Laurier: The First Canadian


663 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7715-9567-0
DDC 971




Reviewed by J.L. Granatstein

J.L. Granatstein is a history professor at York University and author of
War and Peacekeeping and For Better or For Worse.


Joseph Schull was a very successful writer of popular history when he died in 1980. His books on the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II, on the troubled politician Edward Blake, and on the 1837 Rebellion made him well known and highly regarded. His biography of Laurier, published in 1965 and now reprinted without alteration, was similarly hailed at its appearance.

Whether the publishers made a wise decision in reprinting from the original plates without corrections and additions to take account of new evidence and interpretation, however, is arguable. In the almost quarter century since Schull wrote, dozens of scholars have looked at Laurier and at aspects of his era. There have been theses and books on Quebec politics, on railways, on French-English conflict — indeed, on every aspect of the Laurier era. How, for example, could a biography of Laurier be written today without taking into account the two-volume biography of Sir Robert Borden, the old chief’s main adversary?

The effect of this failure to update the book is that Schull’s study remains frozen in time. As such, it can still be read for pleasure as a well-written popular account of one of the greatest of all Canadians, “The First Canadian,” as Schull describes him. But no one who uses this book for research or in the hope of finding out what current scholarship has to say should do so with any illusions. Laurier, The First Canadian is not definitive and not up-to-date.



Schull, Joseph, “Laurier: The First Canadian,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,