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Desmond Morton.

Edmonton, Hurtig Publishers, n.d.
295pp, paper, $12.95.
ISBN 0-888320-252-5.

Grades 9 and up.
Reviewed by Allen S. Evans.

Volume 12 Number 1
1984 January

Perhaps because he is now one of Canada's most prominent and prolific historians, Desmond Morton has turned out his own general history of Canada. In doing so, he has joined the ranks of such eminent precursors as Donald Creighton, Arthur Lower, Edgar Mclnnis, and Maurice Careless. While less interpretive than Creighton and less thorough than Mclnnis, Morton's overview is more analytical than Lower and Careless and both briefer and more interesting than any of the others.

Morton begins with a perspective on Canada at the time of Confederation. He then reaches back to trace separately the emergence of French Canada, central English Canada, the Atlantic Provinces and the Northwest from their respective origins to 1867. This first part of the book represents about one quarter of the whole. Because of its sweep, it is written in a style that assumes prior knowledge of Canadian history on the part of the reader. Perhaps for this reason many will find it to be the most interesting section, because there is less emphasis on the narration of events and considerably more in the way of analytical generalizations.

The remainder of the book is a fairly predictable chronological survey that is remarkable chiefly for the amount of ground it covers, with respectable thoroughness, in a mere two hundred pages. The index is somewhat incomplete, despite its considerable size, but this is understandable in a work of such scope.

The main weakness of the book is that it does not provide the average reader (surely its prime audience) with enough structural analysis of Canadian history. There is continual analysis and interpretation of individual events and personalities, in their turn, but there are few "handles" provided Ly the author that the lay person might use to grasp the major themes and understandings.

Instead, Morton in the end is content to repeat the usual platitudes about our harsh environment, our penchant for survival through compromise, and our fierce national pride that lurks beneath the misleading exterior of cynicism and self-deprecation. Valid points, of course, but scarcely news. The readers taking greatest satisfaction from the final page might well be the opponents of Brian Mulroney (and could the author be among them?). Morton reveals more than a hint of Red Toryism in his reference to Mulroney's form-over-substance style and more specifically to the uncritically pro-American positions taken to date by the new Conservative leader. The author's inference about the anti-Americanism latent in our national pride is both a pointed reminder to all Canadians about a key aspect of our identity and a clear warning to the "barefoot boy from Bale Comeau" to "make no mistake about it."

Alien S. Evans, Emery C. I., Weston, ON.
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