The Collectors: A History of Canadian Customs and Excise
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Gerald J. Stortz is an assistant professor of history at St. Jerome’s
College, University of Waterloo.
Most students of Canadian history, no matter what their normal level of enthusiasm might be, would probably be less than excited by the news that an official history of Canadian Customs and Excise has been published. As even the author suggests in his opening sentence, historians who have examined this subject in any detail have generally been more partial to the smugglers than to the revenue agents trying to apprehend them. Thankfully, National Revenue’s choice of authors has ensured that the anticipated “yawner” did not materialize. Dave McIntosh, the author of two autobiographical works, is a former member of the Ottawa Press Gallery. In The Collectors, his journalistic experience shows. This is not to say that this work does not have the requisite trappings of an official history, including the story of customs collection from its ancient origins, long documentary appendices, and a tedious list of every customs station with the opening date. One would suspect that no government department would fund a history without such accoutrements. It is, however, to say that McIntosh avoids the sanitized departmental history approach and humanizes the characters involved. Through the use of personal interview and documentary research, McIntosh makes the characters come alive. A good example is the account of the reign of W.D. Euler, who was the minister during the 1920s. An assessment by his deputy and the inclusion of anecdotal material give the reader insight into the behavior of this often-ignored politician. The characterizations are even more pronounced when McIntosh deals with some of the more flamboyant characters from the various posts. The background setting of rum running, drug smuggling, etc., makes for anything but a dull scenario.
It has been an ongoing tragedy that administrative history has traditionally been ignored in Canada. When it has been tried, more often than not the product has been lifeless. Dave McIntosh has proved that it need not be that way.