________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2000

cover Robert Dunsmuir: Laird of the Mines. (The Quest Library, 2).

Lynne Bowen.
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 1999.
177 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 0-9683601-3-0.

Subject Headings:
Dunsmuir, Robert, 1825-1889.
Coal mines and mining-British Columbia-Vancouver Island-History-19th century.
Businessmen-British Columbia-Vancouver Island-Biography.

Grades 9 and up/Ages 14 and up.
Review by Alexander D. Gregor.

*** /4

This book, which is aimed at senior years students, is the second in a new series of Canadian biographies, "The Quest Library Collection." The underlying idea for the series is an excellent one, as history can often be made more engaging for the general reader when it can be presented around a personal story. Biography also allows insights in daily lives and to common human experiences important elements in encouraging adolescents to understand and appreciate the relevance and value of historical study. In this case, the author attempts to convey something of the history of British Columbia's formative years during the last portion of the nineteenth century; and, at the same time, some understanding of the life and impact of one of the principal figures of that frontier period. Unfortunately, the limited length of the book (common to the series as a whole) somewhat frustrates the ability to paint a comprehensive historical backdrop, notwithstanding the considerable historical and narrative talents of the author. Without some prior general knowledge of the time and setting, the necessarily abbreviated references to people and events would not leave the reader with a full understanding of that backdrop; but, with some basic prior foundation, the book can provide a very useful supplement. Its particular value is to be found in the picture painted of the protagonist, one of a vanished breed of self-made lords (or lairds) of the New World. Larger than life and almost independent in their power, they shaped their regions in ways that would not be possible today. Dunsmuir was himself significant in the development of British Columbia's mines and railway system, and a force to be contended with as a Member of the Provincial Legislature, but his modus operandi, and particularly his antipathy toward unions, left an indelible impact on BC politics. The reader gains important insights into the lives and circumstances of the workers of the period, the aboriginal population, and of the various immigrant groups particularly the Chinese whose fate was very much shaped by Dunsmuir and his ilk. The book provides at once a fascinating piece of social history, and the basis for an enhanced appreciation of contemporary Canadian society.


Alexander D. Gregor is a professor of educational history in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364