National Dream Hardcover – Jan 1 1970
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Pierre Berton's The National Dream is the perfect antidote to recommend to anyone who thinks history, especially Canada's history, is boring. Canada's best-known historian takes the seemingly unexciting story of the building of a railroad and tells it with the colour and humour of a master yarn-spinner. The National Dream and its sequel, The Last Spike, published in 1970 and 1971, were two of Canada's biggest best-selling books and were turned into an eight-part series on CBC-TV watched by more people than any other dramatic program in the network's history to that date. The Last Spike won for Berton his third Governor General's Award for non-fiction.
The story he tells has no end of crazy and bizarre characters: sleazy politicians, robber baron-style railroad tycoons, corrupt newspaper publishers, many of them considered the political and economic founders of Canada. Somehow, in a few short years, this band of misfits managed to build the world's longest railway across a vast, unforgiving land, much of which was unknown to non-Natives. The project left a mixed legacy. Opposition politicians denounced it as "insane" and "reckless," accurately predicting that the massive spending would lead to a flood of corruption. It almost bankrupted the country and provoked the displacement of the Native peoples of the Prairies from their ancestral lands. The railroad became the spine of an empire, an imperial highway linking Britain with Asia, conveniently paid for by the Canadian public. On the other hand, the railway dream is also credited with binding together a fledgling nation with a steel ribbon. "The dream," wrote Berton, "would be the filling up of the empty spaces and the dawn of a new Canada." --Alex Roslin --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
"Pierre Berton is a chronicler of the first order who has brought photographic clarity to the great and the corrupt, to the zealots and the dreamers associated with Canada's first great vision of linking steel threads to the nation's fabric."
—Montreal Star --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
We read of the political negotiations with British Columbia, which at first only wanted a wagon trail. We witness the fighting between the surveyors of different routes through the Rockies. I was surprised to discover that the greatest political difficulty was getting the railroad to go through Ontario, over the desolate granit of the Canadian shield, so that it avoid going south of the lakes, through the US. The Pacific railway had to be an all-Canadian venture. Still in politics, Berton describes the money politics of 1870's and ends by putting us in the House of Commons during the CPR debates of December 1880.
Canada today is a country stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, capping the lower 48 of the United States. At Confederation in 1867, Canada ended at the Great Lakes; west of there but not part of Canada was the Hudson's Bay Company's land, the Red River colony (today Manitoba) and British Columbia. Canadian visionaries correctly saw the railway as the only way to ensure Canada survived American expansion. The CPR was a ridiculous undertaking. Imagine a country the size of New Zealand deciding that survival meant a space program and you get the picture.
The CPR was an instance of a particularly Canadian National Policy whose purpose is to keep Canada whole. The price we had to pay then was that expensive all Canadian route.Read more ›
If you are an adult Canadian, you should read this slice of our history.
Most recent customer reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book because I am going to cross Canada by rail in September. This book was very enlightening and will make my trip more interestingPublished 11 months ago by Margaret sanders
I read this many years ago and felt then as I do now, "pretty good history-writing" for a journalist. Read morePublished 22 months ago by NGD1948