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Reviewed by:
  • Documents on Canadian External Relations: The Arctic, 1874–1949 ed. by Janice Cavell
  • Matthew S. Wiseman
Janice Cavell (ed.), Documents on Canadian External Relations: The Arctic, 1874–1949 (Ottawa: Global Affairs Canada, 2016), cxvii + 917 pp. Cased. ISBN 978-0-660-04833-8.

First published in 1967 to mark Canada's centenary, the series Documents on Canadian External Relations (DCER) represents the official correspondence underlying the history of Canada's foreign affairs. Each volume comprises a collection of archival documents focusing on the discussions and decisions of leading officials in the Department of External Affairs and the Privy Council Office. The first 29 volumes in the series cover the period 1909 to 1963, from the inauguration of the Department of External Affairs through Canada's early struggles with autonomy, wartime diplomacy, and emergence as a middle power on the international stage. This special thirtieth volume is not only the first in the series to deal explicitly with the Arctic but also the first to document the history of Canadian foreign affairs as far back as the nineteenth century.

As a publication of the Government of Canada, this volume in the DCER series includes all the details one would expect from an official collection of historical documents. The print includes both official languages, with English text preceding the French translation throughout. Historian and editor Janice Cavell selected documents from Canadian and British repositories, diligently recording the retrieval information for each archival source. She lists each repository and significant collection groups at the end of an insightful introduction, along with supplementary lists describing the persons and abbreviations present in the text. The editor also chose a small selection of photographs and eight detailed maps that provide sufficient illustration to orient the reader visually to some of the names and locations referenced in the documents. For readers unable to obtain a printed copy, this volume is available online and open-access through the Global Affairs Canada website.

Chronicling early boundary disputes and sovereignty concerns over the islands north of the Canadian mainland known as the Arctic Archipelago, the documents organised by Cavell provide a comprehensive picture of Canada's expansive northern foreign policy. The editor wisely selected documents that demonstrate the history of Canada's complicated geography, where definitions of what actually constitute 'the Arctic' depend on the perception of an official toward a particular northern policy issue. In geographical terms, the documents chosen by Cavell include correspondence about lands and waters located in both Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of the Far North.

Although this volume covers 75 years of Canadian history, the bulk of the documents pertain to the period before the Second World War. Scholars seeking information about [End Page 228] Canada's post-1945 Arctic foreign policy will need to look elsewhere. In fact, only one document, 'Canadian Sovereignty in the Arctic', albeit a significant contribution, dates to the postwar period (p. 851). Cavell's concentration on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is not a fault, however. On the contrary, the editor deserves accolades for unearthing the documentary history of Canada's early developments in this area of Arctic foreign policy. The DCER series is a vital source for students and scholars of Canadian foreign policy and international relations, and Cavell's Arctic volume is a welcomed addition to the collection.

Matthew S. Wiseman
University of Toronto


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