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Manitoba History No. 89
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Manitoba History: Review: Paul-André Linteau, René Durocher and Jean-Claude Robert, translated by Robert Chodos, Quebec: A History 1867-1929

by Mary Beth Montcalm
University of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 9, Spring 1985

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.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Quebec: A History 1867-1929. Paul-Andre Linteau, Rene Durocher, Jean-Claude Robert, translated by Robert Chodos. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 1983. pp. xxii, 602. ill., tables, maps. ISBN 0-88862-604-5.

Quebec: A History 1867-1929 is a refreshing and welcome book. This readable translation, by Robert Chodos, of Linteau, Durocher and Robert’s Histoire du Quebec Contemporain: De la Confederation a la crise (1867-1929), which appeared in its original French version in 1979, provides English readers with an objective and comprehensive synthesis of Quebec’s history from Confederation to the beginning of the Great Depression. The work will probably prove useful, if only as a reference, even for those whose interest in Quebec history is secondary to an interest in broader Canadian history. It will also likely be helpful to anyone whose interest in Quebec is of a more contemporary vein, since it ably explores the foundations of modern Quebec society. Whatever the reason for interest might be, this book will provide a succinct yet essentially encompassing treatment of the relevant events during the 1867 to 1929 period.

Initially, the volume examines broad geographic and population patterns for the entire sixty year period in an integrated overview. Subsequently, it focuses on a number of themes at greater length by treating them in two different periods, 1867-1896 and 1896-1929. The major themes examined are the economy, society, politics, and culture and ideology. Within this organizational framework, topics such as the evolution of class structure, the status of women, the role of the church and the educational system, the development of state structures, federal-provincial relations, and major changes in the economy are treated in a cogent and analytical manner.

Quebec: A History 1867-1929 offers much that is commendable. Virtually all major themes in Quebec’s modern history are treated here and each chapter is accompanied by a bibliography which provides source material for further reading. There are photos, tables, and illustrations which are both interesting in themselves and illustrative of material contained in the text. Throughout the book, Linteau, Durocher and Robert treat controversial issues such as the Riel Affair and federal-provincial relations in an objective and scholarly manner. The book is unmarked by the defensiveness and polemical shortsightedness characteristic of some material on Quebec. Where historiographical lacunae exist, or where there are different schools of interpretation, the authors draw this to the reader’s attention and, for the most part, do not attempt to provide simplistic pictures where these would be unsupported by the current state of historical research.

While it would be inappropriate for a non-historian to attest to the accuracy of every detail of this text, the themes which are of interest and familiar to a political scientist appear ably treated. Indeed, the manner in which the authors frequently manage to address complex questions in a simultaneously condensed and nuanced manner is impressive. One example of this is the way in which the text challenges the somewhat simplistic portrayal of francophone Quebec, especially in the early part of the era being examined, as a monolithically traditional folk society thoroughly dominated by clerical conservatism. Linteau, Durocher and Robert argue to the contrary that, even in this period, Quebec’s ideological landscape contained diverse, if somewhat compatible, threads. Another area where the authors display an ability to be both nuanced and brief is in treating the relationship between class linkages and nationalism in the Quebec context (see p. 274 ff).

In some respects the weaknesses of the text are simply the obverse of its strengths. At times the book’s synthetic treatment of a theme or issue is so condensed that one wonders just how much an uninitiated reader will be able to absorb; yet, at the same time, the treatment is sufficiently cursory that a knowledgeable reader probably will not glean any substantially new insights. The Laurentian thesis of Canadian economic development, for example, is examined and dismissed in three pages. On a particular point of interest a given reader is likely to be left wishing for a more thorough discussion. The book provides a comprehensive overview of modern Quebec; it does not explore any theme in great depth. Perhaps this is inevitable in a work of synthesis.

At the risk of quibbling about apparently minor elements, one might point out a feature of this book which proved to be a source of frustration for this reader: footnotes are not provided in the text. While provision of these undoubtedly would have strained an already large volume, the overall format adopted makes very difficult the pursuit of matters which appear questionable or simply interesting. For example, on page 67 the text notes that “Ronald Rudin has shown that the large Montreal banks were not interested in the development of Quebec and preferred to invest in Ontario and the West.” There is no footnote supporting this assertion. Nor is there an entry in the appropriate chapter bibliography citing Rudin’s work. A search through the index affords no mention of Rudin. Only by examining each of the chapter bibliographies in turn does an interested reader uncover mention of Rudin’s work, and then it is in conjunction with discussion contained in a subsequent chapter. Material is routinely provided within the text without indication of its source and, unless one is willing to begin the unenviable task of reading through the entire texts of all bibliographic entries pertaining to the chapter in question, one is left to accept statistical data, the asserted existence of broad trends, and interpretive statements solely on the authority of the authors. The work provides little assistance in exploring specific points.

Despite some shortcomings, Quebec: A Historic 1869-1929, the first of a two-volume history of modern Quebec, will find its way to the bookshelves of many Canadian historians and social scientists. One can only hope that the second volume in this work is marked by the qualities of synthesis evident in the first, and that the eventual English translation reads as smoothly as does Robert Chodos’ translation in this present volume.

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