Canadian Papers in Rural History, Volume IV
Joe Cherwinski is a history professor at the Memorial University of
The unpretentious title of this volume describes its contents well. It is simply the latest in a series of collections of papers on aspects of rural history to appear in the last half dozen years or so. According to the editor, the ultimate intention is to arrive at a holistic portrait of the rural way of life. The thirteen contributions, the largest number to appear to date, reflect the degree of interest exhibited in the non-urban past by a variety of disciplines at various Canadian institutions.
The keynote paper, by two of the most important interpreters of Canada’s rural past, historians John Thompson of McGill and Ian MacPherson of Victoria, was originally presented to the Western Canadian Studies Conference several years ago. They describe, with the use of both literary and numerical sources, the process by which World War II pushed prairie Canadian agriculture toward greater rationalization through increased use of machinery, the flight of redundant population to the cities, and greater diversification.
The fourth paper, by Barry Gough, also concerns itself with efforts to overcome environmental problems and establish an economically viable agricultural industry, this time on Vancouver Island, by closely examining the activities of the London-based Hudson’s Bay Company, which operated Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company in the 1840s and 1850s. This is closely followed by Kenneth Kelly’s examination of changes in crop selection designed to improve commercial agriculture to the north of Calcutta, India, during the nineteenth century.
Kelly’s paper appears somewhat out of place, as do those by Gough and Thompson-MacPherson, because the remainder of the contributions concentrate on early Ontario, reflecting the fact that most of the work on rural life is being pursued at universities in that province. There economists, geographers, students of technology, archivists, and even lawyers demonstrate the variety of scholarly lights under which aspects of Canada’s rural past are being examined. However, their narrow, and even parochial, nature and their concern with sources and methodology as much as with content show that a broader synthesis is some distance off.