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Jerry Bannister


The CHA Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History Prize


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 CrowleyMarriage 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 MortonAt 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 Canadians indulged: horses and cards, pinball and slots, raffles, bingo, lotteries and barbotte Canadians from every walk of life found a way to engage in games of chance. Because regulation of gambling occurred at the provincial and municipal levels, Morton focuses in on particular debates in particular regions, but this is a national study that concludes with a convincing appraisal of how gambling became imbricated in Canadas welfare state apparatus. An evocative social history, At Odds explores how race, ethnicity, gender, and class all shaped how Canadians gambled and who got caught doing so. Under Mortons clever scrutiny, organized crime, corrupt politicians and police on the take join working-class women at the Bingo hall and bachelor workers in Chinese Canadian communities. Efforts to regulate that diverse cast of characters exposed changing Canadian attitudes towards work, leisure, thrift, consumerism, religion, and chance.