Building a Province: 60 Alberta Lives


215 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 1-894004-53-1
DDC 971.23'009'9





Reviewed by Michael Payne

Michael Payne is head of the Research and Publications Program at the
Historic Sites and Archives Service, Alberta Community Development, and
the co-author of A Narrative History of Fort Dunvegan.


This book is a compilation of 60 short biographies of deceased
Albertans. There is no particular organizing principle or connection
between Brennan’s subjects other than an association with Alberta, and
the author’s contention that none of them were pessimists. Brennan
notes that Alberta’s first premier, Alexander Cameron Rutherford, once
stated that there were no pessimists in Alberta since “a pessimist
could not succeed.” Given this starting point, readers will not be
surprised that the resulting biographies are generally upbeat and
positive—and contain no startling revelations of a muckraking nature.

Brennan’s list of subjects includes some familiar names from
politics, business, sports, and cultural pursuits. However, much of the
appeal of the book is his selection of lesser-known but still
interesting characters, such as the restaurant owner Jean Hoare, the
museum curator Helen Collinson, and the musician Clarence (“Big”)
Miller. Even Brennan’s more dubious characters, who include the
hard-drinking and vastly cynical Bob Edwards of Calgary Eye Opener fame,
imposters Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance and George DuPre, and stock
promoter David Walsh of the Bre-X scandal, come across as essentially
genial rogues.

Many of Brennan’s subjects have been profiled elsewhere, and a few
have been given much lengthier biographical treatment in books or
articles. Building a Province, however, serves to popularize their
stories and to remind readers that there is more to Alberta than oil
companies, cowboys, and West Edmonton Mall.


Brennan, Brian., “Building a Province: 60 Alberta Lives,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 13, 2024,