Christopher Moore is a writer and historian. Here he discusses his book 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. (photo credit: Paul Lawrence Photography)
Describe the genesis of 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. How did you come to write about the Confederation of Canada?
My first book, Louisbourg Portraits, reflected my starting point as a writer about history: ordinary people, daily life, social history, archival sources. I’d never “done” 19th century political history. But I’m a citizen too, and as I watched Canada’s constitutional struggles of the 1980s and early 1990s, I began considering those questions historically. I looked into the leading histories on Confederation, and none addressed the new questions that had arisen. The big story of Canadian history and politics -- and no one was writing about it! How could I resist?
How long did it take to write? What were the major challenges?
I had the idea and the first line in the early 1990s -- and then I had to put it aside to work on a large, well-paid commissioned history project for a couple of years. When I got back to it, it came together very rapidly -- by my standards, at least.
Were there any books that influenced you in your approach?
I read Conor Cruise O’Brien’s The Great Melody -- a life of Edmund Burke, sort of -- when I was writing 1867. It reassured me one can write seriously about complicated political issues and still find the passion and the drama.
Tell us a little about how you chose the title 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal.
Doug Gibson, my publisher at McClelland & Stewart, called it 1867. (I struggle with titles.) But the subtitle, that juxtaposition of the patrician, pedestalized “Fathers” and the reality of political deal-making, that was mine.
What was the response to the book upon publication?
Decent reviews here and there. Not much promotion, no nominations, no buzz. But it started to build. Dalton Camp gave it a rave, and over the years people who care about politics and democracy and citizenship began to find something they wanted in it. It’s still in print, and the ebook is due out any day.
Did 1867 change the trajectory of your career? In what way?
I had a readership among people who read history, but 1867 drew me into discussions of civics and public affairs. I still get invited to give talks, and so on. And I have never lost that interest in the big national questions of Canadian history.
What do you think of the state of Canadian political writing these days? Are there any trends you admire or disapprove of? What areas should be written about more?
I’m grateful for all we have. But the state of the book trade dictates that too many political books are quickly written and thinly researched. Big nonfiction book prizes have their place, but maybe we really need more grants and fellowships to support writers. Too many writers cannot afford to put the time in on the next really great political book.
Of all the books on our shortlist, besides your own of course, what is your favorite book and why? Are there any other books written in the last 25 years that you would suggest people read?
I was greatly taken with John Duffy’s smart and stylish Fights of Our Lives. As for other books, surely the great story of Canadian history is the 500-year collision of us newcomers and the First Nations, and how that is still playing out. In that immense field, I fear the deep books are not that readable and the readable books are not that deep. So Hugh Brody’s Maps and Dreams stands out as a must-read.
What are you working on now?
Back on the same turf, more or less: a little book on the Quebec Conference of 1864, where our Canadian constitution was mostly written. It’s to be published in 2014, the 150th anniversary. But I do other things too. From Then to Now, a short history of the world for kids, is just out.
1867 is more than just an illuminating account of Canada's Confederation. Moore brings to life leading figures like John A. Macdonald, George Brown, Charles Tupper and George Cartier and delightfully compares and contrasts their constitution-making process with contemporary Canada’s constitutional struggles. Moore explores the parallels that the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords have with the endeavours of the Fathers of Confederation, discovering that a messy, dramatic and crisis-ridden process does not always result in failure.