CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

McDougall, A.K.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, c1986. 320pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-8020-3426-8. (Ontario Historical Studies series).CIP

Grade 12 and up
Reviewed by James Kingstone

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

A.K. McDougall's portrayal of Ontario's former premier in John P. Robarts: His Life and Government is sensitive and generous, shedding light as it does on the man whose apparently colourless leadership style was nevertheless responsible for guiding Ontario from 1961-1971, through a period of turmoil and uncertainty. The author concentrates on Robart's energy, his belief in people, capacity for hard work and sound organization, and the way he thrilled at pursuing challenges. It seems that the author set about correcting lapses in the public memory. Though many may remember John Robarts as a bland corporate manager, that image yields to a much more compelling and human portrait and McDougall engages our interest and sympathies from the opening pages.

Reflections on Robarts's personal faith in a pragmatic approach to governing are balanced by warm and sometimes disarming glimpses into the inner man. We see, for instance, Robarts relaxing with friends and enjoying the unique cam-eraderie that perhaps only the politics of a bygone era inspried, or we find ourselves witnessing a private moment late in the afternoon when he takes a minute to tie a fishing lure. The former premier was proud of his ability to keep his private and his public lives separate, to live a life of balance and integrity distinguished by a personal kind of order. But the importance of that order is merely hinted at through much of the book; it is only in the sensitive and incisive handling of the last years of Robarts's life that we gain a sense of how tenaciously the man held on to the belief in subduing and controlling his inner needs according to his own vision of calm.

McDougall's biography assumes an engaging tonal subtlety in examining John Robarts's struggle with his inner demons: alcohol; his deeply internalized grief over the death by suicide of his son; his own diminished interest in living. His brief years of happiness and fulfillment with his second wife, Katherine, seem a richly deserved interlude in a life that this biography hints was narrowly satisfying, but ultimately disappointing. The dark patches of Robarts's life do not eclipse any of the consequential foregoing episodes and McDougall's sensitivity enables the reader to interpret sympathetically those gaps that are only lightly shaded in. The result is a satisfying work that pays respect to a man whose measure Ontarians can now take with pride.

James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, 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