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Manitoba History: Review: Ruban Bellan, Winnipeg's First Century: An Economic History

by P. H. Wichern Jr.
University of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 1, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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This book is actually an edited and updated version of Bellan's PhD dissertation, The Development of Winnipeg as a Metropolitan Centre. Anyone who is interested in studying this subject matter should consult the earlier version, as well as other more recent materials which unfortunately are not cited in either the book or thesis (e.g., Tony Kirz (ed.) Winnipeg 1874-1974). There are several reasons for this recommendation which say a great deal about the nature of this book.

The book has the same organization and much of the same text as the thesis. Each chapter treats a successive period of Winnipeg's economic history first in terms of the general context for Winnipeg growth, and then in terms of a survey of local changes in commerce, industry, population, construction, and property values. The book adds two additional chapters not in the thesis. These cover the period during the Second World War (nine pages), and the period from the Second World War to "the 1970s" (twenty-eight pages). The book's concluding chapter is simply a descriptive overview, unlike the analytical "conclusions" section in the thesis, which has been sacrificed to the updating. Unfortunately, this section pulled together the various strands of description into six major factors affecting Winnipeg's growth as a metropolis and hinterland. Thus, in spite of the similarities between thesis and book, the metropolis-hinterland focus of the thesis is lost in the "story telling" of the book.

Perhaps more important for students and scholars is the omission of a bibliography in the book, either that of the thesis, or an updated and expanded version. The latest bibliographical citation I found in the book was to a 1938 publication. In fact, the chapters which have been added in the book to cover the period 1939 to the present contain no footnotes or bibliographic citations at all! Some thesis references are excluded from the books abbreviated footnotes and citations. Furthermore, no literature at all is cited on such important events as the 1919 strike. This weakness makes one appreciate all the more the contribution of Alan Artibise in Winnipeg: An Illustrated History (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1977). This book not only has a broader scope—including social as well as economic facets of growth—but also contains an excellent and up-to-date bibliography. There is little that I find to quibble with in the text which is readable and reasonably accurate, and there is no doubt that this study should have been brought into print. One can only wish that the translation from thesis to book had improved, rather than reduced, its value to scholars as well as to the general public.

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