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  • Canada and the First World War: Essays in Honour of Robert Craig Brown
  • Bill Rawling
David Mackenzie . Canada and the First World War: Essays in Honour of Robert Craig Brown. University of Toronto Press. xii, 452. $85.00

To begin, Canada and the First World War makes a worthwhile contribution to our knowledge of a most eventful period in the country's history.

For example, Ramsay Cook provides a view of Craig Brown and his place in Canadian historiography that the reader will not find [End Page 345] elsewhere, including a most insightful look into Brown's writing of his biography of Sir Robert Borden. Another personal view is J.L. Granatstein's contribution, which is of special interest, as he presents an altered interpretation of his previous view of conscription, providing evidence that it was, indeed, necessary in order to allow the army to continue fighting effectively. He does not, however, address the question as to whether what it was fighting for (the British Empire? Belgian neutrality?) was sufficiently important to Canadian interests to send unwilling Canadian men to their deaths. One thing is clear, that one of the country's foremost historians can change his interpretation of an important historical question is proof of the constantly evolving nature of the discipline.

Terry Copp's essay on Canada's military effort is an overview of the subject, including an evaluation of more recent work done in English. As such, it is quite informative but is also evidence of the continuing division between French-language and English-language historiography in this country. In an un-footnoted paragraph, Copp states that in 'French-speaking areas of Quebec the war had never seemed of much importance,' in spite of much newspaper coverage (La Presse comes to mind), recruiting efforts by the Catholic Church, various wartime restrictions (including prohibition near the end of the conflict), and anti-conscription riots that ended with dead bodies on the pavement. Perhaps books such as Patrick Bouvier's Déserteurs et insoumis should be translated into English.

With John English's chapter we move into the realm of thematic studies, and his contribution is very enlightening in studying political leadership during the war, noting that although Borden's government was democratic, it was not representative, and that Robert Borden's language, an important element in leadership, was measured and appropriate. Patrick A. Dutil, in his chapter, focuses on a different level of political leadership altogether as he studies the career of Napoléon Belcourt, in the process explaining that the politics of the home front was not just a conflict between imperialists and nationalistes, while also providing an excellent exposé of the issues surrounding Regulation 17.

Desmond Morton, in his study of the Canadian Patriotic Fund, 'the largest single charity' to that time, delves into an area previously neglected by historians. We learn much in regards to the complexity of family relations, the occasional cruelty of bureaucracy, and the trauma of conscription. Adam Crerar's 'Ontario and the Great War' also takes us into new territory as he provides a detailed view of such issues as the province's unity during the war, the importance of food in the war effort, farmer opposition to conscription, recruiting Blacks for the army, and the lack of progress for First Nations. The scope of Donald [End Page 346] Avery's contribution on western Canada is similar, including the nature of the Red Scare after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Rod Millard takes us into more scientific and technical issues, noting how the war brought scientists and engineers more into public view, while Paul Litt gives a first-class overview of Canadian concerns regarding American cultural influences during the war. Mackenzie, in a piece entitled 'Eastern Approaches,' focuses on the experience of war in the Maritimes and Newfoundland, noting, among other things, that Newfoundland's war debt contributed to 'the catastrophic financial problems of the 1930s.' Rounding out these thematic studies are Margaret Macmillan's chapter on 'Canada and the Peace Settlements' and Jonathan Vance's 'Remembering Armageddon.'

Douglas McCalla, for his part, focuses on what might be called myth-busting, demonstrating that the war's impact on the economy was...


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