Book reviewLes douaniers des langues. Grandeur et misère de la traduction à Ottawa, 1867–1967 Québec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2016. 491 pp. .
Reviewed by Heleen van Gerwen
In the present volume, Jean Delisle and Alain Otis combine forces to write la petite histoire of Canada’s federal translators in the capital city of Ottawa over the course of a century. The authors form a well-matched pair: Delisle, emeritus professor at the University of Ottawa, has published several works on translators in history (see most notably Delisle 1999, 2002, and Delisle and Woodsworth 2007), while Otis, professor at the University of Moncton from 2002 to 2014, worked as a translator in the Bureau de la traduction for 26 years and has carried out historical research on translation in Canada for more than 30 years (see, e.g., Otis 2005). As historians tend to leave translators out of the picture in their studies on Canada, the authors’ design is precisely to put the figure of the translator in the spotlight, and demonstrate that they did not live and operate on the sidelines of society. The authors’ purpose is to prove that the federal translators, who were responsible for the translation of the documents of the ministries and the discussions of deputies and senators, were not insignificant, invisible characters or passive bystanders in Canada’s history. On the contrary, these translators’ actions, activities and attitudes mirrored and influenced those prevailing in contemporary Canadian society, meaning that translators should in fact be seen as influential actors, functioning as douaniers des langues or gatekeepers of languages. Francophone translators form the core of the work, but translators working in other languages are briefly considered as well.