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The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada

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The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada
By Thomas B. Costain. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1960.) ISBN: 0-3850-4526-3.


Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 3, 2002

John Cabot mistakenly discovered North America, and the land that was to become Canada, on June 24, 1497. He had set sail from England intent on sailing to Cathy. Instead he landed on Cape Breton Island. Like Columbus, it took him awhile to realize that he had discovered a 'new' land. In The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada, Thomas B. Costain explores the history of Canada. His history follows a chronological course, beginning with discovery of Canada's earliest history and the consequent exploration of the country.

While the British may have been the first, since the Vikings, to have established a foothold in Canada, it was the French that were the most effective colonizers of the country. After providing a brief overview of the earliest expeditions to Canada, Costain concentrates his study on the efforts of the French to expand their territories, and to explore and exploit their access to this virginal cornucopia full of natural resources. He not only chronicles the men who explored and settled the country, but also those who tried to civilize it. These civilizing factors included those that enforced the civil law, those that enforced the law of the Catholic Church, and the women who helped settle the land, such as Marie Madeleine de Chauvigny, Marie Guyart, and Marie de la Troche, who was an Ursuline Nun.

Costain provides detailed insights into the role that the Jesuits played in settling the land and in converting the native population, both to Christianity as well as turning them into allies of the French. As allies of the French, the native populations were to fight alongside the French in their many battles against the English, battles which are also pivotal points covered in this text. Costain also devotes a lot of energy to discussing the fur trade and similar economic enterprises that were to have just as much impact upon shaping the country that was to become Canada as it did in helping to instigate the many fights between France and Britain over the ownership of the land that offered the possibility of high profits.

Costain's history of New France ends in the year 1708 with the death of Bishop Laval, shortly after the end of the French and Indian War. With this volume he offers the reader a thorough overview of early French Canadian history. When this book was written, Costain knew that Joseph Rutledge was working on a companion volume that would cover the period of the French and English wars, so he did not spend as much time on the subject, nor does he provide the reader with a summary of 'what came after'. For those who want to know the rest of the story, Rutledge's book is called Century of Conflict: The Struggle Between the French and British in Colonial America, it was originally published in 1956.

The White and the Gold was originally published in 1954. Despite the advances made into our knowledge of Canadian history, this is still a remarkably accurate book. It is also extremely readable. Costain was a consummate scholar, and this book still represents one of the best overviews of early Canadian history of the general reader. It also serves a great introduction for those who plan to pursue a more intense study into the subject. The period of the French Regime in Canada was one of extreme adventures and heroism, for those so inclined, this book could even be read as a work of fiction thanks to its incredible descriptions, the sheer sensationalism of the events described within its pages, and the sense of drama evoked by this colorful historical period.


Related Reviews:

Cultures in Conflict: The Seven Years' War in North America, edited by Warren R. Hofstra.
A collection of seven essays that explore diverse aspects of the French and Indian War in North America, from various cultural perspectives.

Wolfe at Quebec, by Christopher Hibbert.
In this short work, Hibbert chronicles Major-General James Wolfe's leadership at the battle for Quebec at the decisive engagement fought between the British and the French on the Plains of Abraham. When the battle ended, Quebec was to fall to English hands, and Wolfe, at the advanced age of 32, was destined to die from the wounds he received in the battle.

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