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Edited by R. Cole Harris.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987. 198pp, cloth, $95.00, ISBN 0-8020-2495-5. CIP

Reviewed by David Chandler

Volume 16 Number 3
1988 May

The Historical Atlas of Canada is time and space rolled together into one graphic presentation. At first glance it is an altogether amazing book. Consisting of sixty-nine plates, it is the first of three volumes; the latter two will cover the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The scholarship (to this low-ranking eye) is remarkable both for its simple but complete approach and for its depth.

Much of the information on the native peoples' existence is being made available to the general public for the first time. The gradual development of native culture is carefully pieced together over some fifteen maps at the outset, and continual reference is made to influences on and by native peoples. The same attention to detail continues on every page of the book. It is possible to trace the early explorations and the development of the Port Royal settlement, the fishing industry, and the fur trade through each of their many stages.

However, by Plate 19 a slight uneasiness begins to set in. It is not the use of portions of simplified antique maps that disturbs, since they were mostly empty anyway. It is the misshaped (what projection is that?) sideways North America with red streamers. Will anybody ever bother to try to make sense of all that red? Or is it just graphically pleasing? This is also one of the few cases where the text does little either to add to the information visually displayed or to explain it. It mostly repeats the obvious. Occasionally the graphics are excellent, as is the trade chart on Plate 28. But even here there are problems. Does "Mediterranean" mean "other than France"? The continual jumping about in time (always a problem in historical books) does not aid study, and each plate is more or less independent of those on either side of it. There seems to be a lack of overall coherence.

The existing design makes trying to piece together information rather difficult. An index is needed (it will probably come in a later volume), and some statistics and charts covering the span of our history are necessary.

Many will say these are quibbling comments. But this is an intimidating book. To be useful, it must be easy to use as well as attractive. It is an unabashed success in the latter but a failure in the former. It is a scholarly text, but true scholars will shy away from it because the data are too highly manipulated. The average high school student will be put off by the complexity of the information presented. The atlas will probably find its way into most high school libraries, but I have serious doubts that it will be greatly used. The information is there, but its presentation is debatable. One could hope that a simplified version of all three volumes might be made available later.

David Chandler, Rosemere High School, Rosemere, Que.
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