The following is “bonus coverage” of material from the most recent print edition of Acadiensis.
by Corey Slumkoski
IN 1989 ACADIENSIS PRESS PUBLISHED E.R. (Ernie) Forbes’s Challenging the Regional Stereotype: Essays on the 20th Century Maritimes. This collection of his scholarship – published and unpublished – from the previous two decades emphasizes Forbes’s remarkable contribution to the historiography of Atlantic Canada. Perhaps more than any other historian, Ernie Forbes consistently and persuasively overturned entrenched ideas about the Atlantic region: he challenged the regional stereotype. Throughout his 31-year university teaching career, first at the University of Victoria and then at the University of New Brunswick, he revised our understanding of the underdevelopment of Atlantic Canada and the ways that political decisions made at the centre can have a longstanding and detrimental impact on the periphery.
Ernie Forbes’s first publication – “Prohibition and the Social Gospel” – was the lead article in the 1971 debut issue of this journal. This article displays all the hallmarks of Forbes’ scholarship: clear and concise prose, a mastery of the empirical evidence, and a willingness to upend the established historical interpretation. The movement for prohibition in Nova Scotia was not, Forbes argued, an outgrowth of “puritanical zealots bent on suppressing the pleasures of others.” Rather, it was an outgrowth of a church-led progressive reform movement – the Social Gospel – that strove to “create a new society in which crime, disease and social injustice would be virtually eliminated.”
Although Forbes soon shifted his focus from progressive reform to politics, his work never lost sight of the importance of social justice, the relationship between good history and good policy, or the necessity of challenging historical convention. Indeed, throughout his work on such interrelated topics as the Maritime Rights Movement, regional transportation policy, depression-era relief initiatives, or the wartime consolidation of power and manufacturing capacity in central Canada Forbes displayed a willingness to counter the claims of such “orthodox” scholars of the 1940s and 1950s as S.A. Saunders, Harold Innis, and B.S. Kierstead; all of these scholars had argued that the Maritimes provinces were doomed to a fate of economic marginalization because of their distance from the central-Canadian market, their lack of entrepreneurial spirit, their over-reliance on staples, and their inability to make the transition from a “wood, wind, and sail” economy to one based upon “iron, coal, and rail.” In sharp contrast, Forbes, along with other “liberal revisionist” scholars, suggested that the region’s unenviable economic position was the result of harmful national policies designed to serve the politically powerful central provinces. Implicit in this analysis was the notion that if politics was part of the problem then perhaps it could also be part of the solution. If, for example, the wartime actions of Minister of Munitions and Supply C.D. Howe served to “accentuate and consolidate” regional disparities, then perhaps concerted effort by contemporary Maritime politicians at the federal and provincial levels might help alleviate regional underdevelopment.