Ranchers' Legacy: Alberta Essays by Lewis G. Thomas
Gerald J. Stortz is an assistant professor of history at St. Jerome’s
College, University of Waterloo.
Western Canadian history is now a growth industry, but long before it became trendy, Albertan L.G. Thomas had begun researching this area. The author of four major books and numerous articles, and the winner of major historical awards, he can in many senses be considered a pioneer in the field. Patrick Dunae, historian of the Canadian West, is the editor of this collection.
This is a collection that is rich in historical data, interpretation, and anecdotes. Some of these essays have been published elsewhere, some given as speeches, and some have remained in Professor Thomas’s private files. This is a love story, and, as corny as that may sound, it is refreshing to read historical accounts with much academic merit that also reflect the unabashed bias of many local histories written by people whose talent could not even approach that of this author. This is particularly true of pieces dealing with the towns in the area where Thomas grew up. As valuable as these papers are as examples of the too-often neglected studies of small towns, there is much more to the book. Three pieces, “The Umbrella and the Mosaic,” “Associations and Communications,” and “History and Fiction,” would readily fit into any graduate course in intellectual history. If there is one weak paper (and there is always one in collections such as this), it is “Ranch Houses of the Alberta Foothills.” On the other hand the two strongest pieces are the first two in the volume, one dealing with the life of the rancher, the other with the relationship between the city of Calgary and cattlemen from the surrounding area. Both are taken from Thomas’s M.A. thesis and are testament to the valuable information that too often remains buried in such documents.
Unfortunately, while the University of Alberta Press is to be congratulated for having the good taste to include this volume in their reprint series, it is not likely to enjoy the wide readership that it deserves. At the regular price this is a book well worth buying; its somewhat inevitable fate on the remainder table will render it an incredible bargain.