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This sequel to Building a Province: 60 Alberta Lives (2000) offersslightly longer group biographies of the “Big Four” of CalgaryStampede fame and the “Famous Five” of the Persons Case, butotherwise Brennan’s approach is to write short three- to five-pagesketches of individuals. In many respects, his books resemble GrantMacEwan’s Fifty Mighty Men (1995) and Mighty Women (1995). LikeMacEwan, Brennan has tapped into a strong popular interest in WesternCanada in short biographies of significant—and preferablycolorful—local notables. Other than some connection to Alberta, there is no real organizingprinciple for Brennan’s selection of profiles. He suggests that theywere selected randomly but not indiscriminately; taken together, theyare a “representative” sample of Albertans. Those profiled rangefrom very well known to relatively obscure figures who made a differencein some way. For example, William Aberhart, Frank Oliver, Karl Clark,William Hawrelak, and Catherine Robb Whyte are all prominent enough tofigure in general histories of the province. Violet King Henry, LesKimber, and Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, though not as recognizable, alsohave interesting stories. Most of the subjects are more worthy thanroguish, but the odd “Two Gun” Cohen breaks up the list of communityactivists, business magnates, and arts promoters. The biographies are well written in a breezy, journalistic style, butthey are entirely based on secondary sources, so there is not much newhere for anyone with a more academic interest in those profiled. Therealso is a tendency to reuse uncritically good stories of doubtfulprovenance. For example, I doubt that Karl Clark ever used his wife’swashing machine to separate bitumen from oil sands; his research wasundertaken in scientific laboratories for the University of Alberta andthe Alberta Research Council.
Michael Payne is head of the Research and Publications Program at theHistoric Sites and Archives Service, Alberta Community Development, andthe co-author of A Narrative History of Fort Dunvegan.
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