Being fairly new to New Brunswick (I moved here in 2008), I really didn’t know much about its history despite growing up only one province away in Ontario. I had visited here once before in the 80’s on a camping trip to the east coast, but other than that, NB was virtually unknown to me. Hence, I was on the lookout for a book on its past.
New Brunswick: an Illustrated History is just over 220 pages and contains many B & W photographs and illustrations. Mr Rees is a former professor of historical geography at the University of Saskatchewan as well as being an adjunct professor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
The book itself is very handsome in appearance and the cover design is very eye-catching with a scene of Saint John and harbour from the days of sail superimposed over an old map of the St. Croix River area. Inside, as mentioned, are many B&W photos, but because they are integrated with the text, they lose image quality. Indeed, some of the paintings would have been better off reproduced in colour, but as a trade-off, it is nice to have the illustrations throughout rather than collected on a few glossy pages in the middle of the book. Something else I would have liked to see would be a map with the major rivers and place names marked on it. It would be especially helpful for those not familiar with the province.
The author manages to hit all the major highs and lows of New Brunswick history, from the discovery and settlement of the first explorers down to the present day. Of particular interest was the last chapter “The Oligarchs” in which the author devotes a little over 15 pages to the histories of K.C. Irving, the McCain’s and Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook). All of these are worthy of a book on their own, and this chapter, like others in the book, merely whet the appetite for more information. Fortunately, Mr Rees has provided a bibliography for further reading. As well, he does mention other texts throughout the book for those interesting in getting a comprehensive story on personalities and events he covers.
Likes & Dislikes
There are a few things I really liked about this book as well as a few things I would have liked to see.
Primarily, I liked the fact that this was a quick, yet informative read. Mr Rees must have had a difficult time in keeping the text so brief. This book could have been twice the size and yet not every aspect of NB history would have been adequately covered. The First Nations and the Acadians are also worthy of separate works (and many do exist), but Mr Rees must give them a brief yet worthy mention in order to keep the book moving.
Aside from the low-quality reproductions of the many illustrations and lack of a provincial map (as mentioned above), something I would have liked to see in this book would have been a few sidebars to give further information on various topics where space did not permit the author to go in depth about. One example on page 91, where, in reference to Joseph Cunard (brother of Samuel Cunard, founder of the Cunard Line of ships) he states that as an “enterprising agriculturist, Joseph Cunard’s enterprises failed spectacularly in 1848.” It would have been nice to have a little sidebar explaining how that happened, and why it was ‘spectacular’.
As I mentioned, this book will merely whet the appetite for those looking for more scholarly works on various subjects regarding New Brunswick history. For the general reader, the information covered here is sufficient to get an overview of this important maritime province. Personally, I think this book should be available for purchase at every New Brunswick Visitor Information Centre in the province. It will appeal to those tourists who would like to read more about New Brunswick (and Canadian history) either while they are visiting, or after they return home. In short, a very good, well-written introduction to New Brunswick history.