CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Berton, Pierre.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1984 388pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-7710 1243-8. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Allan S. Evans

Volume 13 Number 1
1985 January

This is Pierre Berton's thirtieth book and the long-awaited final volume in his series on the opening of the Canadian north west after Confederation. By his own admission, it has been delayed ten years, partly because of its formidable scope but also, one suspects, because of the author's peripatetic schedule.

As with most of Berton's other volumes on Canadian history, the main focus is on the telling of an interesting story and once again he has succeeded. By taking some liberties in the realm of historical fiction and departing frequently into the first person plural, he manages to directly involve the reader in a way that academic historians would not likely even attempt. He uses the pen as a commercial artist wields the brush, moving quickly, using bold strokes and plenty of colour, and concentrating on the overall impression more than on the fine points of artistic style.

Under this treatment, his canvas comes rapidly and vibrantly alive. Such well-known themes as the hardships of the immigrant settlers, the amazing speed with which the vast prairies were occupied, the role of the RCMP, and the importance of the railroads are given their due. Ever the social critic, the author feels obliged to point out the greed, corruption and even blatant racism of various politicians, land developers, Indian agents and other officials in position to exploit the needs, naiveté and startling ignorance of the masses of new immigrants heading west.

There are countless fascinating vignettes, such as the accounts of Doukhobor behaviour and the large-scale scam perpetrated by the "Reverend" Isaac Barr upon thousands of trusting British emigrants. But most impressive is Berton's success in describing the formation, in one generation, of the Canadian west, a country within a country, with its own distinct culture and personality. The reading of this saga should renew the pride of westerners in their own legacy and remind other Canadians of the fantastic achievements and contributions of the mighty land that lies between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains.

Allan S. Evans, Emery C.I., North York, Ont.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works