Canada's Department of External Affairs, Vol. 1: The Early Years, 1909-1946


440 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0751-5
DDC 354.71061




Reviewed by Barry M. Gough

Barry Morton Gough is a professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier


This long-awaited first volume of the official history of the Department
of External Affairs covers the department’s administrative growth from
its formation in 1909 through the major changes brought about by World
War II. This work is very much the record of the prime ministers of
Canada with respect to the fluctuations of international affairs, and
that is as it should be, for the premier is at the centre of national
policy direction, internal as well as external. This thorough work
contributes to an understanding of not only the Department of External
Affairs but also the Canadian government as a whole.

Hilliker begins with an explanation of the bureaucratic needs and
international realities that obliged Canada to develop its own bureau
for managing its affairs vis-а-vis Britain and the United States. He
then examines three distinct phases of the department’s development.
These three are characterized by three of the greatest mandarins of
“External”: Sir Joseph Pope, 1909–25; O.D. Skelton, who dominated
the 1920s and 1930s; and Norman Robertson, who succeeded Skelton and
took the department into a new realm of professionalism, particularly in
its foreign activities.

This book is based on all the best secondary sources and a thorough
review of the truly rich documentary sources of the department and the
Canadian government. The scholarship is of a very high level, and is a
tribute to the author, the publisher, and the Department of External
Affairs. This is official history at its finest, and the next volume is
eagerly anticipated. Doubtless it will be of equal value to students of
the history of Canadian government and diplomatic activity, and, more,
to the general public that is so anxious to determine what courses were
taken by its government in the past.


Hilliker, John., “Canada's Department of External Affairs, Vol. 1: The Early Years, 1909-1946,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,