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Catholics in English - Canada A popular history.

Murray Nicolson, Catholics in English - Canada A popular history, Vol. 1: 1790-1900. Ave maria Press, Toronto, ON, 2000, 154 pages, Illus., $20 (Cdn.).

Murray Nicolson's series of articles, gathered together into a book bearing the title Catholics in English Canada, a popular history, volume I: 1790-1900, leaves the reader quite unsatisfied; that is to say, one wants to read more. Just as it is a healthy eating practice to get up from the table a little bit hungry, so perhaps here we English-speaking Catholics are being served a healthy diet in terms of our history because Nicolson has whetted our appetite and we want to know more about the historical evolution of the Catholic Church in English Canada.

The book opens with a foreword by the publisher/editor of Catholic Insight, Father Alphonse de Valk, c.s.b., which is a mini-thesis in itself on the meaning of history and the role of the historian. It is also a justification for the appearance of the present volume and sets the stage, if not the tone, for the drama that is to follow in the ensuing chapters, a drama one hopes will continue in a future volume. This reviewer found the statistics given for the archdiocese of Toronto in the Foreword of great interest, a sneak preview as it were of what volume two in the series will bring out. On the other hand, the contrast made with the archdiocese of Montreal, while undeniable and valuable, strikes one as somewhat invidious, the sort of attitude that has exacerbated "the two solitudes" theory over the years. How necessary is it in a study of the Catholic Church in English-speaking Canada?

The twelve chapters which make up this first volume sketch the main lines of a picture of English Catholics in Canada which will be completed in more detail as more research is done and more published work is made available beyond the halls of academe. This collection is a popular history, hence intended for the people at large. As such it has to be at once interesting, readable and informative in its content without leaving the reader overwhelmed by facts, figures and theories. Nicolson has succeeded in capturing enough of our Catholic history in Canada to provide the reader with a firm base on which to build up greater stores of knowledge. It was a daunting challenge to cover two and a half centuries of development over a vast territory stretching from St. John's in Newfoundland to Victoria on Vancouver Island, with so many ethnic groups involved, and to do so in twelve simple lessons. But Murray Nicolson has met the challenge admirably well and we are grateful to him for this new and fresh panoramic view o f our Church outside the borders of Quebec where popular history has long since been held in high repute.

Should the book be recommended for use in the schools, one might suggest a few additions or clarifications. For example, a bibliography taken from the reference notes and presented in a page or two at the end of the volume could be a help and an incentive to further reading. In the bibliography and in the text itself it would be more satisfying to be given the complete name of all individuals, where this is possible, rather than the surname with only an initial or two. Who is R.J. Uniake, or for that matter Bishop J.O. Plessis? Some expressions such as "post-Reformation nations states" could do with a brief explanation for readers not familiar with English or European history. Again, would present-day youth in Canada know what years are covered in "Victorian Toronto?" Occasionally the reader is left with a few questions that could be answered briefly. Why, for example, had "heavy luggage and supplies" to go to England first before being delivered to Western Canada? What precisely is the "shrine at Niagara"? A nd what brings about Bishop Charbonnel's sudden departure from his diocese? Chapter 10 could stand a paring down to eliminate unnecessary repetition.

It is unfortunate to point out these minor inconveniences to the reader. Let the author be assured that the intention is merely to help make a good thing better. Needless to say we hunger for more of our Canadian Catholic history and we look forward "with appetite" to the next volume in the series.

Kevin Kirley c.s.b., is archivist for theBasilian Fathers.

He graduated from the University of Toronto in Modern History and Modern Languages, and taught for many years in Canada, France and Colombia.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Kirley, Father Kevin
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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