Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Stephen R. Bown's "Dominion"

Stephen R. Bown has written many books on the history of exploration, science, and ideas--including books on the medical mystery of scurvy, the Treaty of Tordesillas, the lives of Captain George Vancouver and of Roald Amundsen and a doomed Russian sea voyage. His books have been published in multiple English-speaking territories, translated into nine languages and shortlisted for many awards. He has won the BC Book Prize, the Alberta Book Award, the William Mills Prize for Polar Books. His book The Island of Blue Foxes, about Vitus Bering's voyage to Alaska, was shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. Born in Ottawa, he now live near Banff in the Canadian Rockies.

Bown applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dominion: The Railway and the Rise of Canada, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test is magic, at least for Dominion. I'm sure there would be other good pages but page 99 actually does capture the style and attitude of Dominion.

I'm a fairly irreverent writer of history. I appreciate the absurdity of many things that went on in the past - which were no less silly and annoying as people and their politics are today. Dominion is about the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway - an undertaking as ambitious, adventurous and corrupt as the construction of the Transcontinental Railway to the south in the US. It was a monumental undertaking that took over 15 years to complete and is often considered the defining nation-building enterprise that allowed for the existence of Canada as an independent nation that stretched from Montreal and Toronto to the Pacific, and was the foundation of the city of Vancouver which was a little nothing saw mill at the future railway's terminus. The great irony is that most of the railway's senior management from Cornelius Van Horne at the top, to Major A.B. Rogers the great and famous surveyor, to the respected engineering contractor Andrew Onderdonck (as well as much of the general workforce) were actually American citizens. Americans built the great Canadian railway.

Page 99 details a different irony: the absurdity of the choice of William McDougall as the new Lieutenant-Governor, who was sent out to lay claim to the western prairies for the new country of Canada in 1870. The first irony is that there was no way to get to this land without travelling through the U.S, which already had railroads west into Minnesota. The second is that he was probably the least suitable person to be chosen for the delicate job of a diplomat with the Metis people, as he was "a pompous and inflexible man chosen for his perceived ability to knock some sense into the 'wild' Metis and bring them to an acceptance of the new order." He was so infuriating and annoying toward them that he caused Louis Riel's Red River Rebellion and nearly Canada's loss of the territory to the U.S. How is it that, then as now, sometimes the most unsuitable candidates are appointed into senior government positions of authority? A recurring interest of mine.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen R. Bown's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Viking.

The Page 99 Test: White Eskimo.

My Book, The Movie: Island of the Blue Foxes.

The Page 99 Test: Island of the Blue Foxes.

--Marshal Zeringue