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  • Canada, 1900-1950: Un pays prend sa place / A country comes of age
  • Catherine Carstairs
Canada, 1900-1950: Un pays prend sa place / A country comes of age. Edited by Serge Bernier and John MacFarlane. Ottawa: Organisation pour l'histoire du Canada / Organization for the History of Canada, 2003. Pp. 253, illus. $15.00

In the early 1990s, historians frustrated by the dominance of social and regional history at the Canadian Historical Association formed the Organization for the Study of the National History of Canada. Since renamed, the Organization for the History of Canada (OHC) now hosts annual conferences on national history. This book, based on their 2002 conference, marks the first collection of essays to emerge from these conferences.

The conference and the book were organized so that senior scholars provided broad overviews, while the junior scholars delivered more tightly focused research papers. Reflecting their origins as conference papers, all of the essays are unusually short. Some would make excellent reading for undergraduates interested in political and military history. In a beautifully written and provocative essay, Norman Hillmer counters the myth of Canada's 'golden age of diplomacy' by questioning Canada's internationalism and influence in the years immediately following the Second World War. Jacques Rouillard provides a summary of Canada's economic development between 1900 and 1950, with attention to the impact it had on workers' salaries and buying power. Desmond Morton contributes a typically masterful romp through Canada's participation in the two world wars and Korea, arguing that Canadians, safely secure at home, fought largely for influence abroad. Christopher Moore's nostalgic essay argues that the move to party leadership conventions, which started with King in 1919, meant that the leader became responsible to the party instead of the caucus, leading to today's 'parliamentary paralysis' (196). [End Page 834]

One of the best research papers comes from Adam Chapnick, who uses Hume Wrong's papers to argue that Canada's policy in the negotiation of the North Atlantic Treaty was guided more by pragmatism than idealism. Rick Walker's article on corporatism and the Canadian army argues that the legacy of the First World War was a fundamental divide between politicians such as King who wanted to avoid conscription at all costs, and a military that believed strongly in the necessity of conscription. The army lost and the Liberal government would rapidly deprive the army of political influence and power after the Second World War. René Castonguay's article on the loyalty of Rodolphe Lemieux provides a window into the political world of early twentieth-century Canada and would make a nice companion piece to Moore's article.

The collection is framed by three articles on art and architecture. François-Marc Gagnon contends that we have sought Canadian identity in modernism, but that modernism implies a commitment to universalism, or post-nationalism. Gagnon shows how Lawren Harris sought the universal even in his landscapes, especially in his emphasis on the sky, while the anti-nationalist Borduas and other automatistes used Aboriginal motifs to create a sense of identity. In a delightful case study, Marie Josée Therrien insightfully links the history of architecture, nationalism, diplomacy, and the taste of upper-class English Montreal to explain why ambassador Herbert Marler built a neo-Georgian building to represent Canada in Tokyo. A final article, by Denyse Légaré, explores the creation of the Écoles des beaux-arts de Québec et de Montréal.

Given that the OHC was set up in opposition to a Canadian Historical Association that was seen as too focused on social history - including regional history, gender history, and labour history - it seems worthwhile to comment on what 'national history' looks like. It is commendably bilingual - six of the seventeen papers are in French, and it takes Quebec politics and culture seriously. On the other hand, it is remarkably male. There is little gender analysis, even when it could have added a great deal, and women wrote only four of the articles. Region does not play a large role. The collection includes several papers that concentrate on Quebec, and one primarily on Winnipeg, but there is almost nothing on the...


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