Saturday, June 29, 2019

Book Notes: Passfield on Upper Canada's Tories

That dissertation you abandoned in order to pursue another path --can you ever go back to it?  Here is a hopeful tale.

Robert Passfield started as a student of engineering, switched to history, and started a doctorate in the intellectual history of early Upper Canada/Ontario. In 1974, however, with his dissertation incomplete, he joined Parks Canada's historic site service and began applying both his historical skills and his earlier knowledge of engineering to historical studies of Parks Canada's heritage canals. He became part of the "Parks Canada School" of what is sometimes called industrial archaeology, working in research teams with restoration architects, engineers, draftsmen, and others in generating full cultural/historical/architectural studies of canals and other 19th century Canadian sites.

Passfield had a highly productive and successful thirty-year historical career with Parks Canada. His publications ranged from the Rideau Canal to the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Red River Floodway and the historical contexts associated with engineering, construction and technology in early Upper Canada. (My own time at Parks Canada overlapped briefly with Passfield's, but as far as I know we have never met.)

Sometime after he retired (at the highest level a historian can reach in the Canadian public service), he went back to his dissertation project on the ideas of Tory Anglicans in Upper Canada.

Et voil√†: in 2018, he published The Upper Canadian Anglican Tory Mind: A Cultural Fragment. on "the constitutional, religious and educational ideas and worldview of the Upper Canadian Anglican Tories who governed the Province of Upper Canada (Ontario) for two decades following the War of 1812."
It is the contention of this study that the Upper Canadian Anglican Tories were true philosophical conservatives who evolved a unique variant of English Anglican Toryism, and who were committed to defending and strengthening the traditional political order, loyalty to the Crown, and the unity of the British Empire, in the Loyalist asylum of Upper Canada.
Perhaps there are some other historical studies with an equally long gap between conception and delivery, but this seems a remarkable achievement in both scholarship and perseverance.  (Note: I have not read the book.) It's hard not to think that Passfield may have had at least as useful, productive, and satisfying a career as a public service historian than as a specialist academic scholar in Upper Canadian thought.

Passfield maintains a website. It includes blog posts on current political and social issues that suggest Passfield retains something of the Tory mind, as well as most of the biographical material I have summarized here.
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