CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Daniel Francis.

Edmonton, Hurtig Publishers, c1982.
191pp, paper, $18.95 (cloth), $9.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-88830-226-6 (cloth), 0-88830-2274 (paper).

Grades 7 and up.
Reviewed by John D. Crawford.

Volume 11 Number 3.
1983 May.

This is a concise yet highly readable account of the fur trade in western Canada. Beginning with the expeditions of La Verendrye and others in the early decades of the eighteenth century, the narrative ends some 150 years later when the interdependent pressures from agriculture, human settlement, and railways bring into existence a society recognizable as an early stage of that that exists, in western Canada today.

Written sequentially, the narrative allows developments to emerge within a background complicated by a disparate group of interesting characters. As we read, we observe the continual pushing back of geographical horizons, the growing rivalry between the competing interests, both commercial and social, and the "civilizing" of the West. A strength of the book is that it is people-centred. The principal characters are well-defined, and their relationships with their environment and with each other reveal the difficulties and tensions that governed their often reprehensible actions. In describing the friction between George Simpson and John McLoughlin, the author provides in microcosm a picture of the differing attitudes adopted by the traders towards the native people. The author categorizes the effect of the fur trade on Indian and Metis as being "less exploitative than it might have been." Faint praise indeed, and yet considered against the mores of the period, exemplified by the cruelties inflicted by the fur traders upon each other, and by the callous attitude of employer to employee as the trade declined, we can accept this judgment.

The book has an index and a valuable summary of sources consulted. It can be recommended as an introduction to a study of the period and topic. Students in grade 7 should have no difficulty with the vocabulary, and yet it is written in a manner congenial to more mature readers.

John D. Craw ford, Frank Hobbs E. S., Victoria, BC.
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