PREVIEW

How we’ll soon start finding out who used to be who

DAVID LEWIS STEIN February 11 1961
PREVIEW

How we’ll soon start finding out who used to be who

DAVID LEWIS STEIN February 11 1961

How we’ll soon start finding out who used to be who

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography

is coming along very nicely. Its staff has been hard at work since early in 1959. when Mrs. James Nicholson, widow of the millionaire who left the University of Toronto a grant to cover the DCB, decided she would not hold the grant in trust until her death, as she would have been allowed to do under the will, and gave the planners the goahead. They expect to have Vol. I, which will deal with the years before 1700. in print by 1962.

The first months of work—generally on all volumes and specifically on Vol. I—have convinced the compilers, under the direction of general editor George Brown, a U of T history professor, that theirs is no easy task. They have already filed 10,000 names on neat cards. More are being suggested every day. Brown is not even sure how many volumes will eventually be published or how many names will be included.

The dictionary will list athletes, poets, scientists, explorers, Indians and even criminals—"some of whom.” as Brown says, "were very notable people in the history of the country.”

The star of Vol. I will be Samuel de Champlain, who is currently scheduled for a full 8,000-word essay. No one else in the volume will rate as much space but, unlike British and U. S. biographical dictionaries, the DCB will try not to throw out the minor characters —though some of them will be given as few as 200 words. Every name that comes up will remain in the filing system. whether or not it makes the book.

Some of the names being discussed for Vol. I are: Savignon, the young Huron Indian who became Canada’s first exchange student when Champlain took him to France, and Etienne Brûlé, Savignon’s opposite number, who went to learn the language of the Hurons; Jacques Boisdon, who ran the first tavern in Quebec and kept it closed on Sunday mornings so as not to distract customers on their way to church; Snorri Thorfinnson, a distant ancestor of Queen Elizabeth, who may have been the first European child born in North America (his father sailed the Labrador coast in the 11th century); and David Ingram, a Scottish sailor who is said to have walked from Mexico to Nova Scotia.

Brown has had to rely, to some extent, on interested amateurs—like the Newfoundland clergyman whose hobby is early pirates of the Atlantic — and to most of these amateurs he is very grateful. The only ones who have been rejected outright are the several dozen who have sent in their own biographies. “To get into this study,” says Brown, “you have to be dead.”

DAVID LEWIS STEIN