Law and Justice in a New Land: Essays in Western Canadian Legal History


379 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-459-38110-5





Edited by Louis A. Knafla
Reviewed by Trevor S. Raymond

Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.


This is not a book for the curious general reader to place alongside such popular accounts of western Canadian legal history as James Gray’s Booze (Toronto, 1972), or Red Lights on the Prairies (Toronto, 1971), although these are among the nearly 350 works listed in the “Bibliography of the Legal History of Western Canada” with which this volume concludes. The extensive bibliography was prepared by one of the 13 contributors to this collection of essays, which had its genesis in a 1984 conference at the University of Calgary.

These are scholarly papers, meticulously documented, with about 1200 footnotes and some statistical tables. (Are statistical studies really necessary to prove the obvious? “Female Crime in Calgary, 1914-1941,” for example, concludes: “The figures also reveal that when women have economic opportunities outside the home, they are less likely to sell their bodies to make a living.”) Some conclusions challenge accepted impressions; one thinks of Albertans suffering as badly as any, if not worse than many, during the Depression, but P. Solenik’s analysis of urban relief in that province during those years concludes that Alberta “provided most urban residents of the province with sufficient resources to cope comfortably with unemployment in the 1930’s.”

The essays concentrate on three areas: the control of vice, frontier justice, and Native rights. They provide excellent background to land claim dilemmas, beginning with the frustrating fact that “it is a very awkward situtation to have a constitutional provision regarding aboriginal rights, which is the supreme law of the country, yet nobody can tell us what it means.” These essays are replete with case references and precedents that are not always explained. The St. Catherine’s Milling case, for example, is cited many times by four authors, but the reader is never told case specifics. (Happily, D.B. Smith, of the University of Calgary, has published an account of the case and what it meant to native land claims in The Beaver, February/March, 1987.)

Readers prepared for some exhaustive studies of the law will be rewarded with valuable insights into Western Canadian legal history. One hopes that many will be inspired to research further, for, as one contributor notes, Canadian legal history has only recently become “a focus of legitimate scholarly study and speculation.” Before us, he writes, are “vast tracts of undisturbed land.”


“Law and Justice in a New Land: Essays in Western Canadian Legal History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024,