The Metis in the Canadian West, Vol. II


729 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88864-098-6




Translated by George Woodcock
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.


This massive book, first published in France at the end of the Second World War, had a certain “cult” status among historians of the Canadian West. Originally a doctoral dissertation at the Université de Paris, Giraud’s book was an ethnographic study of the Métis, the people who had resulted from the matings of Indians and voyageurs and who were forced from their ancestral lands by the coming of white settlement. Until Giraud, every Canadian knew the story of the Riel Rebellions, but few knew how the origins of the Métis led to disaster by Louis Riel.

The University of Alberta Press hit upon George Woodcock, the greatest man of letters of our times, as the logical translator of Giraud’s book. Himself the author of a number of books on the West, Woodcock has taken Giraud’s prose and turned it into graceful English. The result, in two handsome volumes, is accessible at last.

But what is the significance of the result, 40 years and two generations of scholarship after the original? Woodcock himself opines only that Giraud revealed many details he had not known, but adds that his book remains the most thorough ethnographic and historical study. That is probably so, but because Giraud was more interested in the social history of the Métis, the treatment of the rebellions of 1870 and 1885 is very thin: moreover, the text peters out after 1885. What we have here, then, is a remarkable piece of scholarship that will be of use to specialists on early Western social history. If it is dated, if the terms describing Métis life sometimes seem harsh in our context, that is inevitable; Giraud’s work, and Woodcock’s splendid translation of it, stand as a major achievement in what we might call pre-history.



Giraud, Marcel, “The Metis in the Canadian West, Vol. II,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,