Riel to reform : a history of protest in western Canada

by George Melnyk
311 pages,
ISBN: 1895618002

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Brief Reviews
by Allan Casey

AFTER PLOUGHING through Riel to Reform (Fifth House, 311 pages, $16.95 paper), a litany of bad blood between the hinterland West and the rest of Canada, even Western federalists are sure to be riled anew, and their Central Canadian counterparts humbled. As the extensive bibliographies that conclude each chapter attest, the history of Western oppression has comprised many, many volumes over the years, and it is relatively recent scholarship on that vast body of writing that makes up the bulk of this book. As the editor, George Melnyk, points out in one of his many lucid introductions, "The West was not a partner in the original formation of Confederation ... its most famous political leader was an exiled rebel who was hung [sic] for treason." While Louis Riel managed to win a tiny fraction of presentday Manitoba by force, the real West and the Metis themselves were sold to the Dominion by a London fur company for $300,000 and an assortment of perks. Melnyk`s contributors examine the instruments of Western oppression: the Northwest Mounted Police (a "military occupational force"), the anti-regionalist National Policy ("that brilliant improvisation of Sir John A. Macdonald"), and the CPR ("the biggest slumlord in Canada"). They also discuss the often ineffective post-Riel malcontents and their rebel agrarian political parties: the United Farmers of Alberta, the Progressives, Social Credit, and the CCF/NDP. The closing chapters address Westerners` collective sense of constitutional rip-off, and take a fresh look at Preston Manning`s Reform Party. Regrettably, Riel to Reform won`t crackle to life for most lay readers until this section, when the narrative baton passes from the scholars to the journalists. This survey volume will probably be more useful to academic readers, even though it lacks an index.

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