CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
Propped upright in his sleeping berth, he stared out the window at mile after mile of snow- shrouded forests looming like ghosts in the darkness
He was facing his greatest fear, the fear that his beloved Canada might be pulled apart by political factions. Never had anything been so threatening to Canadian unity as this issue about wartime conscription. And now his worst nightmare had become reality: the election results had slashed Canada into two separate, hostile sections.
In one brief day, the work of his lifetime had been destroyed. Questions echoed in his mind to the rattle of the train's wheels on the rails. Had it all been a wasted effort? Should he have stayed out of politics?
The train neared a crossing and let out a long, shrill whistle that cut through the stillness of the night. Sir Wilfrid turned his head restlessly against the pillow and closed his eyes. No! It had been his duty his passion to struggle to keep that pledge he had made for Canada so long ago " (p. 3)
Wilfrid Laurier provides yet another excellent addition to "The Quest Library" of XYZ Publishing. Like the other very useful volumes in the series, Wilfrid Laurier simultaneously presents a balanced and intimate portrait of a significant Canadian, along with a comprehensive overview of the times and events thorough which the person lived. Given its inherent interest, biography is a particularly effective way to present history; and, in this case, the story, itself, is presented in an almost novel-like form which quickly engages the reader. The life of Canada's first francophone Prime Minister is set against some of the country's most tumultuous history, and against events which at times seemed ready to tear the young country apart. Among these were the Riel Rebellions, the Manitoba School Question, the Boer War, and the First World War and, with the latter, the issue of Conscription, which pushed French-speaking and English- speaking Canada to the brink of crisis. Against all of these pressures was another emerging threat: relations with the United States and that nation's aggressive economic and politics agenda. Laurier's unique position as the first Prime Minister from Quebec, coupled with his skills and stature as a politician and a statesman allowed him - at considerable personal cost - to play a pivotal role in helping the country find its way through that extremely difficult time. It was Laurier's claim that the Twentieth Century would belong to Canada. That claim may have been somewhat optimistic, but it is in no small measure a result of Laurier's own contribution that Canada, in fact, had a Twentieth Century. Laurier's political life spanned what was probably Canada's most important formative period; and the drama in which he played such a central role provides a critically important insight into what was to remain the basic Canadian political agenda from that point on. It is a tribute to the skill of the author, an accomplished history writer and teacher, that in the relatively short ambit of the book a balanced and coherent overview of a very complex period internationally as well as nationally can emerge. At the same time, the reader is provided with a fascinating glimpse into the world of Nineteenth Century Roman Catholic Quebec and the subsequent emergence of French Canadian nationalism under such leaders as Henri Bourassa.
Like the others in the series, the book is well illustrated (more of people than of events), and contains a useful bibliography and the trademark Chronology, where, in tabular form, the events of Laurier's life are set against parallel events in Canada and the rest of the world.
Wilfrid Laurier provides an excellent and eminently readable introduction to one of Canada's most important leaders and to, perhaps, the most significant period in the country's history.
Recently retired, Alexander Gregor was a professor of the history of education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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