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Manitoba History: Review: John W. Chalmers, Laird of the West

by Morris Mott
University of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 6, Fall 1983

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Neither the publisher nor the author should feel proud of this poorly researched, badly written, uninteresting and uninformative biography of David Laird. This native Prince Edward Islander significantly influenced developments in the West during the years between the Pacific Scandal and the beginning of World War I—especially while performing his duties as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent General of Indian Affairs (1873-76), Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories (1876-81), and Indian Commissioner for the North West Territories, Manitoba and Keewatin (1898-1914). The volume contains an incredibly large number of typographical errors (for examples, see page 5 at line 28, page 95 at line 44, page 104 at line 16), many clumsy, ungrammatical or erroneously punctuated sentences (see, for examples, three of the sentences in the third full paragraph on page 2, and the first full sentence on page 104), several lengthy passages that include virtually irrelevant or useless information (for example, the passage that runs from pages 136 to 140, in which the kind of steamboats used in the West in the 1870s, along with the 1879 journey of Laird’s wife and family from Battleford to Winnipeg, are described), and a few factual inaccuracies (for example, on page 39 we are told that in the early 1870s the CPR “had been promised title to its right-of-way and every alternate section, each of six hundred and forty acres, for twenty-four miles on each side of its main line, or the equivalent elsewhere.”). For the most part, the book is written in very dull prose, and provides the reader with no clear impression of either Laird’s personality or his opinions about and influence on many important issues and events of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

David Laird
Source: Archives of Manitoba

To find interesting and valuable information on what kind of man David Laird was, on what his views were and why he held them (especially on aspects of Indian policy), and on what the consequences of some of his attitudes and decisions may have been, students of the West would be advised to skim through some of the many books, articles, and theses that mention Laird but do not dwell at length upon his career. [1] They should not spend either time or money on Laird of the West.


1. Among these are the following: Lewis Herbert Thomas, The Struggle for Responsible Government in the North-West Territories, 1870-97, second edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978); S. Raby, “Indian Treaty No. 5 and The Pas Agency, Saskatchewan, N.W.T.,” Saskatchewan History 25 (1972); John Leonard Taylor, “The Development of an Indian Policy for the Canadian North-West, 1869-79” (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Queen’s University, 1975); Raoul J. McKay, “A History of Indian Treaty Number Four and Government Policies in its Implementation, 1874-1905” (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Manitoba, 1973).

Page revised: 27 October 2012

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