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Reviewed by:
  • One West, Two Myths II
  • Dennis Cooley
C.L. Higham and Robert Thacker, editors. One West, Two Myths II. University of Calgary Press. xiii, 232. $34.95

One West, Two Myths II gathers eight new essays, a short story, and two classical statements on the respective Wests of Canada and the United States (Frederick Jackson Turner on the frontier as a site of American transformation and national definition, and J.M.S. Careless on the positioning of the Canadian West as hinterland within a metropolitan world). Before appearing in the present University of Calgary imprint, the material had been published as 'One Myth, Two Wests,' a special issue of the American Review of Canadian Studies.

The essays come from a moveable conference, and it is not clear in what ways or to what extent the published volume represents the range of contributions across that series, but one can discern some patterns in the book. The collection is helpful in its arguments and the depth of its analyses. It is noteworthy too for the courage of its contributors in taking on comparative studies, which, as at least one contributor has intimated, are daunting. What we do find here is useful and provocative. It is a valuable collection on a topic that has been [End Page 203] accorded limited attention, and it will prove stimulating to subsequent research.

Most of the participants are historians and often they address a related topic. The essay by Brian W. Dippie considers visual depictions of cowboys and Aboriginals, finding that in those images the native populations are rendered in elegiac terms that brush them aside. Dippie also claims that the cowboy was not defined by the forty-ninth parallel, but by distinctions between East and West. Willim H. Katerberg similarly proposes that the settling of both Wests was informed by imperialist motives that 'amounted to much the same for aboriginal peoples on both sides of the border.' According to him, both Americans and Canadians 'justified the process of conquest with imperialist, racialist, and often religious visions of national destiny.' Roger L. Nichols, however, ends his paper with the assertion that 'the treatment of Native peoples in Canada and the U.S. has been significantly different.'

Several of the Canadians argue for a relatively benign attitude among early Europeans on the Canadian prairies. David Williams proposes that indigenous people were observed in a respectful manner by the French, and that explorations significantly were conducted in a Northern, not a Western landscape. He says that the subsequent history of the Metis became crucial to the history of the Canadian West – a point that other contributors scarcely touch upon. R. Douglas Francis ends an elegant summary of the hinterland theory by proposing that those on the Canadian prairies could resist Anglo-Saxon hegemony: 'Could not such a myth as the Tower of Babel offer an alternative?'

Two talks explicitly open up issues of gender, and they are frank in admitting to the provisional nature of their findings. Sarah Carter traces the fortunes of a remarkable native woman, Natoyist-Sisina. Lee Clark Mitchell, in a sustained critique of the Western mystique, draws on historians of the New West to interrogate Turnerian claims. Unlike Katerberg, Mitchell says there was no recognizable myth of the West for Canada (or Mexico), and she provides interesting reasons about why this should be the case. Turner, she proposes, had simply overlooked the multiple and often shameful histories of the American West. Aritha Van Herk's short story mocks notions that the Calgary Stampede somehow embodies an actual and historical West.

There are issues that none of the contributors addresses. Might important evidence be occasioned by, say, writing within a particular kind of narrative – the classicalWestern, for instance – with its impinging conventions? Might a different understanding emerge if attention were trained, say, on Ukrainian or Swedish settlements? What of language? Of religious denominations? For that matter, what of the age and nationality of the scholars themselves? The Canadian participants want to stress what might mark off Canada from the [End Page 204] United States. Sarah Carter speaks with some dismay of an earlier model of a feminized Canadian West wooed by an aggressively male...


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