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Innis Essays In Canadian Economic History

At the time of its publication in 1930, The Fur Trade in Canada challenged and inspired scholars, historians, and economists. Now, almost seventy years later, Harold Innis's fundamental reinterpretation of Canadian history continues to exert a magnetic influence.

Innis has long been regarded as one of Canada's foremost historians, and in The Fur Trade in Canada he presents several histories in one: social history through the clash between colonial and aboriginal cultures; economic history in the development of the West as a result of Eastern colonial and European needs; and transportation history in the case of the displacement of the canoe by the York boat. Political history appears in Innis's examination of the nature of French-British rivalry and the American Revolution; and business history is represented in his detailed account of the Hudson's Bay and Northwest Companies and the industry that played so vital a role in the expansion of Canada.

In his introduction to this new edition, Arthur J. Ray argues that The Fur Trade in Canada is the most definitive economic history and geography of the country ever produced. Innis's revolutionary conclusion - that Canada was created because of its geography, not in spite of it - is a captivating idea but also an enigmatic proposition in light of the powerful decentralizing forces that threaten the nation today. Ray presents the history of the book and concludes that "Innis's great book remains essential reading for the study of Canada."

828 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL REVIEW spending thelastfifteen years ofhislife(1892-1907) asanIrishNationalist, although crossing theAtlantic •requently onlegalaswellaspolitical business. OtherCanadians haveentered British political life: LordBeaverbrook for one, Bonar Law(born, if notlong resident, in Canada) foranother. Bothmen occupied a larger placethanBlake, whocame totheBritish House of Commons relatively latein life.A political training in nineteenth-century Ottawa, letalone what may have been asort ofcrippling masochism, scarcely equipped him to fill Parnell's shoes--a rolewhichMissBanksseems to thinkhe might haveplayed. Nonetheless onemustagree withherthatBlake's services to the Irishparliamentary partywereimportant: he saved it fromfinancial bankruptcy; heacted asitsexpert onconstitutional andfinancial matters; and hegavevaluable andvalued advice tohisIrishcolleagues. These things MissBanks tellsin a straightforward fashion. It is to be regretted, however, that her stylesuffers in two respects: first,a minor although irritating oneof offering information appropriate to the perverse ritualof doctoral examinations, such asdescribing CecilRhodes as"theinternationally known English mining magnate" (p. 248); andsecond, a major onetowhich Yeats once pointed in theworkof a friend, thelackofa "living voice." Theresult ofthelatterdeficiency isthatIrishpolitics andpoliticians, andalasBlakehimself, remainshadowy andunreal.It is, however, easier to makethiscriticism thanto explain the behaviour of soenigmatic a man. DAVID SPRING The•ohns Hopldns University Essays inCanadian Economic History. ByH,•ROL• A.INNIS. Edited byM,•x•Y Q.IN•aS. Toronto: University ofToronto Press. 1956. Pp.viii,418.$8.50. TH•svolumeconsists of a selection fromwhat Professor S. D. Clarkin the Foreword calls thescattered writings of thelateDeanInnisin Canadian economic history andisintended asa companion volume toTheFurTrade in Canada andThe CodFisheries. AsProfessor Clarkpoints out,a scholar seeking tounderstand Innis's interpretation ofCanadian economic histor• can notstop short of reading thescattered writings. It should bepo•ntec• out, ,½ ,, ß however, thattheterm scattered requires some qualification. Nofewer than eight ofthetwenty-eight essays aretaken from books byInnis published in hislifetime--one fromProblems o• Staple Production in Canada, sixfrom Political Economy in theModern State, andonefromChanging Concepts o• Time. Asheread these essays, thereviewer became conscious ofa great deal of repetition andofa hardening conviction thatthelongest wayround isnot always theshortest way home. It isamatter ofregret, forexample, that Innis didnotmakemoreobvious thefactthathehadnotlostsightof hissubject inthemiddle reaches of thelongessay "Liquidity Preference asa Factor in Industrial Development." Butit isbecause ofthese features, notin spite of them, thatthedesirability arises of making thewhole corpus of Innis's' writings readily available. Therepetition isnever mere repetition. Asthe years goby,wefindInnis handling withincreasing confidence anddexterity themany complex dynamic relations hehimself discovered. Thecryptic state- REVIEWS OF BOOKS 89,9 ment, the ellipticalargument, the elusiveconnection betweenjuxtaposed facts, havealways beenmajorstumbling blocks to anunderstanding of Innis. But with Innisthe priceof understanding is perseverance. As the themes recurmanyof thegapsarefilled,themeaning oftenclarified. It is not an accident(to usea phrasethat recursin theseessays) that Professor Innis, whobegan by appreciating ther61e of transportation andits implications for government control in Canadian history, should in the final phases ofhisdevelopment asa thinker beabsorbed withtheproblems of the control of timeandspace andof finding in communications the dynamic of change. In 199.9 he tookthefactthatVeblenhadbegun to popularize his workasa signthatVeblen's workwaspractically complete. UnlikeVeblen, Innisdidnotliveto complete hisworkbuthedidcomplete thatportion of it withwhichthese essays areconcerned--that of providing Canadian history witha firmeconomic Dackbone. Hedidnotgetaround topopularizing even thiscompleted portion, andit is doubtful whether he wouldhavesucceeded if hehadtried."Pitching low"washisphrase forit andhenever wasvery good at it. Butthereareessays in thisvolume whichshow howwelland tellingly he could write,evenhowsprightly he couldbe. In oneof them, "Economic Trends in Canadian-American Relations," an address givenat theUniversity ofMaine in 1958(which does notseem tohave been previously published), hedealt with"TheSiamese twinrelationship between Canada and theUnited States--a very small twinandavery large one, tobeexact." This isthekindofthing hewasmore frequently doing before hisvoice became silent too soon. Dalhousie University ]'. H. AITCHISON Studia Varia:Royal Society ofCanada, Literary andScienti•c Papers. Edited byE.G. D. Mvsm•,•, F.R.S.C. Toronto'. University of Toronto Press. 1957. Pp.viii, 127.$4.00. T•-m purpose ofthisvolume istogivea widercurrency to a number ofpapers on generalized topicsthan wouldbe possible throughpublication in the annualTransactions of the RoyalSociety of Canada. Tha hopeis expressed that theywill havea stimulating effecton the thoughtof this countryand thattheywill "stirscholars to writemorefreely."Astheformatof thevolume isattractive, andasthequality oftheeleven articles contained init isgenerally high,thereseems to be noreason whythisaim should notbe achieved. Nine of themwerepresented to theannualmeeting in Montrealin 1956,andtwo wereespecially writtenby invitation of the editor.Professor Desmond Pacey givesan admirable account of the threewavesof literaryactivitywhichhe discerns in thedevelopment...