Colossal Canadian Failures 2: A Short History of Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.


192 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 978-1-55002-618-4
DDC 971





Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



Whether down on the farm or up in an airplane, at war or working in business, Canadians do stupid things. We’re probably not surprised to learn that our politicians and bureaucrats do even more stupid things. From the 1600s to the present day, we have had great success in achieving failure. From every province there are stories to illustrate our blunderings. Troops more dangerous to themselves than to the enemy. Top secret security files abandoned in a public phone booth. Gold mines that didn’t yield gold. Coal mines that undermined residential neighbourhoods. Police officers arresting police officers. From the comedy of errors of the Fenian raids in the 1860s to the excesses of the gun registry and computer leasing scandals in the 2000s, the book is an intriguing collection of Canadian errors and foul-ups.


The catalogue of failures includes ill-conceived government purchases and development schemes, business decisions with unfortunate public relations implications, grand plans abandoned, financial bungles by bureaucrats, equipment that didn’t measure up, ideas that should have worked but didn’t.


Many of the examples of “excess and folly” arise from the auditor-general’s annual reports. Others are gathered from news reports or historical records. All are presented with a blend of gentle cynicism and an underlying appreciation for the absurd.


The book is definitely a lightweight, skimpy on documentation of sources and missing an index. Nonetheless its informal style and appreciation for a good scandal gives it high marks for entertainment value.


Richmond, Randy, and Tom Villemaire., “Colossal Canadian Failures 2: A Short History of Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 18, 2024,