Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres - R. Louis Gentilcore, et al (eds.), Historical Atlas of Canada, Vol. II, The Land Transformed 1800-1891

Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres

R. Louis Gentilcore, et al (eds.), Historical Atlas of Canada, Vol. II, The Land Transformed 1800-1891

Donald Swainson
Queen's University
R. Louis Gentilcore, et al (eds.). Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume II, The Land Transformed 1800-1891, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993. 184 pp., 58 plates. Cloth $95.00, ISBN 0-8020-3447-0.

1 The Historical Atlas of Canada ranks with the Dictionary of Canadian Biography as one of the most important works of co-operative research and writing in the history of Canadian scholarship. In both cases, dozens of scholars from a wide variety of disciplines have worked together with impressive results. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography is the larger work, with thirteen volumes in print. The Historical Atlas is complete with three volumes available.

2 The final of these three volumes to be published is Volume II, subtitled The Land Transformed 1800-1891. Essentially this volume deals with nineteenth-century Canada, a century that in many respects defined the nation that we know today. Repeated attempts in both the United States and British North America to unify the continent were rebuffed: the Americans failed to conquer Canada during the War of 1812; an annexation movement during the 1840s was crushed; Fenian filibusters were defeated; Confederation was brought about at least in part to strengthen this society, vis-à-vis the United States; the late-nineteenth-century continentalist wing of the Liberal Party was neutralized. With the exception of Newfoundland/ Labrador, Canada attained her present territorial limits. The West and British Columbia were not only incorporated into Canada but connected with eastern Canada by rail. Ontario was settled and the peopling of the West was well underway. Rebellion movements that could have prevented the creation of a united Canada were suppressed. National institutions like the RCMP were created and our basic constitutional framework established. The economy grew dramatically, preparing Canada for twentieth-century status as an advanced nation.

3 All of this, and much more, is the stuff of The Land Transformed. The volume is organized around fifty-eight plates. Each plate occupies two facing pages and measures about thirteen by twenty inches (or thirty-two by fifty centimetres). Plates include maps, charts, graphs, tables, lists, illustrations and succinct blocks of text. The maps are beautiful works of art and the other plate components are models of effective and highly informative design. The book is divided into units of several plates under such heads as "Canada in the Nineteenth Century," "An Immigrant Population," "Expanding Economies," "The People" and "Urbanization and Manufacturing." Each unit is introduced with a short essay that offers the reader assistance in the use of the plates that follow. All plates are signed, and some are the product of several collaborators. Plate fifty-four, for example, was researched and written by Alison Prentice, Susan L. Laskin, Paul Axelrod, Marta Danylewycz and Alan H. Macpherson. And, of course, into each plate went the contribution of the project's cartographer/designer, Geoffrey J. Matthews, and his obviously highly talented staff.

4 The result is a data-dense volume that permits the reader to follow the major events in nineteenth-century Canadian history visually. The quantity of material that has been incorporated into the various plates is staggering. A couple of descriptions will illustrate this point. Plate twenty-one, "From Sea to Sea: Territorial Growth to 1900," by Norman L. Nicholson and Charles F. J. Whebell is a marvellous document. It is introduced with two paragraphs explaining the general nature of the expansion westward of the "settler colonies" that were based on the Atlantic and in the St Lawrence valley. The conflicts between the United States and the European empires for land are also outlined. Scattered over the plate is a listing of the dates from 1713 to 1898 that influenced expansion or boundary location. Each of these forty-six dates is followed by a sentence or so that explains what significant event happened in that year. The plate includes elegant, uncluttered and beautifully coloured maps of Canada (or what would become Canada) for 1791, 1825, 1849, 1873 and 1900. This reviewer has never seen a clearer presentation of the territorial evolution of this country. But there is more. There are six insert maps that illustrate the Alaska Panhandle Boundary Dispute, the San Jaun Boundary Dispute, the Oregon Territory Boundary Dispute, the Lake Superior Boundary Dispute, the Quebec-New Brunswick Boundary Dispute and the Maine Boundary Dispute. The plate is completed with a colour code that enables one to learn at a glance which territory was never in dispute and which pieces of disputed territory went to the United States, Britain (i.e. Canada), Quebec or New Brunswick. Everything on this plate should be known to any person interested in Canadian history. These data are, for the first time, easily accessible in a single place and attractive format.

5 Plate twenty-eight, "Politics and Parties 1867-1896," is by Robert Craig Brown and Ben Forster. It is introduced with a snappy paragraph that outlines the main political events of the period. Two large maps give the results, constituency by constituency and party by party, for the federal elections of 1872 and 1896. A combination of a national map and eight bar-graphs indicate partisan voting trends by seats nationally and in each province. A pie-diagram gives us the popular vote, province by province for 1872 and 1896. This diagram accounts as well for acclamations, voters who did not vote and persons not included on voters lists. Nicely designed bar-graphs divide MPs by education, age, occupation and previous political experience. A numerical count of acclamations by election and party is the subject of another bar-graph and an organizational chart explains the workings of one party in a selected federal constituency. Finally, the most famous gerrymander in Canadian history — that of 1882 — receives interesting treatment. Four maps and a chart, preceded by a succinct and successful paragraph explaining the art of the gerrymander, outline the mechanics of this form of electoral manipulation. The reader comes away from the gerrymander data with a visual understanding of a complicated political technique that many people have trouble understanding on the basis of a written or oral explanation. These four maps also illustrate clearly the extent to which the gerrymander failed to enhance the success of the federal Conservatives. Political systems and processes are too complicated and personalized to be explained fully in a visual way, but this plate presents a huge amount of data that is now readily accessible. It also provides a perspective that substantially enhances the understanding of politics that derives from more traditional formats.

6 One is tempted to discuss plate after plate, but the point has been made. The fifty-eight plates include remarkable quantities of hard data that are interpreted and presented imaginatively and effectively. As soon as The Land Transformed 1800-1891 was published, it became an indispensable reference for anybody with a serious interest in Canadian history. It should be widely used by school children as well as by serious and senior scholars. It is also a very beautiful book that is a pleasure to use. My one criticism of The Land Transformed is that it includes only fifty-eight plates. A hundred and fifty-eight would be even more satisfying.