978-0-7710-6509-5 / 0771065094

A Short History of Canada - Revised: Fifth Edition


Publisher:McClelland & Stewart



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About the book:

The belief in the dullness of Canadas history is as Canadian as Confederation and grain elevators. So ingrained is the idea that, in 2000, even the government-sponsored television station CBC--not known for its adventurous programming--addressed the issue by punching up the storyline in a documentary-style mini-series with excerpts from memoirs and scenes of actors in snowshoes and deerskins. The fifth edition of Desmond Morton's A Short History of Canada could use the literary equivalent of a few such cheesy historical re-enactments. Alas, Morton is an academic--in fact the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and a former University of Toronto history professor--and his book reads like a series of lecture notes. Names, dates, and events are reeled off rapid-fire, making a scorecard necessary to keep track of who belongs to what party. This overview does, however, adequately fulfill the authors not insubstantial goal of summing up, in just under 400 pages, over 100 years of political back-stabbing, labour unrest, conflicts between eastern and western Canada and provincial and federal governments, and the numerous other events that have shaped the country. Perhaps it was Morton's desire to produce "a short history" that has resulted in a lack of telling details and anecdotes and a tendency toward avuncular generalizations such as "Booms end and love affairs cool" and "Disasters are rarely predicted and seldom come singly." Nevertheless, as the book moves into the latter half of the 20th century, the historian's grasp becomes surer, events take on added dimensions, and the text itself becomes appreciably more readable; indeed, Morton's relief at reaching the colourful Trudeau years is palpable. "Since liberation was often a matter of style, its disciples adored a prime minister who wore sandals in the House of Commons, slid down a banister at a Commonwealth conference, and told a political opponent (in Trudeau's own sanitized version) to 'fuddle duddle,'" he writes of the unconventional politician. It's enough to make Canadian history seem positively interesting. --Shawn Conner

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