Permeable Border: The Great Lakes Basin as Transnational Region, 1650–1990


298 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-216-8
DDC 977




Reviewed by John R. Abbott

John Abbott is a professor of history at Laurentian University’s Algoma University College. He is the co-author of The Border at Sault Ste Marie and The History of Fort St. Joseph.


The theme that connects this series of seven essays, written by three
historians and a geographer, is found in the subtitle. The four authors
(two American, one Canadian, and another an American of Canadian
descent) examine the processes by which the inhabitants of a
geographically united but politically divided region have arranged their
affairs and relationships in the pursuit of private and public

In “Trade, War, Migration, and Empire, 1650–1815,” John Bukowczyk
analyzes the causes and consequences of events that drew an
international boundary through the middle of an economically
interdependent region. Then, in an examination of “Migration,
Transportation, Capital and the State,” the same author attempts to
understand why increasingly powerful national states were unable to
exercise sovereign control over capital and labour flows across the
border, and the consequences of this between 1815 and 1890. Nora Faires
picks up the theme of migration from Ontario to the American Midwest in
the 19th and early 20th centuries. “Leaving the ‘Land of the Second
Chance,’” demonstrates the influence of personal interest in
promoting emigration, the attraction of burgeoning manufacturing centres
such as Detroit and Watertown for Ontario’s labouring class, and the
importance of family relationships in creating the reality of a
transnational community in the basin of the Great Lakes. David R. Smith
reveals that sophisticated transportation networks have to a
considerable extent transformed a region defined by the Lakes into one
that touches the edges of the continent, and permits the economic
influence of other regions to extend into the heart of the Great Lakes
basin. His “Structuring the Permeable Border, Channeling and
Regulating Cross-Border Traffic in Labor, Capital, and Goods” is
followed by Randy Widdis’s “Migration, Borderlands, and National
Identity: Directions for Research.” Widdis asks why the
Canadian–American border, a line of unparalleled length and consummate
importance, has attracted relatively little attention; why, in fact, no
school of northern borderlands history has emerged.

The academic and specialist nature of this collection suggests that
only those familiar with the history and geography of the Great Lakes
basin will find the assumptions, concepts, and literary style of this
volume comfortable. For them, however, this is a very important work. As
John Bukowczyk points out in the concluding essay, “Region, Border and
Nation,” the absence of a “concept of transnational economic region
has been a missing link in understanding the U.S.–Canada economic
relationship.” This collection begins to redress the neglect.


Bukowczyk, John J., et al., “Permeable Border: The Great Lakes Basin as Transnational Region, 1650–1990,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,