John W. Bennett, Seena B. Kohl. Settling the Canadian-American West, 1890-1915: Pioneer Adaptation and Community Building. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. xiii + 295 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8032-1254-1.
Reviewed by Wes Watters (Texas Christian University)
Published on H-PCAACA (June, 1996)
Canadian West: Turner Redivivus?
This work is an anthropological study, based to a large extent on personal reminiscences and local histories, which focuses on the settling of the Canadian-American West primarily during the period 1890-1915. The authors identify the Canadian-American West as synonymous with Paul Sharp's "Whoop-up Country"--an area that is only a small part of a larger area north and south of the international boundary including portions of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana on the U.S. side, and Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta on the Canadian side.
A primary theme of the work is that settlement on both sides was a strikingly similar "planned political, technological, and economic venture." The book does not ignore, however, the paramount importance of the individual settlers who, alone or as part of a group, transformed the area into communities, towns, counties, states, and provinces. The work examines the hardships of settlement, the roles of various groups such as families, singles, farmers, and women, and notes how the adaptive process was applied to settlement in the region. The authors cite, for example, the "intimate, friendly, face-to-face nature of social organization" in the region as a general theme found in the region's frontier communities. Lively stories of some of the more prominent individuals of the region, perhaps known only to the area's inhabitants, augment the work with an element of humor.
The work was intended to be an equal examination and comparison (as much as possible) of settlements on both sides of the border. The authors have succeeded in presenting a narrative relatively free from the choppy, back-and-forth style often found in comparative works. The use of biographical materials has allowed Bennett and Kohl to present a compelling story of individual and community development and adaptation throughout the region. The inclusion of a photographic portfolio and an extensive bibliography makes this work a valuable contribution to the scholarship of the field.
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Wes Watters. Review of Bennett, John W.; Kohl, Seena B., Settling the Canadian-American West, 1890-1915: Pioneer Adaptation and Community Building.
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