The Clio Prizes
Béatrice Craig. Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists: The Rise of a Market Culture in Eastern Canada.
Béatrice Craig’s work on the Madawaska district and her explorations of economic life in rural communities are well-known for their sensitive explorations of domestic production, gender, inter-generational transmission of wealth, and other topics. These themes and others are fully explicated in Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists: The Rise of a Market Culture in Eastern Canada (UTP 2009). The book explores how “location, the nature of its resources, and its uncertain political status for most of the period under consideration resulted in the Madawaska Territory being part of three overlapping regions,” including New Brunswick, Lower Canada and New England (p. 16). Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists makes a significant contribution to the economic history of New Brunswick and to our collective understanding of colonial economies generally.
Craig’s analysis interweaves an excellent command of original source material with a robust and important historiography, resulting in a persuasive analysis that pays attention to the particularities of the Madawaska district, while situating this in a broader analysis of the development of capitalist trade patterns. Her conclusion that “the modern economy was not lurking in the wings, fully formed and ready to spring on the stage at the first opportunity” but rather was the result of a series of “actions of myriad individuals groping for solutions to problems whose causes they understood imperfectly” (p. 230) stands as a challenge to reinterpret economic development in colonial contexts.
Becki L. Ross. Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver.
Burlesque West is an engaging social history of the striptease entertainment industry in Vancouver in the decades following the Second World War. Based on extensive archival research as well as interviews with fifty ex-dancers, club-owners, musicians, choreographers, and booking agents, it brings to the forefront voices of the marginalized and much-maligned in a positive and empowering way. Ross emphasizes dancers’ self-conceptions of their work as a form of skilled athleticism without sugar-coating the difficult conditions on the job. Ross argues that Vancouver’s burlesque scene was important as a driving force in the development of local and tourist economies.
Ross effectively contrasts east-end and west-end striptease clubs and in so doing highlights ethnic and class distinctions that few scholars of Vancouver have explored. She makes a convincing case that striptease is a topic that belongs squarely within labour history, and this too is another of the book’s major contributions. However, Ross’s interviews with ex-dancers allowed her to consider them as far more than just workers dealing with degenerating conditions, workplace hazards, and stumbling blocks in efforts to unionize. Her study assesses commerce, sexuality, gender relations, ethnicity, and morality as complex and interconnected issues informing those women’s and club-owners’ lives. It deals with significant changes over time as shifts in performance styles and audience expectations resulted in what her interviewees seem to view as a “de-skilling” of the industry. As a highly original contribution to the historiography, this highly readable book is well deserving of the British Columbia regional Clio Award.
Liza Piper. The Industrial Transformation of Subarctic Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009.
We are pleased to award the Northern Clio Award to Liza Piper for her thoroughly researched, lucid, and insightful study The Industrial Transformation of Subarctic Canada. Piper’s work presents a rich account of human actors in the region – bureaucracts, corporate executives, engineers, mill workers, and native peoples – but her main focus is the environmental changes in the vast region surrounding the lakes of subarctic Canada, including Great Bear, Great Slave, Athabasca and Lake Winnipeg. From 1921 to 1960 the sub-Arctic became increasingly industrialized, with mining, fishing, and oil extraction carried out by companies like Eldorado, Cominco, Gunnar, Giant and Imperial Oil. Piper brings to this industrial transformation the finely-trained eye of an environmental historian, considering the dramatic ecological impacts of mine tailings, new transportation links, dammed rivers and fish kills, among other consequences of northern development. She also intertwines histories of the state, corporate North America, Aboriginal prospectors, fishers and workers, as well as outside labourers and professionals. The result is a rich tapestry of characters and events, brought together in a convergence that bore little resemblance to the previous world of the northern fur trade. Like all good environmental history, we are left to lament the destructive and disruptive intrusion of “progress” against the possibilities of a more sustainable treatment of the Lakes, but also to consider the resilience of Aboriginal peoples in the face of such changes, and the creative interaction between human labour and natural processes that produced industrial landscapes in the subarctic environment.
William Morrison started teaching at the University of Brandon in 1969 and has just retired after a forty-year career, culminating with several administrative positions that he has held at UNBC since 1991. As a scholar, he has distinguished himself as a “northernist,” continuing in the footsteps of his mentor Morris Zaslow. Morrison has carried the history of the Canadian north in innovative directions, encouraging historians not only to situate the north in a national framework but to understand development and identities in the context of northern communities and regions themselves. In many ways, his work has reshaped the field itself.
Morrison has published two books, Showing the Flag and True North: The Yukon and Northwest Territories, as well as thirteen monographs and many articles with Ken Coates. His latest co-authored book, Arctic Front: Defending Canada in the Far North, was awarded the prestigious 2009 Donner Prize for the best Canadian book on public policy. Morrison has stimulated interest in the north for undergraduate and graduate students alike, and has made a considerable contribution to the field. We look forward to his continuing contributions to our knowledge of the Canadian north from the comfort of retirement in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Sharon Wall. The Nurture of Nature: Childhood, Antimodernism, and Ontario Summer Camps, 1920-55. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009.
This engaging and accessible study examines the summer camp experience, primarily an Ontario phenomenon in Canada, which the author argues was an idea born of anti-modern impulses yet fundamentally rooted in modernism, as camp leaders attempted to order, control, and commodify “natural” landscapes. Wall studies elite private camps, camps run by agencies such as the Girl Guides, and fresh-air charity camps for the urban poor, considering the sometimes contradictory aims of camp leaders, parents, and children. She makes nuanced use of an extensive range of oral and documentary sources as she traces the tensions between competing cultural ideals. Building on earlier studies of wilderness, this book offers a number of valuable contributions to our understanding of modernism in Ontario, including ideas about childhood and youth, consumer culture, gender, leisure, class and race.
Royden Loewen and Gerald Friesen. Immigrants in Prairie Cities: Ethnic Diversity in Twentieth-Century Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.
This co-authored book breaks new ground, intertwining immigrant and ethnicity studies with those of place, and urban prairie places in particular, to offer a revised conceptualization of the prairie west. Organized chronologically, it emphasizes continuity and change though time, and links those circumstances to larger economic, cultural, social, and political shifts on regional, national, and even international scales. In this way, Friesen and Loewen show how immigrants to prairie cities negotiated their ethnic identities when faced with the dual features of nativism and community building. Friesen and Loewen explore a shift in cultural attitudes over the course of the twentieth century, partly due to changes in immigration policies, and the aftermath of international conflicts, but also due to changes in the internal rhythms of the cities themselves. Religious communities developed and anchored ethnic identities. Advancements in transportation and communication brought further changes to the layering of identities as individuals and families developed new “mental maps” locating their place of origin as well as their new communities in ways that allowed them to communicate with or even visit both with relative ease. After Diefenbaker, the unhyphenated Canadian became a mythical figure of the west, but as these authors show, high political policies were often out of sync with actions at the local level. Folk festivals flourished in the latter half of the century, and created caricatures of ethnic customs but also retained significant, if romanticized, links with “old county” traditions from a particular moment in time.
Éric Bédard. Les Réformistes. Une génération canadienne-française au milieu du XIXe siècle. Montréal : Boréal, 2009.
Éric Bédard’s piece constitutes a major work whose richness flows from its solid grounding in the present and the numerous, relevant questions it raises. This is an important work, especially through the new light it sheds on the leaders present during a still largely unknown period of Québec history, namely the years from the rebellions of 1837-38 through to Confederation. Among the members of this generation of reformers that played a significant role in the political and social life of the period, Éric Bédard studies the emblematic figures of Étienne Parent, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and George-Étienne Cartier. He also turns his attention to some lesser known figures, including Joseph-Édouard Cauchon and Antoine Gérin-Lajoie. Approximately 10 men made up this “nébuleuse réformiste” (nebula of reformers) who guided the decisions made on behalf of the French-Canadian nation (p. 15).An exemplary and crystal-clear introduction is followed by six chapters dissecting the political, economic, social, religious and nationalist facets of reformist thinking. The argumentation is solid and well documented and makes an original contribution to the debate on Québec modernity, which the reformers appear to reflect. From the historiography perspective, the author shows his pragmatic side, taking clear positions on several issues, notwithstanding the views of authors having preceded him. Through the incisive style and the clarity of the ideas expressed in the work, Les Réformistes moves the current re-evaluation of the political and national history of Québec a significant step forward.