Building Beyond the Homestead: Rural History on the Prairies


235 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-919813-07-0




Edited by David C. Jones and Ian MacPherson
Reviewed by T.D. Regehr

T.D. Regehr is a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan and
author of The Beauharnois Scandal: A Story of Entrepreneurship and


Canadian mural and agricultural history has not been particularly well served by academics in the recent past. The rather colourful economic and political farm protests of the 1920s, the economic, geographic and social disasters of the 1930s, and the ensuing political eccentricities have certainly been examined and chronicled. A strong and enduring interpretive model or conceptual framework has been developed. The National Polity and the Wheat Economy is not only the title of V.C. Fowke’s influential book. It is the unifying theme around which most academic prairie agricultural history has been written.

In the 1960s and 1970s popular and social historians like James H. Gray protested that young pioneers, most male, did not merely go to town on Saturday nights to debate the iniquities of CPR freight rates, or to denounce the evils of the tariff. Booze and prostitutes, and the wild enthusiasms and excesses of a boom and bust economy, were the material of new social histories. Many of these, however, were based on recollections or anecdotal material rather than extensive scholarly research.

More recently younger, well-trained academics have begun to reassess and reinterpret the rural and agricultural past. In February of 1984 many of these younger scholars presented their findings to “The Forgotten Majority: A Conference in Canadian Rural History,” held at the University of Victoria. These papers, sometimes amended, are presented in this volume.

This conference and the papers were multi-disciplinary. Geographers, sociologists, educators, and historians contributed papers on subjects as diverse as the Junior Red Cross Movement, women’s perceptions of marriage, the problems of farm laborers, and the disastrous “partnership” between farmers and the financial interests. Considering the fact that political economists dominated earlier rural and agricultural historical writing, it is noteworthy that no economist or political scientist contributed an essay to this volume.

These essays do not offer comprehensive new interpretations of rural and agricultural history. Nor do they seriously challenge or undermine the broader conceptual framework of the political economists. Rather, they offer new and interesting perspectives, using different sources and methodologies, thereby enriching and expanding but not radically altering our understanding of the rural and agricultural experience on the prairies.

The scholarly research and writing, despite some variations, is meticulous and sound. Many of the papers report on work in progress, indicating the topics and approaches of current scholarly research. Those eager to remain informed about the latest developments in this important and long-neglected area of study will be delighted. New, interesting, and rigorous work on “The Forgotten Majority” has reached the publication stage.


“Building Beyond the Homestead: Rural History on the Prairies,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,