On the Canadian Prairie


82 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-88977-024-7




Translated by Lloyd Person
Reviewed by W.H. Heick

W.H. Heick is a professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier University.


Dans Ia prairie canadienne/On the Canadian Prairie is an unique little book. It is the first two-language book this reviewer has read, other than a Canadian government publication, which has been reproduced in toto between one set of covers. Also, George Durocher, as editor, has provided an interesting work in the tradition of the Strickland sisters, but from the French side of our Canadian traditions. Gaston Giscard is a man with “get up and go” who got up and went, observed and did, and recorded his observations. André Lalonde provides an academic’s contextual setting of French immigration to Canada, 1806-1914. The book is hard to put down and is quickly read. It is of value to academics but also to anyone with a historical bent of mind.

Gaston Giscard was born in France and came to Canada in 1910, at the age of 23. He left Canada in 1914 at the outbreak of World War Phase I. He remained in France after the war to become a successful industrialist. The book uses Giscard’s letters to his mother as the basic historical source material, and the text keeps the chatty style of the letters. The story ends with the narration of the 1957 trip back to the Canadian West to note the tremendous changes that had occurred over the intervening half century. The final touches were added to the book by the editor, as Giscard died in a car accident in France in the midst of his work on the manuscript.

Giscard comes through as a man of great vitality. He had a sharp mind when it came to business opportunities, and he also had an excellent insight into human nature. The general pattern of experience is that of the immigrant: passage from France to the Canadian prairie, work at any available job to keep living, and homesteading. But Giscard’s life went beyond this routine. Not satisfied with his first homestead, he opted for a second. Not busy enough farming, he opened a general store on his land. Still not content, he sold all store stock, all farm machinery and household goods to move to Edmonton. There he became involved in real estate dealings and in attracting French and Belgian capital to Alberta. The war ended this activity. Though now a British subject, he returned in August 1914 to join the French army.

The book gives insights into the self-reliance required of immigrants as well as the urgent need to cooperate with neighbours to get the big tasks done. Giscard gives his views on the economic development of Saskatchewan and Alberta and on the interrelationship of European national immigrants with the Metis and Indians native to Canada. The social interaction on the frontier, for the support it provides in work and play, is stressed throughout Giscard’s narrative. One problem arises; the lapse of a half century has caused much of the pain and worry to be dissipated. A very rosy picture remains.


Giscard, Gaston, “On the Canadian Prairie,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38073.