Thursday, May 19, 2011

Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism (1999)

Stephen Azzi, Walter Gordon & the Rise of Canadian Nationalism, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999.

Written as both a biography and a description of the development of Canadian Nationalism between the late 1950s and the 1980s, Walter Gordon & the Rise of Canadian Nationalism, begins by describing Gordon's early life, his education, and his start as an accountant in his father's Toronto accounting firm. However, Stephen Azzi also uses the first chapter of the text to point to the roots of Gordon's life-long anti-American views and his understanding that Canada should maintain close political, social, and economic ties (the three often being interconnected) with Britain while developing a strong, Canadian-directed economy. An economic conservative, Azzi also shows the origins of Gordon's strong support for government social welfare programs and his socially liberal views.

As the author explains, Gordon grew up in affluence during the Great Depression and was keenly aware that the unemployed and homeless whom he saw daily were largely victims of the failures of the economic system and the government's lack of social assistance measures. Having been interested by the promises of communism as a youth, by the mid-1930s Gordon had become interested in the more democratic ideas of the left and was even a co-owner of the Canadian Forum, the articles of which were often dedicated to discussing left-leaning policies and the problems associated with uncontrolled American influence over Canadian society, its politics, and economy. Furthermore, he and his wife were close friends with several members of the League for Social Reconstruction, including Graham Spry. Azzi also shows how Gordon's work for Eaton's before the Commons Committee on Price Spreads and the Tariff Board during the 1930s convinced Gordon of the dangers posed by free trade with the United States for the Canadian economy. Furthermore, his work for the federal government during the war on the Foreign Exchange Control Board, as chair of the Royal Commission on Administrative Classifications in the Public Service, and as special assistant to Clifford Clark, the deputy minister of finance, convinced Gordon of the importance of Ottawa's new departures from classical government financial management. Especially under Clark he was able to see the role that government could play in both helping the less fortunate and intervening in the economy so as to advance national interests. However, his war time work for the federal government also showed that Gordon lacked a full understanding of macro-economics, preferred action over worrying about the details of complex economic issues, and often allowed his personal ideas and theories concerning the national economy to override the opinions and interests of the government.

Gordon's work for the Ontario and federal governments continued after the war, using the expertise of his business consulting firm (a partial off-shoot of the accounting firm he had inherited from his father) to advise on the efficient organization/reorganization of various government departments, agencies, and overall civil services. He also helped start Canadian Corporate Management Co., a business management firm which Gordon claimed was at least partially established to try and encourage Canadian companies not to sell out to American competitors, but rather, sell to a Canadian holding company which would restructure the company and keep it in Canadian hands.

It was also during the post war years that Gordon developed what he believed was a close friendship with Lester B. Pearson. The two had met while working for the federal government in the 1930s, and it was Gordon who ensured that Pearson would be financially secure enough to enter political life in 1948 when he became Minister of State for External Affairs. Gordon was also responsible for reorganizing the Liberal Party following the defeat of 1958 when Pearson became leader.

Claiming that Gordon's ideas about the threats posed to Canada by American economic hegemony were set before he entered public life, Azzi dedicates his second to sixth chapters to discussing Gordon's public life between 1955 and 1968. The second chapter examines Gordon's involvement in the Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects, which he chaired from 1956-1957 at the request of Louis St. Laurent. The commission was charged with investigating the nature of the Canadian economy and to make recommendations on how it could be altered to best benefit Canadians. Gordon, still concerned about American influence over the Canadian economy, and thus Canadian sovereignty, recommended that Canadian resources and other business interests should not be unquestioningly sold to foreign interests. The third chapter deals with Gordon's restructuring of the Liberal Party following the party's 1958 defeat to the Tories. His policies on protecting Canadian economic sovereignty would influence Liberal economic policy during the 1960s and 1970s, although his ideas concerning the curbing of foreign investment would not form the basis of Liberal economic policy until the 1970s. The fourth chapter discusses Gordon's election to parliament in 1962, his gaining the position of Minister of Finance following the 1963 election, and finally his unsuccessful first budget, which contained the proposal to tax the take over of Canadian businesses by foreign companies. As is explained in chapters five and six, although Gordon's ideas about protecting Canada's economic sovereignty were generally popular among members of the Liberal Party and the electorate, his ideas about restricting foreign investment were less popular among Liberals. He was replaced by Mitchell Sharp as Minister of Finance in 1965 but was returned to cabinet in 1967 as president of the Privy Council. In this position he oversaw the creation of the Task Force on Foreign Ownership and the Structure of Canadian Investment, headed by Mel Watkins, which recommended close control of foreign investment in Canada, particularly in cases involving the purchase of Canadian resources and businesses by foreign interests.  Although Gordon left the parliament in 1968 due to a lack of confidence in the experience and tact of Pierre Trudeau, he did support Trudeau, who eventually implemented the many of the recommendations of the Watkins Report through the creation of the Canada Development Corporation and the Foreign Investment Review Agency.

An early critic of American influence upon Canada, Gordon’s views concerning American investment, as well as related concerns over American political, military, and cultural influence, gained support during the 1960s. Those interested in military sovereignty pointed to the North American Treaty Organization and argued that it was simply a tool by which the United States influenced smaller powers to further its military, political, and economic interests. Cultural nationalists argued that Canada's universities were too heavily staffed by American graduates and that Canadian media was either indistinguishable from American media or could not compete with large budget American publishing, television, and movie productions without government assistance or regulation. However, Azzi claims that the most prominent warnings of, what came to be called "the new nationalism" by the late 1960s, were economic nationalists including Walter Gordon, Mel Watkins, and Abraham Rotstein. However, unlike Gordon, other economic new nationalists, such as Kari Levitt and Eric Kierans, argued that while Canadian enterprise needed to be protected from American direct investment, tariffs should be reduced, if not eliminated, so as to encourage expansion of Canadian business and sales to the United States. However, while concerned about the threat of American economic influence, Azzi notes that Gordon did not see Canada as being threatened by American culture, other than by the way that the importation of American cultural products drained money from Canada. He never had any great interest in culture or the role it played in Canadian society. Rather, nationality for Gordon was only defined in political and economic terms.

While many economists did not strongly support Gordon's ideas concerning control over foreign investment, others, including Watkins and James Laxer, members of the NDP Waffle, went much further than Gordon had suggested, arguing that nationalisation, not the regulation of foreign investment, was the only way to protect key industries and remove any risk that they could be sold to foreign interests. In response to the call for the nationalisation of Canadian businesses, Gordon, along with other economic nationalists including Rotstein and Peter C. Newman, formed the Committee for an Independent Canada, an organization designed to lobby the government to increase government intervention in the Canadian economy.

As a book which is dedicated to outlining the life and achievements of a Canadian businessman who was not particularly interested in culture and his connections to the new nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s, it is not surprising that Azzi focuses upon the economic strain of the new nationalism. However, it is fairly inaccurate for Azzi to claim, as he does at the beginning of his seventh chapter, that cultural nationalism was never of as much concern to Canadians as economic nationalism. He argues that cultural nationalists both failed to attract the same interest as economic nationalism and that there were no cultural nationalists of equal stature or appeal as Gordon and others who acted as spokesmen for the cultural nationalist cause. This position is contrary to that offered by Ryan Edwardson in Canadian Content, that some of the same new nationalists discussed by Azzi, such as Jack  McClelland, Mel Hurtig, and Peter C. Newman also spoke out against American domination of the Canadian cultural market, and not solely in economic terms. Furthermore, highly prominent new nationalist artists, such as Margaret Atwood, were clearly more concerned about the cultural implications of American domination than the economic repercussions.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Born at the Right Time, 1996

Doug Owram, Born at the Right Time : A History of the Baby Boom Generation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

As Douglas Owram admits in the Preface to his 1996 book, Born at the Right Time, his research focuses specifically upon the history of the baby-boom generation in English-Canada. Thus, it complements François Ricard's 1994 book, The Lyric Generation, which examined the first wave of the baby-boom generation, paying special attention to what he termed the "Lyric Generation" in Quebec. However, unlike Ricard, who did not cite any of the information included in his work, Owram offers extensive documentation. While many of the themes raised by Ricard reappear in Born at the Right Time, Owram's use of national and local statistics allows the reader to see how his conclusions are actually based upon evidence, and that they are not simply the reminiscences of beliefs of someone who happened to be a member of the baby-boom.

In addition to offering detailed references, Owram's text differs from Ricard's in that he examines all of the baby-boom generation. Covering the first quarter century of that generation, be defines the generation as beginning in 1946 and ending in 1962, although he does acknowledge that such beginning and end dates fail to include those born before 1946 who considered themselves to be part of the baby-boom generation, as well as those born during or before 1962 who identify more with Generation X.

Like Ricard, Owram begins his book by examining the generation which spawned the baby-boom. Coming to the same general conclusions as Ricard, but with the documentation to make his case, Owram asserts that the generation which had reached their twenties and thirties in the 1930s and 1940s had, by the end of the war, experienced a decade and a half of financial and domestic instability. With the Great Depression and then the Second World War, the goals of many to obtain steady employment, get married, have a home, and start a family, had been disrupted. Many were either unable to afford to, or had the opportunity to marry and/or start families prior to the end of the war. Thus, with the end of hostilities and the economic growth of the post-war years, these children of the First World War readily embraced the dream of a stable home-life and family. The result was a dramatic rise in the birthrate which contrasted sharply with the steady drop in the birth rate during the 1930s and relatively slow rise of the early 1940s. Peaking in 1959, the birthrate only began to fall significantly in 1963.

The result of this rise in post-war pregnancies is the focus of Owram's second chapter. In particular, he is concerned with the structure of the post-war family and how it was, in theory, more permissive than the Victorian or early twentieth century family. Mothers and fathers were instructed by experts in the new fields of sociology, psychiatry, and psychology that they were to create and maintain a nurturing environment for their children in which the child dictated his/her needs and was free to safely make mistakes and learn about the world. In an era which completely rejected inheritance as a significant factor in development, parents and their society were responsible for exposing children to positive influences and shield them from negative ones. Problems of development were thus traceable to exposure to negative environments and could only be corrected by ensuring that such negative external factors were removed and replaced with those deemed to be beneficial to the child.

Owram's third chapter concentrates upon the development of the North American, and by extension the Canadian, suburb in which children were promised a positive and protective environment. Here he examines the allure of suburban living to the parents of the baby-boom generation, the design of suburban homes and neighbourhoods, the technology which helped the suburbs develop and that which suburban life spawned, and even typical decoration of suburban homes. Great attention is paid to the rationale behind why such a life style became popular, why the technology of the automobile and household appliances were attractive to the parents of the baby-boom, why they furnished their homes in the way they did, and what those choices meant for their children.

Play, the products sold to the baby-boom as toys and childhood necessities, how such marketing was done, and the accepted ideology behind the necessity for play and healthy socialization environments are the focus of Owram's fourth chapter. This is followed by an examination of the content and structure of schooling in the 1950s and early 1960s, and especially how new post-war emphases upon democracy and tolerance, as well as the steeply rising numbers of Canadian grade-school students radically transformed the country’s education systems.

While the first half of Owram’s study offers valuable information about the development of the generation which would be most involved in the counterculture and protest movements of the 1960s, it is the book’s last five chapters which focus specifically upon the development of youth culture, the counterculture movement, its interconnection with the protest movements of the decade, and the sexual revolution. Unlike the other books read for this class, Owram uses the information from the first half of his book to explain how a youth culture which was distinct from the rest of Canadian society, was able to develop in the post-war years, and how that social position of youth was then used by the large and influential baby-boom generation to demand and make significant social, political, and economic changes to Canada. He begins by explaining the development of youth culture during the 1940s and 1950s. Eventually understood as a legitimate segment of society and period of human development, what he terms "the cult of the teenager" was eventually influenced by the lifestyle and writings of the Beat generation, developments in music and fashion, as well as a tarnishing of the moral and ideological position of Western society, particularly that of the United States. The result was a generation of youth in the 1960s who questioned the cultural, ideological, economic, sexual, and political norms of their society.

Although only a small segment of the generation fully embraced a questioning of all aspects of Canadian/North American culture, most members of the baby-boom generation did participate in the countercultural movement in some manner, be it through the music they listened to, their clothes, or their political and social views. Furthermore, this countercultural movement dovetailed with the existing peace movement which in Canada had evolved out of the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as the Student Union for Peace Action (SUPA). However, as was evident from Brian Palmer's Canada's 1960s, many of the baby-boomers who were interested in and/or participated in the countercultural movement were not particularly interested in sustained political protest. Those that were, lacked one or more objects of protest which were specifically Canadian. While local or international social and political issues were of concern, there was no major Canadian issue which united the protest/peace movement across the country. In addition, as is also noted by Myrna Kostash in Long Way From Home, the youth-organized SUPA was eventually overtaken/taken over by the federally funded Company of Young Canadians. Like Kostash, Owram suggests that this development was in some way a failure of Canadian youth action and a government directed means of quieting voices of protest.

Creating Postwar Canada, 2008

Creating Postwar Canada: Community, Diversity, and Dissent, 1945-1975. Eds. Magda Fahrni and Robert Rutherdale. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008.

This collection of papers, unlike many of the books examined for this course, is not confined to the decade of the 1960s and is also not confined in its approach to examining all of the country or the country’s entire political, military, economic, or social situation between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1970s. Rather, each of the book’s thirteen contributors offer microstudies and case studies which are representative of the country in their particularity. While not offering a grand, all-encompassing narrative about Canada and the Canadian experience between 1945 and 1975 (a project which has already been attempted and which invariably overlooks many facts about and conceptions of the country), the papers illustrate how the country consisted of a diversity of events and perspectives, and that only by learning about a wide range of such experiences can someone approach an authentic understanding of the country during the years between 1945-1975. Although some of the papers are national in focus, their subject matter is specific. Others are decisively more local in focus. However, they all illustrate how Canadians of the time were responding to topics which affected many Canadians across the country, including Americanization, continentalism, and even the process of Canadianization and the strengthening of the federal state. The essays of the book’s first section all illustrate communities which, while part of North America, were in some way quite different from the continental social and/or political norm. Each of the papers emphasize how Canada of the postwar era consisted of numerous different kinds of communities, some national in scope, some regional, some defined by race and ethnicity, others defined by class or sexuality. All of these communities, however, did not neatly match common conceptions of North American life.

While not using a specific decade to define the book's periodization, the editors do use the same rationale as other authors examined for this course to legitimize the periodization used. They argue that by 2008 enough researchers had enough distance from the 1945-1975 period so as to be able to attempt to study it objectively. Indeed, many of the authors in the volume were no more than children by the time the period in question ended, and were thus not consciously involved with the issues of the time.

Not defined by a decade, the editors nonetheless offer a series of justifications for focusing on the thirty-year period in question. Often referred to in Western Europe as the "thirty glorious years" of economic prosperity and the development of a strong welfare state, Magda Fahrni and Robert Rutherdale the claim that the same label might be applied to Canada between 1945 and 1975. Indeed, they see the country's economic prosperity as being one of the defining factors of the era. This prosperity was not only the result of a strong demand for products from growing Canadian families and the large baby boom generation, but also of the demand by the United States for Canadian resources which fed that country's own economic boom, the rebuilding of Western Europe, and eventually its own economic prosperity. Although all sections of Canadian society did not benefit equally from the post-war economic boom, the social welfare and collective agreements obtained by many unions following the war did afford much of the Canadian working class a lifestyle which was greatly superior to those available to their class predecessors. Yet, the editors point out that, as is shown by papers in the collection, not only were these benefits felt differently in different regions of the country, but they were also tempered by the minor recession of 1957 to 1961, as well as the stagflation experienced in both Canada and the United States which began in the early 1970s.

The second of the six reasons offered by the editors to explain the exceptional nature of the period in question was the significant population growth the country experienced. The addition of more than ten million to population by 1975 was the result of the large post-war baby boom, but also the significant post-war immigration which was required to fulfill the labour requirements of the post-war Canadian economy. The millions of new arrivals, many of whom were not of the traditionally Western-European stock which had formed much of Canada's previous immigration, dramatically changed the ethnic composition of the country. Furthermore, as the baby boom generation challenged the established norms of Canadian society in the 1960s and 1970s, the country's growing population of Canadians who were of neither of British or French descent began to join the baby-boom activists' calls for a more equitable society where the contributions of the "other ethnic groups" would be fully recognized.

The third distinguishing factor of the period noted by the editors was the migration of the country's growing population to Canada's urban centres, as well as to the suburbs which were growing around those centres. While there had existed a movement of urbanization in Canada since the beginning of the century, the rate of urbanization was much more rapid following the Second World War. Furthermore, that movement resulted in a construction boom which both employed large numbers of Canadians and radically transformed the organization of Canadian cities.

The fourth defining element of the post-war period up to the mid-1970s is the development of Canada's social welfare state. Making use of its new powers obtained during the war, Ottawa was able to implement measures including unemployment insurance (1940), family allowances (1945), veterans' benefits (1947), and enhanced old-age pensions (1951). These were followed hospital insurance in 1957 and full medical insurance in 1966. As the editors note, the adoption of all of these social welfare measures illustrated that the federal government was increasingly acknowledging that all Canadians had the right to a certain standard of living, and that it was the job of government to ensure that everyone is at least afforded that minimum standard. Furthermore, this marked an important break from the more classic liberal position which governments had previously taken, where poverty was often the result of the poor's lack of a will to work and where government charity was designed on the premise that a low level of assistance would encourage the poor to better their own situation.

The fifth defining element of the 1945-1975 period is the increasing influence of the United States. That influence was felt not only in Canada's increasingly close military and political ties to the United States following the Second World War and the start of the Cold War, but also in trade and the significant amount of American culture to which Canadians were exposed through all media. While many Canadians did privately and publically resist and resent the growth of American influence, the economic benefits to Canadians, as well as the need for Canada to conform to American political and military demands so as to maintain sovereignty, often meant that American influence upon the lives of Canadians was inevitable. However, part of the reaction to American hegemony and imperialism was an aspect of the final defining element of the era cover by the text. The protest movements of the late 1950s to the 1970s were disparate in focus, including movements for civil rights in the United States, opposition to the American backed war in Vietnam, nationalism in Quebec, expansion of women's rights, the use of drugs, and the redefinition of acceptable sexual norms. Yet, all of these acts of protest shared the common goals of the removal of some form of oppression and the expansion of equality.  

The first article of the collection, by Joan Sangster, examines the image of the North which was offered to Canadians in the postwar period. Resulting from Ottawa's actions to increase the country's presence in the North, which was partly the result of Cold War military necessities, Sangster examines the conceptions of the North which were offered to a Southern readership that was largely ignorant about the Arctic. By examining the travel narratives written by nurses, teachers, the wives of doctors, missionaries, Hudson's Bay Company traders, as well as description of the North offered to readers of The Beaver, Sangster shows how the description offered about the North was presented as being that of educated and rational Southerners who were living amongst the irrational, premodern, and culturally deficient Inuit others.

The second article, by Eric Bédard, examines how in addition to new reforms to the administration of Quebec's government and social services during the 1960s, the Quiet revolution also saw the rise of more extreme demands for recognition of Quebec's distinctiveness. Inspired by other nationalist movements throughout the world, as well as by the countercultural movement and its rejection of all oppression, Bédard claims that nationalism and independence took the place once occupied by the Catholic church in Quebec, inspiring followers with a spiritual sense of their distinctiveness as Quebecers and the notion that that distinctiveness would not be truly realized until separation was achieved. As Joel Belliveau explains in his contribution to the collection, New Brunswick's Acadian community also underwent its own awakening of its distinctiveness and the need to defend it within from being eclipsed by the larger English society of the Maritime region. Initially dedicated to integration into and participation in the provincial and federal political and economic institutions after the war, by the 1960s a neo-nationalist movement had developed in the Acadian community which advocated for separate Acadian institutions rather than simply Acadian integration into the cultural, educational, and political institutions of the larger Maritime and Canadian communities. Such distinct institutions would allow Acadians to both maintain their distinctive communities while also benefiting from and participating in the larger regional and national communities.

Defence of difference was also important to English-Canadians in the post-war years, as is shown through Steven High's paper on Canadian English. Examining the defence of and focus upon differences in pronunciation and spelling during the 1950s and 1960s, High demonstrates how Canadian English was used as a sign of national independence from both Britain and the United States. Defence of national sovereignty is also the focus of Robert Wright's essay on the political thought of Peter C. Newman who had begun his career as a political commentator as a neo-liberal who was in favour of a free-market, conservative economic policy. However, by the 1970s Newman had become a strong defender of Canadian nationalism and protectionist measures. Wright's thesis is that Newman, who never fully gave up his fundamental preference for fiscal conservatism, reflected the country's economic ideological conflicts, where Canadians strove to find a balance between the free-market and a state directed economy. An example of this conflict between economic nationalism, free trade, and the national and international political implications of pursuing one or the other policy is seen in Dimitry Anastakis' paper on the 1965 Auto Pact. He argues that this agreement, which allowed for free-trade in the case of automobile manufacturing, and thus removed the American-Canadian border as a factor for car producers, should be understood as a significant step in the integration of the two markets, as well as other aspects of Canadian society which are affected by interaction with the American economy.

In addition to cars, another product of the postwar decades which is largely seen as an American import that has affected both the Canadian economy and Canadian culture is fast food. Beginning in the 1960s American fast food restaurants began to appear in Canada, fundamentally changing not just what Canadians ate, but the organization of cities and towns, with many such restaurants being situated in shopping malls and new car dominated shopping areas located next to the controlled access highways which had been developed to handle as well as encouraged, the large increase in automobile use following the war. However, as Steve Penfold argues in his paper, this continental, and even international, fast food market, where people all over North America and eventually the world were eating the same foods, did have regional variations. He shows that in its effort to integrate Canadian communities into the monolithic fast food community, some American/international fast food chains were forced in some cases to bow to the tastes of local Canadian communities.

The second section of the collection focuses upon the themes of diversity and dissent. This begins with an examination of debates over shopping regulations in the Vancouver and Victoria areas and how they were affected by Cold War concepts and rhetoric concerning free enterprise, dictatorship, and democracy. In his paper Michael Dawson shows how those ideas were used to further very different ideas concerning when and where the public could shop and that, contrary to received opinion about the Cold War, the evocation of the ideas and rhetoric of the time did not always succeed in stifling debate, but in some cases even fed it. This theme of dissent and diversity is also expressed in Becki Ross' essay on the diversity and interaction of communities of performers and patrons in Vancouver's striptease scene between 1950 and 1975. While focusing primarily upon men, Robert Rutherdale's contribution also deals with diversity in his examination of the role of the male household breadwinner in the postwar ear, and how that role differed according to class, region, and ethnicity. According to Rutherdale, the father of the post-war era was often the link between the family and the outside world, and how a father was able to interact with that world affected family stability, security, and their social status. Family status and stability is also discussed by Karen Dubinsky in her study of the adoption of black babies by white families in Montreal in the 1960s. Are she explains, such adoptions, while fulfilling a couple's desire to raise and care for a child, led to conflicts both within the family as well as within the larger community. Similarly, the challenging of established conceptions of particular groups during the postwar era is discussed by Christabelle Sethna’s paper on how the sexual revolution was expressed through and reacted to in the pages of the University of British Columbia's student newspaper. She shows that regardless of the liberating aspects of the revolution, women were still often portrayed in a sexist manner through the 1960s. It was only when issues and voices of second wave feminism affected the content of the paper that the publication began to regularly describe and discuss women in a non-discriminatory manner. Although also addressing changes in postwar morality, the last paper of the collection by Marcel Martel's, which examines illegal drug use in the 1960s, this paper is extremely similar to another paper by Martel which has already been examined for this course in the collection The Sixties: Passion, Politics, and Style.

Contesting Clio's Craft, 2009

Contesting Clio’s Craft: New Directions and Debates in Canadian History, Eds. Christopher Dummitt and Michael Dawson, London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2009.

The 2009 collection of papers, Contesting Cleo's Craft,  was the result of a conference of the Institute for the study of the Americas held at the University of London, and focuses upon offering new debate and discussion about the state of Canadian historical writing and teaching. The editors, Christopher Dummitt and Michael Dawson, argue that discussion of these subjects during the first decade of the 21st century has concentrated upon debates of the last two decades of the 20th century. In particular, they assert that the three questions of why Canadians are so ignorant about their past, whether historians should focus upon grand national histories, and whether it is possible to obtain and agree upon historical truths, while possibly important for their time, have been sufficiently discussed and should no longer be the main preoccupations of Canadian historical debate. Furthermore, these three topics have often led to polemics by politicians and nationalists, which only served to shut down real discussion or debate. For example, the first debate, concerning Canadians ignorance of their history, is regularly discussed by the media and politicians as a result of the Dominion Institute's annual Canada Day Quiz, which tests Canadians knowledge about their past and routinely shows that they are unable to identify individuals were events which the Institute has decided our key elements to a basic knowledge of Canadian history. Examples of the second debate were the 1991 and 1998 claims made respectably by Michael Bliss and J.L. Granatstein that the field of Canadian history was being harmed by a preoccupation with the study of social history (that of particular groups within society) and a failure of Canadian historians and educators to present students with strong national histories that would bind Canadians together with the knowledge that they were all players within a larger national narrative. While most historians reacted to Bless and Granatstein by arguing that grand national narratives result in the public only being given one monolithic interpretation of the past and silence the voices of other individuals, groups, and perspectives, many Canadian politicians and media accepted the two historians’ claims as convenient reasons for problems of national unity and national pride. The third debate, about the possibility of ever obtaining truths about the past, was much less public.  With the spread of postmodern theory throughout the humanities during the 1980s and 1990s, Canadian historians, like other academics, debated one's ability to ever obtain pure and absolute knowledge about any phenomenon. Although such debates were healthy, in that they caused historians to rethink what it was to study and write about the past, and caused most to accept that history is an ongoing attempt to gain a more accurate understanding about the past, discussions about whether one can read, research, or write about the past in a manner which would allow one to approach true knowledge about the past tended to be fruitless given the postmodern conception of truth upon which such debates were based.

The first paper in the collection, by Magda Fahrni, questions why many English-Canadian historians are reluctant to study Quebec, or to examine how Quebec has affected topics which are largely external to the province. Examining the field of Canadian history as a whole, she questions whether there is something which allows for English-Canada to be studied in isolation, as a separate field, apart from the fact that it is not Quebec. After reviewing the differences and connections between English-Canadian and Quebec historiography, she argues that historians writing about phenomena which affected much of the country, must discuss how Quebecers, and especially French Quebecers, were part of the overall Canadian history on such subjects. To ignore the reaction and influence of a large section of Canadian society, and in particular a section which often has perspectives and takes positions which are different from those of English-Canada, is to offer blatantly incomplete interpretations of Canada's past.

In the second of the collection's eight papers Steven High questions whether and why historians claim authority concerning their subjects of study, and whether those whom are studied can or should be accepted by historians as having authority. An expert in oral history, High recognizes that while a critical approach to the past must be maintained, memory and the public's role in the historical process should not always be viewed with suspicion, While changeable over time, and thus, potentially inaccurate, the memory of witnesses can also offer unique perspectives and interpretations of the past which could never be uncovered in, or easily seen through, "objective" documentation.

A similar theme of interpretation is discussed by Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney in the third paper in which they question the usefulness and potential handicaps of periodization. Through understanding a particular phenomenon as being of a particular decade, era, or century, while neatly packaging the subject within a specific time period and offering the author and the reader a beginning and end to their narrative arc, periodization can also affect how one interprets that subject. Other elements of that period which may have had little to do with the subject in question may affect how one understands it. Similarly, phenomena beyond the defined period, or which are long-term trends that include that period, may be overlooked. This subject is of particular relevance in writing about the 1960s. As can be seen through an overview of the existing literature on the history of Canada during that decade, many of the significant events and movements of the 1960s had their roots in earlier decades and continued to affect Canadians for years after 1969. To allow the 1960s to be anything other than a guide as to general subjects of significance and how they interacted within a loosely defined period, and not a strict ten-year window, would be to ignore how such subjects occurred within a continuum of phenomena which, in reality, has no beginning or end. The same could be said of Canadian history in general, which cannot be simply defined as events which occur in isolation from the world beyond Canada's borders. This is the point made by Adele Perry in her contribution to the collection in which she calls upon Canadian historians not to allow the fiction of the nation to define their research of subjects, and to draw upon and help contribute to international historiography in their studies of "Canadian" subjects. A similar call for more transnational Canadian history is made by Katie Pickles, who points out in her paper that one of the significant barriers to such an approach is an inferiority complex on the part of Canadian historians which causes them to play-down the international significance of imperial, colonial, and international links between Canada and other countries. Michel Duchanne also addresses the problem of the insular nature of Canadian history in his paper on "Rethinking Canadian Intellectual History in an Atlantic Perspective." Duchanne advocates couching Canadian history, and in particular Canadian intellectual history, within the international world in which one finds many of its roots. This approach would avoid the problem of concentrating upon English influences and would offer a more authentic understanding of how Canada was shaped.

The collection's fourth essay questions the commonly expressed idea that Canada's historical connections to the British Empire, and the country's past British orientation, had decisively negative consequences for the country. Largely resulting from post-Second World War accusations of British bias and a demand for recognition of the contributions of non-British Canadians to, and their influence upon, Canadian society, the argument that Canada's cultural and political leaders had traditionally believed the country to be British in character was accompanied by the claim that non-British Canadians had suffered from this situation, and that as a country of immigrants, Canada itself had not benefitted from its British orientation.  Andrew Smith questions this position, pointing out that Canada is typically viewed internationally as a successful nation and that it is a country which has flourished in the past and today at least partially because of its imperial connection, not in spite of it. Similarly, Christopher Dumutt's paper questions whether the inclusive character of current Canadian history writing, while attempting to always be sensitive to the history of particular groups and perspectives which were either ignored or never considered by Canadian historians before the late twentieth century, has resulted in there being significant gaps in the available stories of Canada's past. In focusing upon the particular or the stories of smaller groups of Canadians, has too little attention been paid to people or events which affected the country as a whole, or which are commonly understood to have been well represented in the past, but which were never actually the subject of detailed historical study?

Although all of the contributions included in Contesting Clio's Craft are valuable commentaries on failings or deficiencies of Canadian historiography and how they might be overcome, the problem with the collection is that, like any collection of critiques of the subject, it is incomplete. In fact, one might view the collection as simply a continuation of debates about the nature of historical truth from the 1980s and 1990s which the editors claimed to be moving beyond. Each of the contributions, while valuable commentaries about Canadian history writing, only offer comments about how common approaches within the discipline are imperfect and how one might change the in order to gain attain a more holistic study of Canada's past. However, no study of the past will ever be perfect. And while it might be useful to focus upon improving particular shortcomings, such criticisms should be consumed as part of an ongoing attempt to attain an unattainable objective understanding of the past. Thus, rather than claim postmodern critiques of Canadian history to be passé, they should have described their collection as simply being one of new ideas about how to tweak the study of Canada's past.