The CHA Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History Prize

The prize is given to the non-fiction work of Canadian history judged to have made the most significant contribution to an understanding of the Canadian past.
The prize was first presented by the CHA in 1977. Each year, the laureate is announced at the CHA Annual Meeting which takes place during the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Since 2009, the prize is presented at Rideau Hall by the Governor General of Canada.

The 2019 competition is now closed. The laureate(s) will be announced at the CHA's Annual Meeting at UBC on Tuesday, 4 June 2019.

Past Winners


E.A. Heaman, Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.

heaman_at_eakin_april_2018_copy.jpgThis book makes an original and compelling contribution to our knowledge of how the Canadian fiscal regime was created, reformed, and received by the State, one both framing and framed by the complex interplay of diverse sets of interests, ideas, and principles. While challenging previous notions of liberalism, founding ideals, nation-building, and federalism, this book enriches our understanding of how historical actors and ordinary people thought about property, poverty, and wealth. Heaman employs a comprehensive methodology informed by official documents from all levels of government as well as private correspondence, and periodical and other print media. Her analysis brings together the disparate regional visions of the new Dominion and highlights Canada’s transition from a fiscal imperial to a fiscal welfare state, a fundamental shift previously little explored.  A social history of politics grounded in the history of knowledge, this innovative, pragmatic, and thorough study will long be a reference for historians and students of modern Canada. 

Shortlisted Books

Susan M. HillThe Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River.  Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2017.

Jeffers LennoxHomelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017.

J.R. MillerResidential Schools and Reconciliation: Canada Confronts Its History.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017.

Cecilia Morgan,  Travellers through Empire: Indigenous Voyages from Early Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.



Sarah Carter, Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2016.


This book explains the formation of the Canadian West as a British-Canadian colony and reveals how homesteading denied property rights to women.  Throughout, it offers incisive reconsiderations of what it means to be 'Canadian,' demonstrating that gender, race, and property have been central to the making of this country.  Carter effectively moves from the macro level of national and imperial visions to the micro level of particular women.  While none should be surprised that imperialism was central to the colonization of western Indigenous lands, Carter exposes just how far Canadian policymakers went to exclude married women from enjoying a right to property. By offering comparisons with the American west, we learn that the strength of this opposition was peculiarly Canadian.  Indeed, before and after contact, Indigenous women were the farmers of the Great Plains.  Yet after prairie reserves were established, Indigenous women were limited to kitchen gardens while white men assumed their place on the land.  Imperial Plots covers the late 19th and early 20th centuries and crosses provincial and national boundaries.  Sarah Carter makes a strong contribution to our understanding of Canada’s emergence as a country, illuminating ongoing struggles around gender equality, Indigenous rights, and humans’ relationships with their natural environments.

Shortlisted Books

Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.  Toronto: Between the Lines, 2016.

Sean Mills, A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Québec.  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016.

Adele Perry, Colonial Relations: The Douglas-Connolly Family and the Nineteenth-Century Imperial World.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Ronald Rudin, Kouchibouguac: Removal, Resistance, and Remembrance at a Canadian National Park.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.



Robert C.HSweeny, Why Did We Choose to Industrialize?  Montreal, 1819-1849.  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.

r_sweeny_headshot.jpgIn Why Did We Choose to Industrialize?, Robert Sweeny offers an erudite yet also passionate argument for the re-thinking of Canadian history. In this provocative book, Sweeny answers the question Why Did We Choose to Industrialize?, engaging with historians who have examined the history of Montréal, but also tracing the evolution of his own thought over the last decades. Historians, Sweeny argues, do not live outside history but are part of it, and so must contextualize and understand how their own views of the past reflect on the sources they use and the questions they ask. His questioning and contextualising of the sources reveals the changing creative process of an historian who has revisited, questioned and revised his own findings as a result of new ways of thinking which have emerged among intellectuals over the past forty years. According to him, the answer to his book's question (without revealing the punchline) lies in the exploitation of unfree labour for the production of commodities, together with the emergence of liberalism and its valuation of property. Sweeny's work belongs to economic history, historical geography, and historiography. It is the work of a politically committed historian who recognises the political and ethical nature of historical debates. For historians who think seriously about what we do and how we do what we do, Why Did We Choose to Industrialize? is a model of intellectual engagement, one that offers valuable reflections on the meaning of Canadian history and how it should be pursued from this point forward.

Shortlisted Books

Caroline Durand, Nourrir la machine humaine.  Nutrition et alimentation au Québec, 1860-1945.  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.

Craig Heron,  Lunch-Bucket Lives: Remaking the Workers’ City.  Toronto: Between the Lines, 2015.

Michel Hogue,  Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People.  Regina: University of Regina Press, 2015.

Douglas McCalla, Consumers in the Bush: Shopping in Rural Upper Canada.  Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015. 



 Jean Barman, French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest.  Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014.

jean_barman_cropped.jpgThis grand narrative of a history long lost powerfully illuminates the influence that  French Canadians and their Indigenous partners had in “the making” of the Pacific Northwest during the 19th through the 21st centuries. By “listening to back stories,” and by marrying structure and agency and qualitative and quantitative sources, Jean Barman imaginatively reconstructs the lives of three generations of fur trading and farming families as they built their homes and identities amid emerging pressures from imperial and later, national forces that threatened to erase their very presence in the region. Ranging broadly over time and space, this study engages with rich international scholarship on imperialism, colonialism and state formation. But Barman’s meticulous inquiries never lose sight of the role that individuals and families had and continue to have on shaping our past and our present. French Canadians, Furs and Indigenous Women is a major contribution to Canadian and international historiography as well as to the family histories of Indigenous and French Canadian peoples in the Northwest. It will influence scholarship on imperialism, state formation, and heritage creation for some time to come. 

Jean also received the Governor General History Award for Scholarly Research on October 16, 2015
jb_at_the_gg_2015.jpg     jb_at_the_gg2_2015.jpg  

Shortlisted Books 

Jennifer L. Bonnell, Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto’s Don River Valley. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Nicholas Kenny, The Feel of the City: Experiences of Urban Transformation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Ian Milligan, Rebel Youth: 1960s Labour Unrest, Young Workers, and New Leftists in English Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014.

Brian Young, Patrician Families and the Making of Quebec: The Taschereaus and McCords. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014.



james_daschuk_-_macdonald_2.jpgJames Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013.

In this sweeping and disturbing account, James Daschuk chronicles the role that epidemic disease, global trade, the changing environment and government policy had on the lives of Aboriginals living on the Canadian Plains from the early eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth. Daschuk skilfully draws on ethnohistory, medical history, environmental history, economic history and political economy to present a compelling overall analysis. He situates his discussion in the broader historical context of the Columbian exchange, the Great Land Rush, the rise of a global capitalist economy, and the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples across the globe. As Daschuk persuasively illustrates, the pervasive problems of poor health and poverty facing Aboriginal communities today have deep, complex and systemic roots. Initially, the biological impact of disease that resulted from the expansion of trade devastated some First Nations but presented economic and territorial opportunities for others. But the story of the spread of disease as an organic process gave way to the wilful malevolence of human actors. The demographic collapse of the western Aboriginal population after 1870, due to tuberculosis, can be traced directly to the Canadian government's decision to use the "politics of starvation" to force Aboriginal compliance with the state's development agenda and to eliminate what they considered an impediment to "national" development. Daschuk offers a powerful reminder that Canada has an imperial past of its own, in contrast to the classic myth of Canada as the "peaceable" and "lawful" kingdom. The legacy of racist policies that naturalized Aboriginals as unhealthy, physically weak and unable to adapt to the modern world, remains with us today.


Shortlisted Books

Erika Dyck, Facing Eugenics: Reproduction, Sterilization, and the Politics of Choice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Kathryn Magee Labelle, Dispersed But Not Destroyed: A History of the Seventeenth-Century Wendat People. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013.

Stéphane Savard, Hydro-Québec et L'État québécois, 1944-2005. Québec: Septentrion, 2013.

Todd Webb, Transatlantic Methodists: British Wesleyanism and the Formation of an Evangelical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Quebec. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013.


The Sir John A. Macdonald Prize winner also receives the Governor General’s History Award for Scholarly Research. This year's Governor General History Awards ceremony was held on Monday, November 3, 2014, at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa. 

The CHA President, Dominique Marshall,
introduced James Daschuk at the ceremonies
James gave a brief speech at Rideau Hall
dominique_at_gg.jpg james_daskuk_at_the_gg_2014.jpg

James received Governor General’s History Award
for Scholarly Research from Governor General David Johnston

James and his family with the Governor General
james_and_gg.jpg james_&_family_with_gg.jpg

Photo credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall
©Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, 2014.

Podcast: Historical Research on Canada and Beyond

For the first time the winners of the two highest distinctions given annually by the Canadian Historical Association met for an exchange with the public and between each other. Jim Daschuk, author of the account of the “forced starvation” of aboriginal peoples in the Canadian plains in the 19th century, and Mark Phillips, whose book explores the many ways by which historians and their object are “distant” and close, met for a public conversation on a Saturday afternoon, November 1, 2014 at Ottawa’s City Hall.

Daschuk spoke about the long process of putting this account together, and of the many reactions it has encountered after publications, amongst First Nations and European Canadians, including the uneasy queries of those responsible for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of John A. Macdonald. Phillips spoke about the genesis of the idea of exploring the relative nature of distance in time and space, between researchers and the people they research. He read the early pages of his writings, and the concluding ones on his personal understanding of the My Lai massacre perpetrated by US soldiers during the Vietnam War, and the attempt to demonize the military officer who denounced it at the time.

The CHA would like to thank for posting a recording of the discussion on its website.



William C. Wicken
, The Colonization of Mi’kmaw Memory and History, 1794-1928: The King v. Gabriel Sylliboy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

This finely crafted and tightly argued study of memory and meaning, written in a style that is spare and clean, makes imaginative use of a wide range of existing sources to answer innovative epistemological questions fundamental to the historical project. Working backward in time from the Gabriel Sylliboy court case of 1928, the book uncovers how successive generations of Mi’kmaq remembered a treaty signed in the eighteenth century. Such questions about the relationship between memory and aboriginal rights makes The Colonization of Mi’kmaw Memory and History a book that advances a challenging argument about an important subject in Canadian history. 
Professor Wicken on his book -

Honourable Mentions

Shelley A. M. Gavigan, Hunger, Horses, and Government Men: Criminal Law on the Aboriginal Plains, 1870-1905. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.
Bridging the fields of law and history, and documenting the complex relationship between Plains First Nations and Canadian criminal law, Hunger, Horses, and Government Men: Criminal Law on the Aboriginal Plains, 1870-1905 engages with a vast current of recent criminal justice history that attempts to balance control/domination and agency. Based substantially on data derived from two sets of criminal court records from 1876-86 and 1887-1903,  the book explores what law meant to Aboriginal people at a time of increasingly coercive colonization. In attempting to understand the “actual process of criminalization,” Gavigan makes an important contribution to both Canadian legal history and prairies history.

Reg Whitaker, Gregory S. Kealey and Andrew Parnaby, Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

This book promises to be the definitive work on the history of intelligence and security in Canada for some time to come. Analytic, yes, but also lively, it clearly illustrates that for most of its history, the Canadian secret services did not spy abroad but at home. They were obsessed with “subversives” who could disrupt the Canadian status quo. Despite the obvious difficulties in accessing the material, this is a thoroughly well documented book, elegantly written, and remarkably balanced, considering the sensitivity of the topic, and the fact that one of the authors had himself been a target of surveillance.


François-Marc Gagnon with Nancy Senior and Réal Ouellet, eds., The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011In this stunningly beautiful volume F-M Gagnon and his collaborators have brought together two texts held in geographically very distant repositories, barely known even by specialists, one without a known author and the other misattributed. The first, the Histoire Naturelle des Indes Occidentales, is part of the collection of the French National library. The second,the Codex Canadensis proper, is a compendium of 180 illustrations of the people, fauna and flora of the new world in the seventeenth century held at the Gilcrease museum in Tulsa. Meticulous and erudite detective work allowed the authors to identify them as companion volumes sharing the same author, the Jesuit missionary Louis Nicolas, and produced in the first years of the eighteenth century. The two texts illuminate each other, and together, they are more than the sum of their parts.If determining provenance and authorship was a model of erudition, the scholarly apparatus that surrounds the documents reproduced and translated here is a model of contextualization. The lengthy introduction, numerous and extremely detailed notes and extensive glossary combine to locate the corpus at a pivotal moment in the evolution of scientific knowledge and of European understanding of the natural world. The depiction of the natural world in the Codex, or the description in the Histoire naturelle were not intended to be objective: instead they were constructions resting on a specific epistemological foundation that was on the brink of disappearing. They mark the transition from a view of nature as “useful” to humanity to the concept of the very “order” of nature. The analysis provides a subtle but penetrating framework from which the modern reader can access and understand these two otherwise strange documents. This book can scarcely be praised too highly. As a physical object, it is one of beauty, with design and production values of the highest order. As an act of sustained editorial ingenuity and intervention, it is impeccable. As a work of interdisciplinary research, it is simply outstanding. Finally, The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas reminds us that prize-worth historical scholarship extends beyond scholarly monographs.

Honourable Mentions

Donica Belisle, Retail Nation: Department Stores and the Making of Modern Canada. UBC Press, 2011Retail Nation constitutes an important contribution to the history of the development of mass consumption in Canada in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. It describes the rise, flourishing and decline of three Canadian department store chains which garnered a larger share of consumer spending than their counterparts in other countries: Eaton, HBC and Simpson’s, which eventually became icons of English Canadian nationhood. Those stores were more than simply movers of goods; they were also advertisers promoting specific forms of consumptions that contributed to the construction of a form of Canadian modernity based on capitalistic consumerism. While the author acknowledge the role nostalgia has played in our image of department stores, she does not lose sight of the social and other costs such chains have exacted. The three companies were criticized, and even challenged, for driving other retailers out of business, exploiting their workers and subjecting them to petty paternalistic rules, and even for the quality of their services. Belisle explores fully and intelligently the unequal relations of class, race and gender they embodied, and an important part of the analysis deals with the gendered relations between the stores, their employees and their customers. The book is written with verve, a secure knowledge of the relevant literature and much careful research, and sets a historiographic benchmark for the study of Canadian consumer society.

Sherry Olson and Patricia A. Thornton, Peopling the North American City: Montreal 1840-1900. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011This large scale study, which grew out of the authors’ participation in the Montreal history project, seeks to understand how Montreal, and beyond it, urban centers in North America grew in the second half of the nineteenth century. Using a subpopulation of individuals bearing a dozen surnames as representative of the three communities that made up Montreal between 1840 and 1900, the authors trace their marriage and reproduction patterns as well as their social and geographic mobility in and around the city. By so doing, the authors disentangle the impact of structural and cultural factors shaping people’s life courses. Contrary to economists and demographers, who explain the demographic transition in structural terms (urbanization, industrialization, increased literacy and rising income), the authors conclude that culture played a significant role in people’s demographic choices. From the beginning to the end of the study period, French-speaking Catholics, English-speaking Protestants, and English-speaking Catholics differed in basic demographic indicators, in place of residence, in patterns of geographical and social mobility, and in the networks of association and kin in which their lives were situated, and, although none of those patterns were static, never did they become similar. Their very quantitative and structural approach does not prevent the authors from displaying a high degree of empathy towards their subject, which allows them at times to re-enact the decision-making process of individuals when confronted to the choices available to them. Combined with sensitivity to the urban environment in which the individuals in question lived, this empathy enlivens the description of the population under consideration, which would otherwise be very abstract. 



Michel Ducharme. Le concept de liberté au Canada à l’époque des Révolutions atlantiques (1776-1838).  In this original and provocative book, Michel Ducharme situates political debate in the Canadas before 1840 in different conceptions of liberty, both hostile to absolutism, embedded in the political philosophy of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Embedded in a thorough knowledge of political philosophy and in the political debates in Lower and Upper Canada, this book provides a new and richly argued perspective on a crucial period of the Canadian past. Situating the primary cause of unrest in these colonies in different intellectual currents rather than in socio-economic circumstances, it offers a striking alternative to widely-accepted interpretations. It is a milestone in Canadian historiography. 

Honourable mentions

Sean Mills. The Empire Within; Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal. This book connects protest movements in Montreal in the 1960s and Third World postcolonial thought, and in so doing situates these movements in a global anti-colonial struggle. For all the variety of protest movements in Montreal in the sixties, they shared, it suggests, a common anti-colonialism until, unable to resolve “internal contradictions and ambiguities,” this loose “grammar of consent” unraveled in the 1970s.The book is well-researched, well-connected, and deft. It challenges conventional views of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and succeeds in exploring both the richness and vitality of Quebec society and an axis of its global connections. 

Joan Sangster. Transforming Labour; Women and Work in Post-War Canada. This book is a sophisticated and nuanced study of women’s work in Canada during the “Fordist” accord between capital, the state, and labour in the twenty-five years following the Second World War. It shows how women advanced the cause of gender equality and challenged accepted attitudes embedded in the Fordist accord.The book is the product of years of research and of a materialist tradition of labour history. In sum, it suggests the continuing robustness of this tradition while contributing a basic work to the study of working women and, more generally, of labour in the Fordist years after the Second World War.



Béatrice Craig. Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists. The Rise of a Market Culture in Eastern Canada.

Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists represents a major and original contribution to the social and economic history of Canada. This work, which looks at the emergence of a capitalistic economy in the upper St. John River Valley, asks questions fundamental to our understanding of the economic transformations underway in the 19th century. Much more than a micro-history of the practices and thought processes at work among the various players in this isolated region, it invites us to re-examine the theory of staples and the typologies that have opposed subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture, local trade to international trade, and production to consumption as factors explaining the entry of a rural environment into a market culture. In so doing, Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists brilliantly demonstrates that a meticulously conducted local study can stimulate reflection on crucial issues with implications far beyond the subject and region under the microscope. This analysis of the economic development of the Madawaska highlights all the complexity of the dynamics at work in the linkage of this local market to regional and international markets, especially as regards the part played by individuals or groups of individuals, their adaptation to changing economic conditions, and the motivations that drove them.

It shows that this regional economy was certainly influenced by the forest industry but also influenced, and at a much earlier stage, by the production, consumption and trading activities of farmers, merchants, entrepreneurs and families. While exposing the multiplicity of factors—economic as well as political and cultural—that combined to explain the development of the Madawaska, this book suggests that the very idea of a capitalistic transition must be called into question, since capitalistic and non-capitalistic elements have always coexisted within North America’s emerging economies. Similarly, this work reminds us that the social players who participated in the development of markets were not necessarily motivated by a capitalistic mentality, since social constraints and cultural preferences also played a role in their actions and decision making. Based on a data bank patiently compiled from a wide variety of sources and then adroitly analysed, Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists engages in a most stimulating dialogue with Canadian and international historiography and adopts an original perspective on colonized regions that will make its mark. This very learned work represents a model in its genre.

Honourable mentions

Lara Campbell. Respectable Citizens: Gender, Family, and Unemployment in Ontario's Great Depression.

As a carefully constructed and solidly documented work, Respectable Citizens focuses not only on the economic difficulties experienced by Ontario families during the Great Depression and the survival strategies and social protests engendered by these difficulties but also on how the redefinition of citizenship and the development of the liberal State were affected. This book, located at the crossroads of several historiographies, proposes an original interpretation of this dark period of Canadian history by stressing the interrelations between the public and private domains. It shows that domestic arrangements and the demands placed on the State on an individual or more organized basis grew out of a broadly accepted conception of gender relations founded on the breadwinner/housewife ideal and on a vision of individual rights related to membership in the Anglo-Celtic culture.

With diverse sources eloquently supporting its argumentation, Respectable Citizens posits, first, that in the name of their family duties defined in terms of gender, of their respectability as citizens of British descent, and of their belief in the work ethic, Ontarians demanded increased services and economic support measures from the State, and, second, that these considerations were incorporated into the implementation of social policies, starting with the Second World War. Based on the rich and nuanced analysis proposed by Laura Campbell, the 1930s appear to represent a transitional period leading to the establishment of the Canadian welfare state, with the Canadian public itself contributing to this process. These conclusions appear all the more relevant because the study is not limited to urban realities but also examines the conditions present in rural and remote areas. This work, which builds on a wide variety of sources and a series of concepts developed through feminist research and the new political history, constitutes a major addition to our knowledge of the 1930s and will certainly become a standard reference in understanding this decade and the one that followed.

Bryan D. Palmer. The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era.Canada's 1960s.

Palmer seeks to understand this particularly tumultuous period of our history that profoundly marked our collective memory. The originality of this essay resides in the fact that, rather than concentrating on the counter-culture that came to symbolize the period, it explores this decade’s impact on Canadian national identity by concentrating instead on the various protest movements that influenced this identity. Based on a series of case studies selected for their representativeness, Canada’s 1960s argues that during this decade, Canada’s former national identity based on membership in the British Empire crumbled forever under repeated assaults by events of various sorts, especially battles of a social, economic and political nature, with this turbulence generating uncertainty and ambivalence that prevented a new, unified national identity from taking shape.

Written in an incisive and often caustic style, Canada’s 1960s demonstrates that it is possible to arrive at a coherent interpretation of a decade often associated with “chaos.” This major intellectual undertaking, which combines research from original sources and many writings of historians and other intellectuals, adopts an enlightening perspective and devises a renewed framework for interpreting this most eventful period. Although several of the episodes discussed are well known and have been the subject of separate studies, this work’s great strength is its presentation of these episodes in an integrated manner, thereby creating a broader understanding. In the final analysis, Canada’s 1960s does in fact deliver, as its author purports, a still partial but nevertheless impressive synthesis of a not-so-distant period, and shows great learnedness in doing so.



McKay, Ian. Reasoning Otherwise. Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920. Toronto: Between The Lines, 2008.

Rather than examine the history of the groups, parties and organizations of the “first formation” of socialists, as other historians before him have done, Ian McKay, examines the social, economic, cultural and intellectual context of their emergence. It is in this approach that the power and originality of the work lies. Using the strategy he labels as a reconnaissance, first elaborated in his Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History, he offers a new vision of the left and of the heritage it has bequeathed to its successors.  With a sympathetic, but always critical eye, he examines the biographical and political trajectories of many of its prominent figures, focusing above all on the intellectual influences (especially of Spencer, Darwin and Marx), and on the evolution of their ways of thinking, insisting on Canadian socialism and left ideas as forged in the transnational context of the North Atlantic triangle. Thus he reveals the debates and contrasting positions taken by many of these activists on issues of class, religion, women, race and democracy in a new light.  Far from appearing as a monolithic or dogmatic group, McKay depicts a left that is diverse, in constant evolution and engaged in reflections that have a major influence on its actions and the struggles it undertakes. Always nuanced and erudite, McKay analyses foundational texts of this first formation to better understand the strategies of their actions. He shows us what men and women on the left read, and what they said on soapboxes, in pamphlets and in publications. The result is a book that is solid and fascinating that gives a depth to left thinking and action that it sadly lacked in existing literature on the period.

Honourable Mentions

Baskerville, Peter.  A Silent Revolution? Gender and Wealth in English Canada, 1860-1930. Montreal, MQUP.

Baskerville draws on censuses, assessment roles, probate records, wills, listings of holdings in bank stock, insurance company stock to compare women’s wealth in Victoria and Hamilton. He skilfully manipulates this data to argue that a profound social transformation occurred in the distribution of wealth and economic participation of men and women from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century in English Canada.  Enabled largely by the various Married Women’s Property Acts, and changing social practices, wives, widows and single women came to control a growing share of urban based  wealth and to participate in a wide range of activities as property owners, entrepreneurs, and investors. While these changes demonstrated the exercise of a market orientation associated with liberal citizenship, the author reminds us that inequalities remained. This portrait of urban women’s wealth breaks new ground in Canadian history.  The book also reveals much that has hardly been touched by Canadian historians about urban inheritance and a range of practices that allowed both men and women to report that they lived upon their own means to census enumerators.

Dechêne, Louise. Le Peuple, l'État et la Guerre au Canada sous le Régime français. Montréal: Boréal.

Le peuple, l’État et la guerre offers a reinterpretation of the history of New France by placing military conflict  at the heart of the lives of the peoples and society of New France, as well as at the heart of state strategies, and by placing that society at the center of her description of fighting, the military and war.  Considering  military requirements leads  Dechêne to argue that the state played a larger role in colonists’ lives than most historians have acknowledged because of the  demands placed on them not just for taxes but for their labour and the products of their labour in wartime.  Contrary to dominant stereotypes at the time and since, she suggests, Canadiens were not ferocious fighters as a group. Rather men were frequently reluctant to join militias or armies, because their absence would deprive farms of labour power and families of protection.  She reveals local militias that varied between cities and the countryside, but were mostly poorly armed and poorly trained, yet usually fought when required to protect their families and land, as well as out of loyalty to the King.  Nor, she argues, did the residents of New France develop an identity of themselves as different from the French soldiers or recent immigrants that constantly swelled their ranks.   Most importantly, Dechêne insists that the numerical and strategic importance of France’s Aboriginal allies in the skirmishes, raids and battles of New France made them the principal military force in the colony.   Extensively researched and intelligently argued, Dechene leaves few historiographical claims about New France unexamined in this magisterial reinterpretation of the French Regime in Canada.  The book which was not quite finished at the time of her death in 2000 has been carefully edited and completed by Hélène Paré, Sylvie Dépatie, Catherine Desbarats and Thomas Wein. The committee lauds them for the dedicated work that has made this remarkable book available to scholars.



Franca Iacovetta.  Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2006.

In this lively, engaged and probing analysis, Iacovetta explores the interaction between immigration agents, social workers, journalists and the range of other Canadians involved in reception work and the European immigrants who arrived here after the second world war. Gatekeepers links the high politics of international events with the personal politics of family, identity and self. It shows how people with authority exercised surveillance, censured and pushed newcomers from a range of post-war situations to become worthy Canadian citizens. It demonstrates how immigrants= stories, their successes and their failures were integrated into the broader context of cold war containment and the promotion of family and a new gendered order in the post-war period. Iacovetta draws deftly and with humanity on a wide range of sources to highlight the costs of war, integration and citizenship that demanded acquiescence to the gatekeepers= agenda. Drawing especially on the Toronto and Ontario situation, Gatekeepers makes a major contribution more generally to the histories of immigration, gender and the post-war period in Canada and beyond.

Honourable Mention:

Robert BothwellAlliance and Illusion Canada and the World, 1945-1984. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007. 

Alliance and Illusion is a superbly written synthesis, rooted in a deep command of broader literature on the post World War Two period, complemented by politicians= and civil servants= memoirs and selected primary sources. Bothwell explores the forces within and outside Canada that shaped foreign relations, honouring the talents of key officials, revealing the more than occasional self-deception of a relatively small country flattering itself with an inflated sense of influence and autonomy, and underlining the realities of the constraints that alliances required. This is a book that deserves to become a text book on the period and to provoke engaged debate.

Cynthia ComacchioThe Dominion of Youth: Adolescence and the Making of a Modern Canada, 1920-50.  Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006.

The Dominion of Youth links anxieties around youth, generations and growing up in Canada to the growing pains of a young nation, seeking its own identity in the years between the 1920s and 1950. Comacchio suggests that youth and the nation were seeking to be modern. It was the very modernity of youth that worried older generations, and the modern methods of youth watchers that exacerbated worries about adolescence as a period of upheaval. Other scholars have focused on juvenile delinquency, Comacchio breaks new ground in seeking to explore what growing up was like for most Canadian youth, acknowledging differences of class, region and at times ethnicity. Building on a generation of scholarship on adolescence, The Dominion of Youth argues that adolescence took its modern form between the wars, when the meaning of that stage of life was redefined in its relation to other stages, and the state became more involved in nurturing citizens. Adolescents, theorists, experts and policy makers all shaped this process. Extensively researched, largely in Ontario archives and print sources, this book makes an important contribution to the history of youth, to family history, and to Canadian history more broadly.


Tina Loo. States of Nature. Conserving Canada’s Wildlife in the Twentieth Century, Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 2006.

In a lively and admirable prose, Tina Loo describes the awakening of sensitivity towards wildlife conservation in Canada from the end of the 19th Century up to the 1970s. Through her examination of the way management and preservation of nature shifted from the "local" to the "national" level during this period, she identifies the major actors behind this movement and the values driving their discourse. The reading of States of Nature exposes clearly and in all their complexity the motivations and beliefs of the various participants. The increasing regulation of the state over the preservation of the species incited reactions from sports hunters, country people, workers and members of the First Nations, besides modifying the role of biologists, ecological organisations, associations and firms. With case studies carefully chosen, very well documented and chronologica2009-06-13ces and representations of nature intertwined and occasionally opposed each other. Be they resources to manage, images of a pristine world to preserve, places for integrating human and wild life, nature and fauna took various faces throughout the years and were sometimes invested with hard to reconcile values.

With remarkable skill, Tina Loo has managed to combine theoretical subtleties, profoundness of argumentation, and readability. Thanks to its style and to its disturbing topicality, her book will reach both a wide readership as well as historians concerned with rigor and innovative interpretation. States of Nature already stands out as a must in environmental history and comes out as the most significant contribution of the 2006 crop in Canadian history.

Honourable Mention:

Donald Fyson. Magistrates, Police, and People. Everyday Criminal Justice in Quebec and Lower Canada, 1764-1837, Toronto, UTP, Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2006.

Based on an impressive research, Donald Fyson's Magistrates, Police and People gives a convincing reinterpretation of the history of criminal justice in Québec. Besides taking up again with a period of Québec's history neglected in the recent past, this book examines the way criminal law and more particularly the local courts experienced the transition from the French to the British Regimes between 1764 and 1837. By analysing the structures, the depositaries of the law as well as those having recourse to it during this period, the author maintains that in its daily business, in the "everyday" cases, the criminal justice system has gone through a gradual adaptation instead of major breaks. To differentiate between radical change and stasis while avoiding the pitfalls of a Whig interpretation of law demands both skill and a solid knowledge of the documentation. Donald Fyson does not lack these two qualities. The inclusion in his analysis and in his narrative of dimensions relating to gender, class and ethnic belonging is remarkable as is the author's ability to make the many qualitative and quantitative sources he used speak intelligently.

Far from just being a reinterpretation of Québec's law, Magistrates, Police, and People, through its theoretical qualities and its awareness of British and North American realities, distinguishes itself also as a major contribution to the understanding of the State and of the everyday justice under the "ancien régime".


Michael Gauvreau. The Catholic Origins of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, 1931-1970, Montréal and/et Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

In this highly original study, Michael Gauvreau, challenges much of the accepted wisdom on Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. Until now the Quiet Revolution has been portrayed as an essentially political movement in which secularists came to power because a monolithic and increasingly irrelevant Roman Catholic Church was too mired in conservatism and tradition to respond creatively to the modernizing forces in Quebec society. Gauvreau by contrast portrays the Quiet Revolution as primarily a cultural and social phenomenon with roots, as far back as the 1930s, in a remarkably ideologically diverse Roman Catholic Church. Based on detailed, extensive, and thorough analysis of the activities of Roman Catholic lay people and organizations, particularly those associated with Catholic Action movements, Gauvreau subtly explains how leading Roman Catholics attempted to critique and reform Catholicism beginning in the Great Depression. Between the 1930s and 1960, Catholicism responded creatively to the various intellectual currents, ranging from totalitarianism to individualism, to develop relevant but evolving perspectives on the proper roles of youth, women, families, and the state in a distinctively Catholic society. The Quiet Revolution, more than anything else, is a product of these forces. “The central emphasis of the Lesage government,” Gauvreau argues, “was to elaborate a new democratic culture by bringing Catholicism more firmly within the machinery of the modern state.” But he argues that the period after 1964 was sufficiently distinct that it might better be seen as a second revolution in which Quebec society participated in a trend common to all industrialized Western societies. The thrust of this revolution was “so wedded to an untrammeled individualism that its central implication, as far as Quebec was concerned, was the forceful rejection of a public role for Catholicism.”

Because this book offers such a dramatic and persuasive break with past scholarship, it will thrust the history of religion into the mainstream of Canadian scholarship. Because much of the reforming zeal that the book explores was aimed at youth and women this book contributes significantly to the history of youth, family, women, sexuality, and gender. And because Gauvreau also grounds his work in international literature and debates, his study should interest historians outside Canada, particularly those interested in the historical process of secularization.

Honourable Mention:

N.E.S. Griffiths. From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People, 1604-1755. Montréal and/et Kingston, Canadian Institute for Research on Public Policy Administration, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

This book represents the culmination of the research career of the most prominent historian of the Acadians. Based on half a century of research in archives in Canada, England, Scotland, France, the United States, and Italy and upon a wealth of scholarly literature, Griffiths’ study offers a sweeping, sophisticated, and sensitive history of the Acadians from initial French settlement in 1604 to the deportation in 1755. A general history, this book not only offers a detailed reconstruction of the world the Acadians made for themselves in the New World, but also examines the Acadian’s relations with the Mi’kmq, and the explores the place of Acadia in the affairs of France, England, New England, and New France. Detailed and authoritative, this book will become the standard history of the Acadians for students and non-specialists, and the starting point for future research.


Dominique Deslandres. Croire et faire croire. Les missions françaises au XVIIe siécle (1600-1650). (Paris, Fayard, 2003)

Dominique Deslandres book, entitled Croire et faire croire : Les missions françaises au XVIIe siècle, deals with the evangelical work undertaken by the major French missionary orders. The authors intention with this book was nothing less than to revisit the history of the franco-amerindian meeting, taking into account the missionaries point of view, creating a kind of ethnohistory for them. By focussing on the cultural, religious and political elements of missionary life, Ms. Deslandres tries to reconstruct the particular context in which the phenomenon of the conquest of souls was defined and became fixed in that century. The author meets this challenge brilliantly.

For a long time, missionaries have been part of the imaginary history associated with New France. But rarely until now have they been studied with regard to their European origins and put into a perspective of global religious restoration. This is the task the author gives herself to. She examines French missionary discourse to see how it gives rise to real missions. Here, the use of a compared perspective proves judicious: the missions set up in the black Indies of the interior, that is in France, as well as those in America are described and analysed. French peasants or Amerindians, these domestic and New World atheists are the others to be converted. Throughout her exposition, the author shows an unquestionable erudition and succeeds in integrating anthropological theories and otherness. Written in an elegant and lively style, Dominique Deslandres work stands out as a reference not only for the history of New France, but also for the whole of the religious history of this period, in Europe as well as in North America.

Honourable Mention:

Peter Pope. Fish into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century. (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press and Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2004)

Fish into Wine turns fisherfolk into settlers. Peter Popes bold and detailed re-interpretation of the history of the English colony of seventeenth century Newfoundland overturns old notions that the early European newcomers to Newfoundland's shores harvested the sea, nothing more. As Pope demonstrates, among the thousands who came as transients to eastern Newfoundland in the seventeenth century, significant numbers came as permanent settlers as well. In helping recapture the past of these early Newfoundlanders, Pope combines exhaustive investigation of archival documents and printed sources, archaeological evidence, and genealogy as well as rich, finely-textured prose. Anthropologist and historian both, Pope deploys the tools of his disciplines to produce this highly readable, innovative study, one which places seventeenth century Newfoundland squarely in a trans-Atlantic context. As a window on the trading world of the seventeenth century fishery and on the lives of those involved in that fishery Pope's work is unsurpassed. Not only do we better understand the day-to-day life in seventeenth century Newfoundland, but also to the intricate connections between the prominent families in Newfoundlandsuch as the families of Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore and Sir David Kirkeand the transatlantic economy. As a result, the Newfoundland cod fishery emerges as a well-capitalized resident and vernacular industry, tied to various vernacular markets in the North Atlantic world. Readers learn how a network of interpersonal and inter-familial contacts managed a complex exchange of cod from Newfoundland and wine from southern Europe and the Atlantic islands. Along the way Popes subtle and nuanced interpretations challenge many stereotypes and myths about Newfoundlands history. Peter Pope has done for the seventeenth century socioeconomic history of Newfoundland what Jerry Bannister (last years John A. Macdonald Prize winner) did for eighteenth century political and legal history: probe the roots of Newfoundland distinctiveness, shatter old myths, and place the unique colony more firmly in the context of British Imperial history.


Jerry Bannister. The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom and Naval Government in Newfoundland, 1699-1832. (Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History / University of Toronto Press, 2003)

Jerry Bannister's gracefully written The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom, and Naval Government in Newfoundland, 1699-1832 is an ambitious and engaging reinterpretation of eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Newfoundland history. A significant contribution to the history of the British empire, law and colonial government, Bannisters study addresses the poorly understood era during which Newfoundland was ruled by fishing admirals and naval government. Newfoundland was not, Bannister insists, a neglected corner of the Atlantic world, but rather represented one version of the myriad forms of localized governance that grew out of specific colonial settings. The Rule of the Admirals convincingly demonstrates that, contrary to the prevailing myth of villains, Newfoundland was governed effectively, stably, and legitimately during this early period. From the rough-and-ready fishing admirals who governed until 1729, through the rule of the Royal Navy until the 1810s, Bannister explores how the custom of the country contributed to, and merged with, written law to shape Newfoundlands unique legal form of governance. But rather than examining only the lawmakers and enforcers, Bannister examines the social and economic contexts and consequences of Newfoundland governance for the British migrants who came to the colony, as well as for the Beothuk people who did not survive the period of naval rule. Bannister examines how accused persons gender and religion shaped their encounters with the courts and how those convicted were dealt with in a colony with no houses of correction. A decidedly revisionist and provocative study, The Rule of the Admirals is scrupulously documented. Based on exhaustive research in nine archives, Bannister's study draws upon some rarely-consulted primary sources, and explains their complexities for future researchers. In sum, Bannister's book not only forces us to rethink the history of Newfoundland as little more than just a great ship moored off the coast of Newfoundland, it also contributes to British Imperial history and the history of the pre-industrial colonial state.

Honourable Mentions:

Terry Crowley, Marriage of Minds: Isabel and Oscar Skelton Reinventing Canada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003)

For nearly half a century, Isabel and Oscar Skelton shared a marriage, a family, and a passion for the Canadian nation. Terry Crowleys Marriage of Minds captures the lives and work of this dynamic couple, weaving between the highly visible career of Oscar Skelton university professor, author and leading civil servant and political advisor to prime ministers King and Bennett -- and the more private life work of Isabel -- author, historian, and literary critic. Marriage of Minds demonstrates that, while these two eminently capable people shared a common vision for an independent Canada, they did not share a level playing field, with Isabel's career and desires often subordinated to those of her Mandarin husband. While Oscar benefitted from the opportunities in public service being made available to men in the early twentieth century, responsibilities for their children and household fell disproportionately upon Isabel, who struggled to complete her writing projects or feel comfortable as the Mandarins Consort. In teasing out the personal and professional tensions the couple faced, Crowley does a wonderful job marrying Canadas political history with that of gender, sexuality and the family. In crafting his arguments, Crowley makes excellent use of the Skeltons correspondence, their published works and government documents, making Marriage of Minds a lively and compelling read.

Suzanne Morton. At Odds: Gambling and Canadians, 1919-1969. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003)

At Odds: Gambling and Canadians, 1919-1969 is a pioneering foray into the fascinating history of Canadian gambling. Author Suzanne Morton, herself ambivalent about the pleasures and dangers of gambling, canvasses a fifty-year period when the Canadian state and Canadian society were divided about the virtues and vices of this sometimes elegant, but frequently tawdry activity. Acknowledging that gamblers such as bookmakers were notorious for never writing anything down, flushing evidence down the toilet, or using flash paper which ignited at the touch of a match, Morton nonetheless teases out a rich body of primary evidence pertaining to the range of gambling in which Ca

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