Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: Review: Gregory P. Marchildon (editor), The Early Northwest

by Scott Stephen
Parks Canada, Winnipeg

Number 61, Fall 2009

The first in the History of the Prairie West Series, this volume reprints seventeen articles from Prairie Forum with an introduction by the editor. Gregory P. Marchildon is the Canada Research Chair in Public Policy and Economic History at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina. Being an expert on health care systems and public policy, he is not at first glance an obvious choice to edit this volume. However, he co-wrote (with Sid Robinson) Canoeing the Churchill: A Practical Guide to the Historic Voyageur Highway for the Canadian Plains Research Centre in 2002. His introduction tries to do no more than introduce the articles and tie them together: he does not attempt a broader historiographical discussion, for which he may be ill-equipped, but sets the stage clearly and concisely for the essays to follow.

The collected essays span almost the entire history of the Prairie Forum, from Doug Owram’s 1978 article on the Red River Resistance (vol. 3, no. 2) to pieces by James Daschuk on the environmental history of the northern plains and by Jonathon Anuik on missionary education of Aboriginal children, both appearing in 2006 (vol. 31, no. 1). The volume is divided into four sections: “Aboriginal History,” “The Fur Trade,” “Rupert’s Land and Red River,” and “Resistance and ‘Rebellion’.” Some of the articles reprinted here are no longer on the cutting edge of scholarship, but neither have they been entirely passed by.

One of the noteworthy articles in the collection is James Daschuk’s examination of Ted Binnema’s Common and Contested Ground, in which Daschuk both reviews a major contribution to the fields of Aboriginal and environmental history, but suggests a path forward for the latter. Also of interest to environmental historians is George Colpitts’ 1997 article on fur trade provisioning activities at Cumberland House in the late 1700s. Canadian business historians will appreciate the revival of a largely forgotten article by C. S. Mackinnon, “Some Logistics of Portage la Loche (Methy),” which looks in some detail at one of the key points in a trans-continental system of transportation, communication, and distribution. Alan McCullough’s study of how Parks Canada has approached and handled the momentous events of 1885 provides valuable insight into the history of heritage and of commemoration.

Perhaps the greatest question that arises from this volume is whether the genre itself is becoming a piece of history. As online scholarly databases expand access to such articles for both academics and the interested public, physical reprints like this seem increasingly unnecessary. The Preface declares that the intent of the History of the Prairie West Series is “to make available the very best of Prairie Forum to as broad an audience as possible” (p. vii), but I suspect that in the future this goal will be better accomplished digitally rather than physically. Nevertheless, this volume is a good addition to any library and should prove useful for classes in prairie history.

Page revised: 13 May 2016

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