Manitoba History: Reflections on a Quarter Century
by Robert Coutts
Twenty-five years, fifty issues. As many of our readers know, Manitoba History began in 1980 under editor Dr. Jean Friesen. Her intent was to combine the Manitoba Historical Society’s long tradition of scholarly publishing, as represented by the Transactions series (which began publishing in 1882), with the more popular Manitoba Pageant, begun by the Society in 1956. I think her vision has succeeded. Over the last quarter century Manitoba History has brought its readers popular articles on a variety of topics, while maintaining what the eminent historian W. L. Morton (in describing the publication work of the MHS) called “the means and encouragement ... to pursue historical and scientific studies and attempt original work.”
Many of the articles published over the years in Manitoba History have made significant contributions to our understanding of Manitoba’s past and the province’s place within the larger Canadian reality. Some have been groundbreaking: the work of Ramsay Cook on Wesley College and the Social Gospel movement (No. 19, Spring 1990), James Waldram’s insights into the impact of hydroelectric development in northern Manitoba (No. 15, Spring 1988), and more recently, Don Nerbas’ analysis of wealth and privilege among the early elites of Winnipeg (No. 47, Spring/Summer 2004), are just a handful that come to mind.
Many topics have been covered in the pages of Manitoba History. Aboriginal history, women’s history, the history of the north, labour and capital, intellectual history, fur trade, and early Euro-Canadian settlement, have all been a focus of the journal over the last twenty-five years. And, as mentioned elsewhere in this issue (see the article by Michael Payne beginning on page 3), Transactions and Manitoba History have been publishing ethnocultural history “since well before anyone coined the term.” While we can be proud of our record in this area, it is important for Manitoba History to continue these ethnocultural initiatives by telling new stories, the stories of Manitoba’s most recent arrivals, for instance, Philippino immigration, or the Central and South American families who began emigrating to Winnipeg in the 1970s.
Many people have contributed to the success of Manitoba History over the last twenty-five years. First, a debt of gratitude is owed Jean Friesen; I hope her original vision of the journal has remained alive a quarter century later and that Manitoba History continues as a forum for ideas and storytelling. My long-time associate Morris Mott, who took over from Jean as editor, deserves applause for his dedication and hard work. Jim Blanchard, and before him John Kendle, Peter Bower, Nolan Reilly, Greg Thomas and Robert Robson, have all ably served as book review editors. Jim continues to provide our readers with the annual Manitoba Bibliography, a task he took over from Kay Gillespie who produced the Bibliography from the inception of the journal until 1995. I also want to thank former Gazette editor Rosemary Malaher; her enthusiasm and love of history was indeed infectious. On the production side, we have been fortunate to have worked with individuals such as Paul Burns, who did our layout for many years, and Ray Shaw of Shaw Printing, a true gentleman in the highly competitive world of printing. Most of all, however, I would like to thank the members of the Manitoba Historical Society who have supported publication of this journal over the last quarter century (both with their interest and with their cheque books).
In reflecting upon my own 19-year association with Manitoba History and the Manitoba Historical Society, many memories come to mind. Specific issues of the journal and certain articles stand out. Cover art has always interested me and I hope our readers have enjoyed these efforts as much as I had in putting them together.
But over the years some moments tend to rise above others. One of those moments came in the late winter of 1997 when I interviewed Evan Wales Morgan, then a ninety-nine-year old veteran of World War I who was originally from a farm near Swan River. Sitting in the living room of the personal care home where he then lived, Mr. Morgan, in his matter of fact way, related his exploits at the Battle of Passchendaele where he had been severely wounded. It was during the course of that interview (published in No. 33, Spring 1997) that something approaching a quiet epiphany occurred to me. Here I was talking to this heroic man who had participated in an event that seemed light years from the modern world. His eyes had once looked upon the blood and death and mud of that gruesome and long ago war – the images that survive today only in history texts and in grainy film footage. It is cliché to say that such moments can make history “come alive” but that is exactly what happened to me that day. And it is somehow comforting to know that after a number of years of writing and editing there are still some things that can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
I hope you enjoy this 25th anniversary issue of Manitoba History.
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