Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott

Mark Abley. Douglas & McIntyre (PGW, U.S. dist.; HarperCollins Canada, Canadian dist.), $32.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-55365-609-8
Duncan Campbell Scott was one of Canada's four great "Confederation Poets," but today, he is most often remembered as an architect of monstrous social policies, the terrible legacy of which haunts modern Canada. It is not for nothing he was named as one of the 10 worst Canadians of all time. In his nearly two decades as the head of the Department of Indian Affairs, Scott worked to force the people of First Nations to assimilate, suppressing their traditions, presiding over the charnel house residential school system while turning a blind eye to the abuses his policies facilitated. The author attempts to humanize this great monster in a series of imagined conversations with the shade of the poet, giving Scott the chance to explain why he felt the policies he carried out were the correct ones, in the process underlining how Scott's essentially racist views inform some of his lauded poems. While the conceit used to frame the work is not always successful, the author does a sterling job of placing Scott in context; rather than an exceptional villain working in shadows, the poet and would-be genocidaire stands as an exemplar of fledgling Canada's ruling classes. Agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 06/02/2014
Release date: 03/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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