Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Canada in 19 Volumes

Feb 18, 2020

The other day I was leafing through a copy of Arduous Destiny by P.B. Waite in search of a factoid when the pages fell apart in my hands. No surprise, I guess. My edition of Waite's book dates to 1978 and has followed me from Ottawa, where it was purchased, to Montreal and across the country to North Vancouver. Forty-two years later it doesn't owe me anything.

Arduous Destiny was published as part of The Canadian Centenary Series, an ambitious multi-volume, multi-author history of Canada cooked up by the legendary publisher Jack McClelland in the mid-1950s. The original intention was to complete the series in time for the 1967 centennial, but as things worked out the last volume did not appear until twenty years later.

My set of ten titles, pictured above, constitutes only part of the set. There were 19 in total, all written by leading academic historians. They are of varying quality. Donald Creighton's biographer, Donald Wright, calls Creighton's contribution, The Forked Road: Canada 1939-1957, "an awful book." On the other hand I return regularly to Waite's book, which covers the period 1874-1896, and also to the volumes by R.C. Brown and Ramsay Cook on the early 20th century and by John Herd Thompson (with Allen Seager) on the interwar period.

For anyone interested, the set is now available in e-book format from Penguin Random House.