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History Pre-confederation (to 1867)

Canada's Odyssey

A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests

by (author) Peter H. Russell

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2019
Pre-Confederation (to 1867), Canadian, History & Theory, Native American, Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2017
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2017
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2019
    List Price

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150 years after Confederation, Canada is known around the world for its social diversity and its commitment to principles of multiculturalism. But the road to contemporary Canada is a winding one, a story of division and conflict as well as union and accommodation.


In Canada’s Odyssey, renowned scholar Peter H. Russell provides an expansive, accessible account of Canadian history from the pre-Confederation period to the present day. By focusing on what he calls the "three pillars" of English Canada, French Canada, and Aboriginal Canada, Russell advances an important view of our country as one founded on and informed by "incomplete conquests." It is the very incompleteness of these conquests that have made Canada what it is today, not just a multicultural society but a multinational one.


Featuring the scope and vivid characterizations of an epic novel, Canada’s Odyssey is a magisterial work by an astute observer of Canadian politics and history, a perfect book to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

About the author

Peter H. Russell is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He has written extensively on issues related to the Canadian Constitution and Canadian politics in general.

Peter H. Russell's profile page


  • Winner, 2018 Donald Smiley Prize
  • Winner, John T. Saywell Prize for Canadian Constitutional Legal History

Editorial Reviews

"Hopefully Russell’s work can serve as a reminder of how far historiography of politics and society in pre-Confederation Canada has come, but also, of how far it has to go."

"The political scientist Peter Russell…is known for his sensitive and searching work on Canada’s indigenous communities… "

The New York Review of Books, Vol. 65, no. 12

"Writing an odyssey is a colossal feat, which Peter Russell has indeed accomplished in Canada’s Odyssey. Russell’s most recent exploration into Canadian political history reflects his decades of experience with Canadian constitutionalism in a time when the multinational and multicultural nature of the Canadian project is propelling a necessary revision of [Canada’s] ‘myths of origin.’"

<em>British Journal of Canadian Studies</em>

"In Canada’s Odyssey, Peter Russell shows a different configuration of conquest, cession, and constitutions…Historians should heed its message…"

"Peter Russell has been teaching Canadian constitutional politics since the 1950s at the University of Toronto and he has given us the benefit of a lifetime’s scholarship and engagement in this brilliant book. It is thoughtful, incisively written and as accessible an account as one will ever find about our country’s political and legal history. Many books are called ‘indispensable;’ this one certainly rates that description."

Bob Rae, Canada’s History, February-March, 2018

"Canada’s Odyssey is worth reading..."

The Canadian Historical Review Vol 99:2: June 2018

"The value of Canada’s Odyssey is that it requires very little of the reader in advance. It offers an open and accessible path and, although it may appear somewhat daunting (given its length of 500 pages), it is a very enjoyable and engaging read. In its writing style, the book manages to walk a line somewhere between academic and popular history, which is a challenging line for any author. The informality of its tone combined with the sheer scope and detail of the project serves to reach and hold the attention of a diverse set of readers. … [A]nyone looking for some way to mark Canada’s sesquicentennial would do well to read this book."

Literary Review of Canada, July/August 2017

"This is a monumental achievement – one that will undoubtedly influence the debate over the nature of Canada itself."

Other titles by Peter H. Russell