Sketches from a Young Country: The Images of GRIP Magazine


275 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7646-7
DDC 971.05'02'07




Reviewed by Geoffrey Hayes

Geoff Hayes is Director, International Studies Option, University of


There are few better pictures of early Canada than those that sprang
from the pen of cartoonist J.W. Bengough. In the pages of his Toronto
weekly, Grip, Bengough lampooned the high and mighty from 1873 until he
left the magazine in the 1890s.

Carman Cumming begins this first-rate study by examining Bengough’s
artistic and political style. Bengough was no great artist, and he
borrowed heavily from the works of other cartoonists. Nevertheless, the
flavor of his sketches and satirical verse set the standard for the
1870s and 1880s. Grip’s attacks on Sir John A. Macdonald, his National
Policy, and his Tory party betrayed Bengough’s own Liberal leanings.
Bengough’s caricatures of the Tory PM made the cartoonist’s
reputation, and it is telling that Grip floundered soon after Macdonald

In chapters devoted to western expansion, race and creed, imperialism,
and social issues, Cumming carefully analyzes the complex social
messages behind the artist’s work. Bengough’s anti-Catholic and
racial bigotry loomed large, but so did his progressive views on
suffrage, prohibition, and a single tax. Bengough’s anti-capitalist
tirades owed something to his collaborator at Grip, T. Phillips
Thompson. The two stand in some contrast in Cumming’s view. While both
helped the magazine mature, Cumming credits Bengough with a greater
intellectual openness that better reflected the ferment of the time;
Thompson’s unmovable and increasingly radical message helped kill the

This book does much more than provide “a taste of the magazine’s
distinctive art and satire.” With more than 110 illustrations—each
with detailed captions—Cumming guides us through an impressive array
of material. The author’s easy style conveys much thoughtful
commentary on the politics and social ideas of Canada’s formative
years. At times Cumming may presume a bit too much about his reader’s
knowledge of Canadian history. Nevertheless, there are few better
pictures of the life and times of Grip magazine or of J.W. Bengough than
those provided by this important study.


Cumming, Carman., “Sketches from a Young Country: The Images of GRIP Magazine,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,