Professional Gentlemen: The Professions in Nineteenth-Century Ontario


505 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7580-0
DDC 331.7'12'09713




Reviewed by George A. Rawlyk

George A. Rawlyk is a history professor at Queen’s University, the
author of Champions of the Truth: Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the
Maritime Baptists, and co-editor of Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in
Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United State


This is a boldly conceived, wide-ranging, and ground-breaking study. The
authors begin by discussing critically what Upper Canadians actually
meant when they used the word “profession” in the early Victorian
period. Special emphasis is placed on the three traditional
professions—lawyers, doctors, and ministers—particularly those in
the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations. The authors
perceptively examine the ways in which the desire for status and income
affected state formation at a critical stage of Ontario development.
Furthermore, they persuasively show why and how the professions
successfully protected their interests during the first decade following

Despite the concentrated efforts of the three traditional professional
groups and emerging new ones to protect their largely selfish interests,
by the end of the 19th century, economic factors and a deeply rooted
populism had combined to seriously threaten the position of the
professional male elite. This very complex story is confidently told in
this sophisticated volume.

Professional Gentlemen is not only a superb work of social and
administrative history, it is also a disconcerting book. It underscores
the fact that so-called professionals are eager to use the most
altruistic arguments to justify basically selfish motives. Alas, things
have not changed much in the 1990s.


Gidney, R.D., and W.P.J. Millar., “Professional Gentlemen: The Professions in Nineteenth-Century Ontario,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,