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An Abridged History of Canada
History of Canadian Literature By G. Mercer Adam


At the close of the year 1814, Peace returned to brood over the land, and the young colony addressed itself to the task of industrial and political development. The literature of the period is represented mainly by books of travel, written by Old Countrymen and foreigners, who had come to see the Canadas and the lusty young Republic to the south that had begun to work out the problem of a separate national independence, with the legacy of an unfortunate bias against the motherland of Britain and its loyal Canadian colony. The first of these to appear were the works, we fear known to book-collectors only, of Isaac Weld, George Heriot, and John Lambert. Their travels were published in London about the beginning of the century, and are curious as the earliest descriptions of the country and of its social life after its occupation by Britain. Heriot was the Deputy Postmaster-General of British North America at the time he wrote his "Travels Through the Canadas." These were followed by Mr. John Howison's "Sketches of Upper Canada: Domestic, Local and Characteristic" (Edinburgh, 1821); by Capt. Basil Hall's "Travels in North America" (Edinburgh, 1829); and by Sir R. H. Bonnycastle's "Excursions in Canada," and "Canada and the Canadians " (London, 1841-46). These later works indicate the progress of Upper Canada in the interval, and herald the host of books which afterwards dealt with the country as a desirable field for emigration. These various travellers describe the colony and its inhabitants through the spectrum of their individual mental dispositions, and the picture is not always pleasing or flattering. Happily, for the most part, the physical features of the country, its natural beauties, its climate, its lakes, streams, falls, and woodland scenery, with the curiosities of Indian life, Indian habits and customs, etc., engross the travellers, give warmth and colour to their narratives, and withdraw their writer's attention from the rawness of the country and the crudeness, as yet, of its social life.

Of native works published on Canada in the youth-time of the province, none in their day were more useful than those of a topographical and statistical, character. The most important of these are Lt.-Col. Joseph Bouchette's laborious compilation, in three quarto volumes (London, 1831), entitled "The British Dominions in North America;" N. P. Willis's "Canadian Scenery, illustrated from drawings by W. H. Bartlett," two vols., quarto (London, 1842); W. H. Smith's "The Canadian Gazetteer," and the same writer's "Historical, Geographical and Statistical Account of Canada West" (Toronto, 1851). With the Willis-Bartlett book, and indicating the great advance made by Canada in recent years in the arts connected with illustrated book manufacture, should be bracketed the sumptuous work, "Picturesque Canada, described by the best writers and artists," and ably edited by Principal Grant, D.D., of Queen's University, Kingston. Of this work we do not hesitate to say, that its publication marks a distinct epoch in the intellectual progress of the Canadian people, while it cannot fail to have an immense influence upon the future of native art and native literature. On this ground it well deserves the success it has achieved in both hemispheres.

We now come to deal succinctly with the literature that must possess most interest for those who seek to know the history of Canada, not in its politics, or in the theatre of public affairs, but in the heart-records of the people, in the log-hut of the settler, or in the rude hamlet new hewn from the wilderness. Two of the early works in this department were written by notable and eccentric characters in their clay, Col. E. A. Talbot and Dr. Wm. Dunlop. The latter, familiarly known in the province as "Tiger" Dunlop—a sobriquet which his "tall," impassioned stories of tiger-hunting in India earned for him—came to Canada in 1820 with John Gait, the novelist, in the service of the Canada Land Co., and, with the latter, was instrumental in founding settlements in the neighbourhood of Guelph, and the town which now bears the name of the Land Commissioner. Dunlop set up his "lodge in the wilderness," and lived a Bohemian life in the backwoods, from which he now and then issued to despatch a contribution at "Muddy Little York" to Blackwood's Magazine, or to the Literary Garland at Montreal. His "Statistical Sketches of Upper Canada" (London, 1833) have the flavour of the Nodes A mbrosiance with a curious admixture of wisdom and humour. Talbot's "Five Years' Residence in the Canadas" (London, 1824) tells the story of the Talbot Settlement near St. Thomas, and along the shores of Lake Erie. Its founder came to Upper Canada in 1793, as aide-de-camp to Governor Simcoe, and later on obtained a grant from the English Government of one hundred thousand acres in the southern peninsula of the province, on condition of placing a settler on every two hundred acres. Talbot settled near St. Thomas, and there lived a a life of seclusion from the world, with, it is" said, no woman near him, and seeing, as Mrs. Jameson tells us in her "Sketches in Canada," scarce a human being for twenty years, "except the few boors and blacks employed in clearing and logging his land. He himself," the visitor adds, "assumed the blanket-coat and axe, slept upon the bare earth, cooked three meals a day for twenty woodsmen, cleaned his own boots, washed his own linen, milked his cows, churned the butter, and made and baked the bread." A life of this strange man, by Edward Ermatinger, was published at St. Thomas in 1859, enriched with sketches of the public characters and the career of several conspicuous Upper Canadians of the period.

Of the class of conspicuous Upper Canadians here referred to, no more notable figure occurs in these early days than that of the Hon. Wm. Hamilton Merritt, whose name is imperishably associated with the Welland Canal. When first projected, the scheme seemed visionary and Utopian : to-day it is the embodied realization of a patriot's dream ; and few undertakings in Canada have been of more practical advantage to navigation and commerce. It was to be expected that the sagacious projector and unwearied promoter of this great enterprise would be remembered not only in his work, but in some fitting and adequate biography. A "Life," it is true, has appeared, which was published in St. Catharines in 1875; but it is in no way worthy either of the subject or of the biographer. Like many other books of the past, the memoir of the Hon. Mr. Merritt puts before one the bricks and mortar rather than the finished edifice of an historical memorial. His, however, is one of the figures on the canvas of the country's early history to which literature, we doubt not, will yet do justice.

Gait's "Autobiography" is interesting reading, and his book on " The Canadas" is replete with valuable topographical matter, addressed to intending emigrants in the regime of Sir Peregrine Maitland. The historical romance, " An Algonquin Maiden," by the present writer and Miss A. Ethelwyn Wetherald, it may here be said, deals also with descriptions of the country and the social life of Canada at this period. The chief scenes of this novel—the borders of Lake Simcoe—are also those which form the subject of "Forest Scenes and Incidents in the Wilds of North America,'"' by Sir George Head, Bt., an English army officer who served in Canada about the year 1825-6. Lieut.-Col. Strickland's "Twenty-seven Years in Canada" (London, 1853) is the faithful portrayal of the experiences of an early settler and acute observer. This, work is linked in interest, (as its author is linked in the ties of relationship) with Mrs. Susanna Moodie's "Roughing it in the Bush," perhaps the best known and by far the most vivid narrative of a settler's trials in the Canadian backwoods. This clever gentlewoman, a sister of Miss Agnes Strickland, historian of the "Queens of England," came to Canada in 1832 with her husband, a half-pay officer, whose experience of the first cold night in their cabin in the woods is preserved to us in the following jocosely improvised ditty:

"Oh, the cold of Canada nobody knows,
The fire burns our shoes without warming our toes;
Our blankets are thin, and our noses are blue—
Our noses are blue, and our blankets are thin,
It's at zero without, and we're freezing within!"

Mrs. Moodie, however, lived long enough to give us another picture than that limned in her book from her husband's pen. Writing from Belleville in 1871, she says, "Contrasting the first year of my life in the bush with Canada as she is now, my mind is filled with wonder and gratitude at the rapid strides she has made towards the fulfilment of a great and glorious destiny. What important events have been brought to pass within the narrow circle of less than forty years! What a difference between noiv and then ! The country is the same only in name. Its aspect is wholly changed. The rough has become smooth, the crooked has been made' straight, the forests have been converted into fruitful fields, the rude log cabin of the woodsman has been replaced by the handsome, well-appointed homestead, and large, populous cities have pushed the small, clap-boarded village into the shade,"

Another talented sister, Mrs. Traill, in her "Backwoods of Canada," "The Canadian Crusoes," and "Rambles in the Canadian Forest," gives us a further insight into the primitive domestic life of the early settler, and a pathetic record of disappointment, privation, and toil. This dear old lady, who as we write is still alive, though in her nineties, has found a solace in her woodland life of which few have availed themselves, for their own profit and delight, or for the benefit of science and literature. In her sylvan seclusion, she has brought out works 0n two different occasions on the "Plant Life of Canada," the favourite volumes alike of the literary student and the botanical scientist and amateur. Dr. Geikie's "A Boy's Life in the Woods," W. Lyon Mackenzie's racy "Sketches of Upper' Canada," and Canniff Haight's "Country Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago," are additional works in this interesting department which should not be overlooked by the reader. Nor should the various works be forgotten that deal with local annals, and record the rise and development of the cities and towns of the Province. Croil's "Dundas: a sketch of Canadian History," "The Early History of Gait and Settlement of Dumfries," by the Hon. James Young, occur to us as good specimens of this class. "Toronto of Old," by the Rev. Henry Scadding, D.D., is a work of singular merit in the literature of antiquities, and is for all time an unfailing storehouse of information. Though nominally a local history, it contains, in effect, an account of the founding of most of the political, literary, religious, and philanthropic institutions of the whole Province of Ontario. The style of the work is exceedingly graphic and entertaining; it is unencumbered with dry, unrelated details, and yet reproduces times gone by with vivid fidelity.

Of not a few names known to literature in the motherland, Canada has numbered and still numbers among her residents many representatives. Of these Strickland, He-mans, Carlyle, and Dickens are among the number. Of the authors themselves, Upper Canada has known, besides the still-living Goldwin Smith, the poet Moore, the novelist Gait, and the charming art-writer and Shakespearian essayist, Mrs. Jameson. Here it is fitting to notice the latter, though her residence in Canada, in consequence of an unhappy marriage, was a bleak and chilling one. How bleak arid chilling it was, those must know who are familiar with her life, and who have read with shame for the then Chancellor of the Province, of the reception given to his weary wife, with the sweet spirituelle face, on her advent in Toronto, after a trying voyage from the England she held so dear, to take up a winter residence by the steel-cold waters of Lake Ontario. Despite this, however, and its depressing influence on mind and spirits, Mrs. Jameson's "Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada," (London and New York, 1839,) is one of the few books that belong to the literature of the time with which the reader should not be unfamiliar. Her volumes are the work of a poet-artist, and have the charm and grace of a sensitive and cultivated woman. Though the country was to her the land of an exile, there are not many writers on Canada whose pages are more aglow with eloquent description and an'intense appreciation of the beautiful in nature.

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