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Dale, Edmund H., editor. Regina: Regional Isolation and Innovative Development. Western Geographical Series, Volume 18. Victoria: University of Victoria, 1980. Pp. xx, 238. Maps, illustrations, tables. $4.00[Record]

  • Barry Potyondi

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  • Barry Potyondi
    Director of Research, Great Plains Research Consultants, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Dale, Edmund H., editor. Regina: Regional Isolation and Innovative Development. Western Geographical Series, Volume 18. Victoria: University of Victoria, 1980. Pp.xx, 238. Maps, illustrations, tables. $4.00. Few historians would dispute the utility of thoughtful collections of articles about our urban centres. Cities are too complex for proper consideration in traditional monograph fashion, and most historians are ill-equipped to deal satisfactorily in narrative form with the multiple aspects of urban development. Still fewer historians would dismiss as unimportant a collection of essays about Regina, whose place in the historiography of the urban west is as isolated as its geographical location. Yet even those who are accustomed to receiving their urban history piecemeal, and who are attracted to an article or two in this new gathering, will find the volume as a whole to be unimpressive. Its theme (as expressed in the subtitle) is forced, its orgnization plainly careless, and its purpose ambiguous. In a short preface, the editor exhibits a serious case of geographer's distress as he notées that Regina "has no recognizable no-dality, none of the site factors that geographers associate with the early development of urban places. " Instead, Regina has "revealed an innovative spirit that has sought to compensate for its [sic] small size, geographical isolation and monotonous terrain," and thus the volume "emphasizes, not exhaustively and not so much urban structure [sic] as the continuing successes of local attempts to carve a city out of an area deficient in those site factors that are conducive to urban growth, except for an agricultural hinterland of rich, but flat, clayey soil." This said, and with a title in hand, the editor confusingly confides that "even if all the essays are not comfortably linked by the central themes, their [sic] subject matter should at least add their contribution to the study and appreciation of Regina." A less ingenious apologia for this motley assemblage is difficult to conceive. The real tragedy, however, is that some essays of importance in their respective fields will realize only obscurity because of their inclusion in this mixed-blood collection. Many of the essays do pay homage, however uncomfortably, to the tenuous link between geographical isolation and the spirit of innovation. In too many instances, this faithfulness to a debatable slogan plays havoc with the evidence presented and seems to betray an ignorance of comparative works. For example, in an otherwise serviceable introduction to the history of the city, J. William Brennan writes that "its very isolation fostered a spirit of innovation in Regina. Streets and sidewalks, banks and shops, newspapers, professional services, churches, schools, parks and entertainment all had to be created." Since when have these ubiquitous features of urban development been seen as "innovations"? What we have here is what one of my mentors used to call a 'semantic swindle' and similarly spurious comments that can be found in other essays add nothing to the worth of the volume. Inept organization is far and away the book's worst failing. After beginning correctly with Brennan's overview, the editor pays little attention to thematic or chronological consistency. Had he followed Brennan's article with J.L. Moser's laudatory examination of town planning in the period 1903-1946, and then with R.S. Clarke's damming piece on the same theme in the post-war years, he would have provided the reader with a much-needed historical perspective and a fine debate on the true significance of innovation in Regina's development. When read back to back, the Moser and Clarke essays form the volume's single most redeeming feature. The remaining essays, dealing as they ...