Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2004

Biographies of Prominent Quebec and Canadian

Historical Figures

Donald Grant Creighton



Damien-Claude Bélanger,

Department of History,

McGill University

Claude Bélanger,

Department of History,

Marianopolis College

Historian and novelist, was born at Toronto. He was educated at Victoria College, University of Toronto, and at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1927 Creighton was appointed lecturer at the University of Toronto's Department of history. He became a full professor in 1945 and was the Department's chairman from 1954 to 1959. In 1946 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada and was awarded its Tyrell Medal for history in 1951. He became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967.

The most prominent English Canadian historian of his generation, he contributed a volume on The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence (1937) to the series of twenty-five studies on Canadian-American relations sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In this seminal study – reprinted in 1956 as The Empire of the St. Lawrence –, Creighton argued that Canada, far from being the geographic absurdity denounced by Goldwin Smith, had developed along the continent's natural east-west axis. Known as the Laurentian Thesis, this theory was built upon ideas previously developed by economic historian H. A. Innis in his 1930 study on The Fur Trade in Canada, and formed the basis for Creighton's sweeping critique of continentalism.

In the Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, Creighton argued that Canada had been given a great natural advantage by controling the Great-Lakes-St. Lawrence system. This system would funnel the immense resources of the interior of the continent in the direction of Montreal, a city he felt could rival New York for dominance of the continent. However, these dreams of empire were frustrated by politicians and by the patriotes who, he felt, opposed progress, as embodied by the Montreal entrepreneurial class, and promoted an idealized form of agrarian society.

A conservative intellectual whose attachment to tradition and to the British connection was indefectible, his anti-Americanism found its expression in most of his writing, particularly in his only work of fiction, Takeover (1978), a novel that explored the Americanization of Canadian society. Creighton was a regular participant in the biennial conferences on Canadian-American relations organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace between 1935 and 1941.

Lastly, he was an unabashed centralist – he contributed a major study to the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations – and opposed strenuously the extension of a special status to Quebec during the Quiet Revolution, as well as the institutionalization of bilingualism (see his "Myth of Biculturalism or the Great French Canadian Sales Campaign", in Saturday Night , September 1966, pp. 35-40).

[Consult the page on Donald Creighton: Portrait of the Historian as an Artist .]




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College