Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West Through Women's History


420 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-177-3
DDC 305.4'09712




Edited by Sarah Carter et al
Reviewed by Margaret Kechnie

Margaret Kechnie is head of the Women’s Studies Program at Laurentian
University. She is the co-editor of Changing Lives: Women in Northern
Ontario, and the author of Organizing Rural Women: The Federating
Women's Institutes of Ontario, 1897–1919.


In the words of the editors, this collection of essays “draws a
connection between gender, place and the processes that shaped the
diversity of women’s experiences in the Canadian west.” The essays
were drawn from a 2002 University of Calgary conference that looked at
the history of Western Canada using gender as a category of historical
analysis. Fully aware that the ideas of “the west” is a cultural
construction, the conference heard from Canadian and American scholars
located in the Pacific Northwest, the Prairies, the North, and the Great

While the history of western and prairie women is a growing segment of
Canadian women’s history, our knowledge of the early west is still
dominated by the image of men—the cowboy, the Indian Chief, the
Mountie, the politician, and so on. In fact, what these articles reveal
is the complex lives of a diverse group of women who went to live in the
west. Some stayed; others were transient visitors. What the accounts
reveal is the way in which women’s experiences and gender as a
category of historical analysis can change the way we look at and think
about the attempts that were made in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries to impose white culture on western settlements.

Many of the articles are fascinating. Not only do they ask us to
rethink western history, dominated as it has been by the history of men,
but they also require us to rethink many aspects of what we thought we
knew about western women. For example, in her article on Henrietta Muir
Edwards and Aboriginal peoples, Patricia A. Roome argues that Edwards
was not the racist she is often accused of being. In fact, many of the
accounts deal with the respect that immigrant women or European
travellers had for Aboriginal culture and society.

Unsettled Pasts is an important contribution to Canadian women’s
history and is recommended for any such course of study.


“Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West Through Women's History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16690.