Canadian History in Cartoons

A Caricature History of Canadian Politics
By J.W. Bengough
Peter Martin Associates; $10.00

Peter Martin Associates, one of the smaller but better Canadian publishing houses, has reprinted one of the Canadian classics, Bengough’s “Caricature History of Canadian Politics.”

J.W. Bengough was the preeminent cartoonist of the of the post-Confederation period. His caricatures, or some of them, will be familiar to most of us, since they’re frequently reprinted in Canadian high school history textbooks. This volume however, brings many of them together in one enjoyable package. Originally published in 1886 under Bengough’s editorship, it contains quite a few contributions by other cartoonists as well.

Bengough, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest, a fact that was recognized at the time. The New York Herald called him “the greatest cartoonist living on this side of the continent”, while the British editor W. L. Stead considered him “one of the ablest cartoonists of the world.”

His depictions of John A. Macdonald are the wittiest and best, but his other pet issues, such as Prohibition, provincial rights, nationalism, and women’s suffrage also stirred him to fine efforts.

He was also talented in other fields; he published several books of poetry, wrote songs, wrote articles on economics, politics, and literature, and served as a Toronto alderman.

The cartoons – as enjoyable in themselves as they are – are also useful in giving a picture of the times. The humour and the style are somewhat different from what we are used to now, however, and that, coupled with the facts that the current events being depicted are now distant history, might make the book less interesting for some. It’s a matter of taste, I suppose.

Ulli Diemer

Published in the Varsity.