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Bruce Curtis


The CHA Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History Prize


Bruce CurtisThe Politics of Population. State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1875. University of Toronto Press, 2001.
This is a fascinating study on the social and political aspects of the Canada census, both before and after Confederation. It balances history as both theory and practice, from the local census takers random observations, to a national examination of Canadian political elites and their drive toward state formation, to the emerging international field of statistical science. As well, Curtis is acutely aware of the most recent social science theories and of the contextual demands of postmodern scholarship. The author painstakingly traces the gradual evolution of the pre-Confederation manuscript censuses – so rich in local detail – into a statist manual of leading importance to the whole Dominion. Under the watchful eye of J.C. Taché, these statistic concerns were driven by scientific, nationalist, and religious goals, particularly during the pur sang census of 1871 which Curtis concludes allowed no one to be a Canadian for the ensuing century and a quarter. From these censuses, however, Curtis articulates a deep understanding of the political forces which sparked issues like representation by population, the abolition of seigneurial tenure, and the emergence of a federal system under the Act of Union and Confederation. Of comparable importance, the author also records the development in the 1860s of more scientific data-gathering techniques, particularly in the offices of the Auditor General and those of the Ministry of Agriculture and Statistics. Every historian, journalist, political analyst, sociologist, and demographer who relies on statistical information from the Canadian censuses will benefit from this wonderful exposition of how population is counted and how that count relates to state objectives and social policy. In the words of one juror: De ce point de vue, louvrage de Curtis risque de devenir un libre incontournable.

Honourable Mentions:
Laurel Sefton MacDowellRenegade Lawyer. The Life of J.L. Cohen. University of Toronto Press, 2001.
In Renegade Lawyer: The Life of J.L. Cohen, Laura Sefton MacDowell draws from an extensive list of primary and secondary sources to present a classic life and times biography, which elucidates the individual and the times brilliantly. She makes a convincing case that Cohen played a fundamental role in the evolution of Canadas industrial relations and labour law in the 1930s and 1940s. But this study, however, is more than a recognition of a forgotten but brilliant lawyers contribution to Canadian labour history; Sefton MacDowell brings to bear directly on her subject, her scholarly interest and expertise in left politics, the labour movement, ethnicity, and gender to produce an engaging biographical portrait of an individual who attempted, not always successfully, to overcome the economic, ethnic, political, and gender constraints that marked Canadian legal culture and Canadian society in general in the first half of the twentieth century. Clearly, as Sefton MacDowell demonstrates ably, the art of writing biography is alive and well in Canada.

Alan MacEachernNatural Selections. National Parks in Atlantic Canada, 1935-1970. McGill-Queens University Press, 2001.
Natural Selections is an innovative work woven around the fundamental nature/culture paradox, whose range extends beyond environmental history, well-described in the introduction. MacEachern reveals the context behind the creation of the national parks in the Atlantic region in relation to their predecessors in the West. He shows the complexity of the issues which are as much aesthetic as socio-political or ecological. He rightly singles out the problems of development and population displacement in relation to the construction of these natural enclaves, and also deals with the history of tourism and its effect on the evolution of the parks, including the underlying racial discrimination in the publicity campaigns and perpetrated by those in charge of some institutions. MacEachern continues his penetrating interpretation by dealing with contemporary themes linked to our perception of the environment, as well as presenting a colourful picture of Canada. In addition, this book contains some remarkable writing which brings a breath of fresh air to our national history.