The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History


491 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0553-5
DDC 971.5'02




Reviewed by Olaf Uwe Janzen

Olaf Uwe Janzen is an associate professor of history at Sir Wilfred
Grenfell College at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.


This collection of 16 essays offers a synthesis of current research on
the Atlantic region; the most recent general history of the region, W.S.
MacNutt’s The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society,
1712-1857, is now 30 years old and showing its age. Rigid timeframes are
avoided for the material before the 19th century, and while the closing
period is covered in a more conventional decade-by-decade approach, a
number of themes provide continuity. Economic and social history
predominates over political and constitutional history, reflecting the
changing direction of Canadian history as well as marking the greatest
departure from MacNutt’s work. Not unexpectedly in this kind of team
effort, some material is covered more than once and interpretive
differences appear more than once. Nevertheless, the overall narrative
reads quite well and maintains a surprising degree of interpretive
unity. This surely is to the credit of the editor.

The essays are divided into three sections of roughly equal length. In
“Cultures and Coexistence to 1720,” five essays all emphasize that a
precarious French and English foothold in the region, and the gradual
emergence of distinct and relatively autonomous European societies, was
made possible through an accommodation with indigenous cultures. Only in
the closing years of the 17th century did imperial concerns begin to
impinge significantly upon those societies. In “The Encounter with
Imperial Militarism, 1720-1820,” six essays explore the complex social
and political fabric of Atlantic colonial societies as they struggled to
become more established and were increasingly plugged in to an
international market economy. Yet this complexity also made the region
less resilient and more vulnerable to the military and diplomatic events
of the North Atlantic. The five essays in “The Consolidation of
Colonial Society, 1820-1867” cover a period of considerable social and
economic change, sometimes welcomed, often accompanied by dislocation
and tensions. The ensuing patterns of political empowerment and
constitutional responses were seemingly very similar throughout the
region. Yet as the book comes to a close, two of the colonies
participate in the confederation of British North America, while two do

Individual contributors are not always successful at discussing areas
outside their particular expertise. For instance, 18th-century
Newfoundland is either ignored completely or, with few exceptions,
treated superficially or inaccurately. Nevertheless, assigning each
essay to a specialist gives authority to the collection as a whole, and
I have little doubt that The Atlantic Region to Confederation will
become the standard text on its subject for many years to come.


Buckner, Phillip A., and John G. Reid., “The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 18, 2024,