British Journal of Canadian Studies

Reviews

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2017), 30, (2), 249–274.

Abstract

Reviews Reviews Editor: Vivien Hughes Reviews History Guy Laforest, Eugénie Brouillet, Alain-G. Gagnon, and Yves Tanguay (eds), The Constitutions that Shaped Us: A Historical Anthology of Pre-1867 Canadian Constitutions (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), 376 pp. Cased. $100. ISBN 978-0-7735-4606-6. Paper. $39.95. ISBN 978-0-7735-4607-3. The title of this book is somewhat deceptive. It is not an anthology of constitutions in British North America before Confederation, but rather, a collection of excerpts from works by key historians from the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Accordingly, the readings gathered together here demonstrate the historiographical evolution of pre-Confederation constitutional and political history in Canada. Given the attention to the sesquicentennial of Confederation, this volume is a welcome guide for historians, legal scholars, and political scientists. The important purpose this book serves is to remind us that the history of the constitution in Canada was not created de novo with the enactment of the British North America Act in 1867. That date was not a ‘year zero’ in a revolution of constitutional order in what is now the federal Canadian state. To understand and study the history of the constitution in Canada requires a much wider lens, in which the Constitution Act, 1867 (as it is now known) forms but one milestone. The key advantage of this collection is that it brings together French- and Englishlanguage sources, which are rarely read together. While the sources contained in this volume vary in emphasis and tone, we see a common trajectory of constitutional growth emerge in the sources. A common thread in these constitutional histories is the focus on the transition from French to British rule, which is reflected in both English- and French-language sources. The ‘constitutions’ that form the foundations of these chapters are in most cases the Articles of Capitulation, the Royal Proclamation, the Quebec Act, the Constitution Act of 1791, and the Act of Union of 1840. It is notable that the scope of pre-Confederation constitutionalism covered by this collection is largely limited to present-day Ontario and Quebec. There is little mention of the pre-Confederation constitutional development of British colonies on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. This is more likely a reflection of the tendency of the historians included in this anthology to focus on central Canada, but the limited scope of their approach to Canada’s early constitutional history demands greater critical scrutiny. More problematic, however, is the guiding assumption in this volume that only written documents may be properly understood constitutions. They state clearly in the introduction that ‘the anthology deals only peripherally with the events leading up to the introduction of responsible government in 1848’ (p. 4). Yet the struggle for responsible government was perhaps one of the most significant aspects in the development of the British Journal of Canadian Studies, vol. 30, no. 2 https://doi.org/10.3828/bjcs.2017.14

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