger state because it was in their interest as a group. In his conclusion, Leier suggests that this approach raises implications for other aspects of Canadian history, specifically the Social Gospel Movement.

One of the most important essays in Making Western Canada is Cecilia Danysk's study of the gender construction of hired hands and homesteaders. Building upon her important study of farm labourers, Hired Hands, Danysk looks at the male identities of western-Canadian bachelors. She correctly observes that "[i]n the case of prairie men and in relation to class, there is not one masculine identity, but many." Gender analysis, especially in terms of men, is only slowly starting to gain any sort of standing in western Canadian history. That is why this essay is such a welcome addition to the growing body of literature related to masculinity. Where this essay is fundamentally flawed, however, is in its complete failure to consider ethnicity as a component in the construction of the bachelor identity. Reading like a work out of the 1970s, class is proclaimed as the supreme influence on gender. One suspects that Danysk's construction of the gender of bachelors is really how Anglo-Canadian society developed the concept at the time. But the ethnic makeup of the prairies between 1880 and 1930 changed dramatically because of immigration. Were there no differences in the conception and construction of bachelorhood between Ukrainian, German, Scottish, Icelandic, Austrian and Russian societies on the prairies? Danysk's study is important because of its originality, but it invites more work on the topic.

Timothy J. Stanley's interesting but brief contribution is another good starting point to a different area of western Canadian history. Stanley explores the makeup of the Chinese community in Victoria, a community that existed almost completely in isolation from that of the white population. Within the Chinese community, merchants dominated, in part because Canada's racial exclusionary laws, specifically the head tax, meant that only wealthier Chinese could afford to immigrate and help create a community in their own image. Stanley's essay advances historical knowledge by getting away from the one-dimensional aspect of some of the scholarship in this area that tends only to look at the source white racism. Instead Stanley focuses directly on those affected by the racism and discovers the methods used to resist. The second historically important aspect of the essay is that Stanley illustrates that Chinese immigrant communities were not one-dimensional entities; they were affected by gender, class and ethnicity like any other group of people in British Columbia.

The other two essays in the collection are those by the book's editors, Catherine Cavanaugh and Jeremy Mouat. Cavanaugh's article looks at women striving for rights in early-twentieth-century Alberta, not as women looking for the right to vote but as women seeking something more basic and important -- a guaranteed share in the homestead. In that respect her essay paints a new colour upon the first wave of feminism. She even documents the incredible spectacle of future prime minister R.B. Bennett crusading with suffragette Emily Murphy in a failed effort to provide married women with the right to family property during their husbands' lifetimes. Because of its apparent strangeness, this partnership might have received more comment. And yet, Bennett and Murphy did share certain conservative ideals; witness Bennett's anti-Communist paranoia in the 1930s and Murphy's antinarcotic rantings in the 1920s. Ultimately Cavanaugh's approach is a conventional one -- she is looking at a different aspect of first-wave feminism but not in a different way.

Mouat's essay seems out of place in relation to the rest of the collection. He takes a look at modern chroniclers of western Canadian history, this time in the form of artists -- writer Rudy Wiebe, filmmaker Anne Wheeler and folk singer James Keelaghan. What comes across in the essay is that Mouat is a big fan of all three artists and that like a fan(atic) he takes great umbrage at any criticism, especially from critics in central Canada, of his favourites. He fails, however, to shed critical light on the three artists he profiles.

Despite a few weaknesses, Making Western Canada is a breakthrough work of scholarship. The truly exciting aspect of this book is its portability. A great many of the ideas being offered, be they Mark Leier's description of the relationship between intellectuals and class, albeit based on theories borrowed from elsewhere, or Tina Loo's analysis of Native peoples and agency, can be applied outside western Canada. In effect, the authors by their findings are rendering the concept of region irrelevant -- or to be specific to the target at hand, they are driving a railway size spike through the heart of "western exceptionalism" as envisioned by an earlier generation of historians writing about western Canada, be they David Bercuson and the Winnipeg General Strike and the western labour movement or W.L. Morton and the Progressive Party.

Another work with implications that stretch beyond western Canada is Jeffery Taylor's Fashioning Farmers, a study of the ideology developed by Manitoban educational institutions with respect to agriculture and its impact on farmers. The very concept of farming and farmers changed dramatically in Manitoba in a short period of time. Taylor traces the change to the impact of institutions such as the Manitoba Agricultural College (MAC) that influenced farmers into accepting themselves as part of the capitalist economy. In doing so an older strain of agrarianism that did not readily accept the inevitability of the capitalist equation was essentially defeated.

As with Danysk's bachelors, Taylor's study sees class and gender as the most important factors in the farming identity being introduced in Manitoba. Also like Danysk's essay, Taylor's book is fundamentally flawed because of his almost complete lack of attention to ethnicity. It is only in his endnotes that he recognizes that ethnicity intersects with class and gender. Yet he sees the latter two as the dominant variables and from Chapter Two on "the term ideology shall mean class and gender ideology." Such an approach would be defensible were it not for Taylor's habit of speaking in universalistic terms about farmers and for the fact that some of his own evidence demonstrates the glaring void of ethnicity. Taylor's work, whether he wishes to admit it or not, is really about the ideology of Anglo-Canadian farmers in Manitoba in the early-twentieth century.

First there are the generalizations. "MAC, especially in the Agriculture Diploma Programme, was the training ground for Manitoba farmers" (75). "By participating in Home Economics Societies and Women's Institutes, women ... acquired a social identity. ... Social cooperation for women meant working together to protect and enhance the home, while contributing womanly skills to the general stability of the community. Like male cooperation, it was directed towards breaking down isolation and sectarianism in the interest of a wider community" (80). Ignoring the practical aspect that Taylor does not seem to supply any information on the numbers of students who attended the college or these other gatherings, what about those who were not literate? What about those who did not speak or understand English during this period? How was the ethnic composition of Manitoba changing during this period? What about the fact that a large number of instructors at the college seemed to be from a Western and Northern European background?

Taylor's own evidence suggests that he is wrong to speak about farmers simply in terms of gender and class. The Manitoba Department of Agriculture, for example, produced a film entitled "Our Ruthenian Citizens." Why? Who was the intended audience for the film? On page 81 Taylor writes that "[tit the provincial level, rural women agitated for... the Canadianization of foreigners..." (81). Who were these "foreigners"? Were not some of them women? Did not some of them live on farms? A better question perhaps would be who were Taylor's "rural women"? Were they not largely drawn from a British background? Again the problem arises when on the same page he alleges that "[r]ural women thereby came together as social housekeepers, submerging other conflicting and overlapping identifies in a common womanhood seeking common community" (81). One wonders how the women who found themselves and their families being pressured to "Canadianize" felt about other members of their "common community" who were doing the pressuring. Even in describing those who attempted to resist the imposition of capitalism on fanning, a suggestive reference appears. One farmer opposing the tariff articulated his opposition squarely in ethnic terms (and in terminology his comrades undoubtedly would have understood): "From Runnymede to the time the Smart lost his head and the family the dynasty, the Anglo Saxon has been straggling to be free, from the time of the Tudors to the present the struggle has gone on, and we are more in earnest than ever" (94). Taylor's challenging work is important because of its original look at a subject, agricultural history, that has too often of late been ignored. Unfortunately Taylor is so beholden to his theory that he cannot see the practical forest for the theoretical trees. His theory suggests the supremacy of class and gender in identity but that does not necessarily make it so.

One additional drawback to Taylor's work is common to a great deal of the scholarship being produced by academics the significance of the work is all too often lost in its mundane prose. Whether the increasing theorization of history has rendered it less accessible to those unfamiliar with the buzz words is open to debate. Collectively, however, the works reviewed for this essay demonstrate that the gap between history that is popular and history that is academic is still incredibly wide. One recent monograph that does a credible job of bridging the two solitudes is J.M. Bumsted's The Red River Rebellion. In the process Bumsted treads across ground that is highly controversial, as demonstrated by the long running court battle over the fate of the 1.4 million acres of land distributed to Metis children as part of the 1870 Manitoba Act, the agreement that brought the conflict at Red River to an end.

Bumsted is careful not to take sides in legal conflict that has pitted historian against historian. He takes a middle course, observing that "the truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes of the litigants" (242). What he also avoids are the simplistic generalizations generated in Maggie Siggins's Riel, which can be summarized as "Canadian government bad; Metis good; Louis Riel very good." Bumsted makes the valid point that "the Metis had no necessary monopoly on either truth or justice at the time"(246).

Instead the historian provides a well-written and entertaining look at very complex events. The interpretation offered in The Red River Rebellion continues the direction of much of the current scholarship (a notable exception again being Siggins's Riel) which is to diminish the importance of Riel and establish a wider context for what happened in the Red River colony. The simple truth, as Bumsted demonstrates, is that the famed Metis leader was one of many important participants in the 1869-1870 events.

The keyword in understanding the significance of Bumsted's work is "synthesis." The University of Manitoba historian has taken numerous primary and secondary sources and created a readable synthesis of complicated and confusing events. Building a synthesis, however, requires a solid foundation. Recent scholarly works, which many will find too narrowly focussed, are laying the ground work for a new synthesis of western Canadian history. Of course, more specialized studies remain to be done, especially examining the social construction of what is "western Canada," a term which in itself is problematic since the history of British Columbia does not necessarily blend well with that of the prairie provinces. Even a narrowly focussed study can offer connections beyond the specific topic or region of focus. It is up to scholars to make the effort to look beyond regions and even nations to find those connections.

What also is to be decided is who will write the history that Canadians will read? Will these authors come from the academic world and use the increasingly sophisticated scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s to write readable syntheses of the type produced by Gerald Friesen, or will these writers continue to come from the world of popularizers, particularly journalism, where they borrow willy nilly from previous works, ignoring much that is important, and frequently resurrecting a past better left for dead.


Special thanks to Bill Waiser, Valerie Korinek and Moira Harris for their helpful comments.

(f.1) One recent western-Canadian historical work to take an environmental history approach is Barry Potyondi, In Palliser's Triangle: Living in the Grasslands, 1850-1930 (Saskatoon: Purich Publishing, 1995).

(f.2) For a textbook example of this pattern see Roger Hill, Review of Riel, by Maggie Siggins, Globe and Mail 15 October 1994: C28. Then see in response Maggie Siggins, Letter to the Editor, Globe and Mail, 22 October 1994: D7. Also see Scott Anderson, "Historians accuse Riel biographer of plagiarism (Maggie Siggins's Riel: a Life of Revolution), Quill and Quire 61.5 (1995): 30; Lynne Van-Luven, "A quick guide to new books (about journalism), Media 1.3 (1994): 33; and "He said, she said: Riel biographer Siggins is accused of plagiarism (Rod Macleod & Bob Beal sue Maggis Siggins)," Western Report 6 March 1995, 34-5.

For another example that follows a similar course see Jennifer S.H. Brown, "Newman's Company of Adventures in Two Solitudes: A Look at Reviews and Responses," Canadian Historical Review 67.4 (1986): 562-71 (response from Newman, 572-78), and Lyle Dick, "Renegade in Archives: Peter C. Newman and the Writing of Canadian Popular History," Archivaria 22 (1986): 168-81.


Bercuson, David Jay. Confrontation at Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations, and the Winnipeg General Strike. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1974.

Burley, Edith I. Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline, and Conflict in the Hudson's Bay Company, 1770-1879. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Careless, J.M.S. "Limited Identities -- Ten Years Later." Manitoba History 1.1 (1979), 3-9.

Cook, Ramsay. Rev. of The Canadian Prairies: A History, by Gerald Friesen. Canadian Historical Review 66.3 (1985): 414-15.

Danysk, Cecilia. Hired Hands: Labour and the Development of Prairie Agriculture, 1880-1920. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995.

Friesen, Gerald. The Canadian Prairies: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1984.

Haydon, A.L. The Riders of the Plains: A Record of the Royal North-West Mounted Police of Canada, 1873-1910. London: Melrose, 1910.

MacBeth, R.G. Policing the Plains: Being the Real-life Record of the Famous Royal NorthWest Mounted Police. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1921.

Macleod, R.C. "Canadianizing the West: The North-West Mounted Police as Agents of the National Policy, 1873-1905." The Prairie West: Historical Readings. Eds. R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds. Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1992.

Miller, J.R. "Farewell to 'Monks, Eunuchs, and Vestal Virgins': Recent Western Canadian Historical Writing." Journal of Canadian Studies 20.3 (1985): 157-66.

Moffat, Aileen. "Great Women, Separate Spheres, and Diversity: Comments on Saskatchewan Women's Historiography." "Other" Voices: Historical Essays on Saskatchewan Women. Eds. Dave De Brou and Aileen Moffatt. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1995. 10-26.

Morton, W.L. The Progressive Party in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950.

Newman, Peter C. Company of Adventurers. Toronto: Viking, 1985.

Siggins, Maggie. Riel: A Life of Revolution. Toronto: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Stanley, George F.G. The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960 (originally published in 1936).

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