I will never forget when Northern Enterprise was published in 1987. I was a businessman, the partner in charge of what was then the Canadian practice of Touche Ross Management Consultants (now Deloitte Consulting). We were rapidly approaching our 30th anniversary as a consulting practice and planned a big celebratory meeting. To impress our partners, principals and international guests, I ordered 100 copies of Northern Enterprise, historian Michael Bliss’s monumental book on the history of business in Canada.
In return for my purchase, Bliss autographed my copy “To Joe — who tells the northern entrepreneurs how to do it. With best wishes, Michael.” Underneath his autograph I wrote “Outstanding! Simply Outstanding! Especially the last chapter.”
The University of Toronto, where Bliss was professor of history, announced last week that he had died. For the most part, reports on his unexpected death rightly highlight his medical work. The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame described Bliss as “the pre-eminent medical historian of our era.”
And so he was. But he was also, it must be said, the pre-eminent historian of Canadian business. Northern Enterprise: Five Centuries of Canadian Business was sponsored by Manufacturer’s Life on the occasion of its centennial of incorporation. Too bad more Canadian corporations don’t undertake such worthwhile projects.
When the book was published, Ontario History magazine asked Professor Ken McNaught to write a review. McNaught, in spite of having a grandfather who had been president of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, was a supporter of the NDP. Bliss was decidedly not a supporter of the NDP.
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