Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

The Great Dominion: Winston Churchill in Canada 1900-1954

by David Dilks

For the Churchillophile who has everything comes British historian David Dilks’s The Great Dominion. Between 1900 and 1954 the great imperialist and war leader visited Canada nine times (eight, if one excludes a visit to pre-Confederation Newfoundland), corresponding to the book’s nine chapters. The majority of the book is a chronicle of these visits through extensive use of period documents – official communiqués, news reports, letters, and diaries – that are reproduced in whole or in part. Between these entries, and between Churchill’s visits, Dilks provides us with brief histories of the times, the events surrounding the visit, and Churchill’s life.

Dilks’s stated intent is to show that Churchill’s activities in Canada are more than a mere appendix to the history he was so involved in making. The point is never proven, unfortunately, primarily because Dilks provides no conclusions to support his intention. Being mostly a collection of primary source material and little analysis, the book leaves readers to find the proof for themselves. Reading historic news clippings and diaries has its entertaining frisson, but the book lacks what author John Keegan calls the “energetic and confident generalization” of the historian. Dilks’s introductory claim to let “Churchill fulfill a function for which he was uniquely qualified: to speak for himself” seems by the end of the book an abdication of authorial responsibility rather than a novel methodology.

Even delving into the material ourselves, though, it is very hard to believe that Churchill’s visits to Canada were not just expedient. For most, it will be news that Churchill visited Canada so many times. But, as even Dilks points out, for eight of those nine visits Churchill was also visiting the United States, and seven of those visits entailed extensive meetings of state with the American president. In this light, and in the context of the troubled times he lived in and to a great extent shaped, it seems more likely that Churchill was killing two differently sized birds with one stone, diplomatically speaking.

There is little doubt that Winston Churchill is an admirable subject for historical study, however arcane. His Herculean accomplishments demand no less, and the most cynical of us can even now fall prey to his charm, enthusiasm, and capacity. These qualities, combined with Canada’s lingering colonial insecurity, make one want to believe there is a connection beyond the niceties, that the great man and the Great Dominion influenced each other. Alas, the proof is still missing, despite Professor Dilks’s thorough but obscure piece of collation.


Reviewer: Michael Clark

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers


Price: $45

Page Count: 512 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-88762-162-7

Released: May

Issue Date: 2005-5

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, History