Debut author Gibbs offers a comprehensive and charmingly personal history of the Canadian nation.
The author became enchanted by the Great White North when he moved there from the United Kingdom in his 20s to work for the Canadian Marconi electronics company in Montreal. As a tribute to the nation he fell in love with, he decided to write its history—not a dry, academic one, of which there are many, but one based on his own travels from coast to coast, during which he visited more than 200 sites of historical significance. The author divides Canada’s development into five “ages,” starting some 12,000 years ago with its aboriginal inhabitants, hunter-gatherers from Northern Asia and North America. (Later, during a discussion of the country’s geology, he describes what Alberta might have been like as much as 400 million years ago.) The second section sees the European settlement of Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1600s, and Gibbs focuses on the cod trade and the power struggle between England and France. He recounts explorer Samuel de Champlain’s desire to found a New France in North America in the third part, which takes place during the first third of the 17th century. Gibbs’ account of the fourth significant epochal shift revolves around the fur trade—particularly the rivalry between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, which he says is a key element to understanding the eventual settlement of Western Canada. Finally, the author describes the rebellion against British rule that ultimately led to the establishment of a confederation. Overall, Gibbs’ history is surprisingly rigorous given its quirky, idiosyncratic structure, in which the author seems just as enthusiastic to remember his travels with his wife as he is to delve into scholarly analysis. The prose is unfailingly lucid throughout, and Gibbs’ encyclopedic knowledge of Canada is matched only by his infectious adoration of it. This shows in the final section, for example, in which the author paints an edifying picture of the resentment and suspicion that so many Canadians directed toward the United States during the Canadian rebellions—a function not only of prior war, but of their fear of others commandeering their land.
An eccentric but accessible tour of a country’s fascinating past.