Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Ontario: A Fine Country Not Half like England?

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Ontario: A Fine Country Not Half like England?

Article excerpt

A Particular Condition in Life: Self-Employment and Social Mobility in Mid-Victorian Brantford, Ontario

by David G. Burley, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 1994, xii + 309 pp. cloth $39.95 (ISBN 0-7735-1199-7)

Assisting Immigration to Upper Canada: The Petworth Project, 1832-1837

by Wendy Cameron and Mary McDougall Maude, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 2000, xxiv + 354 pp. cloth $65.00 (ISBN 0-7735-2034-1)

English Immigrant Voices: Labourer's Letters from Upper Canada in the 1830s

edited by Wendy Cameron, Sheila Haines, and Mary McDougall Maude, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 2000, lvi + 471 pp. cloth $65.00 (ISBN 0-7735-2035-X)

A Sense of their Duty: Middle-class Formation in Victorian Ontario Towns

by Andrew C. Holman, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 2000, xxii + 243 pp. cloth $60.00 (ISBN 0-7735-1899-1)

Making Ontario: Agricultural Colonization and Landscape Re-creation Before the Railway

by J. David Wood, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 2000, xxvii + 205 pp. cloth $55.00 (ISBN 0-7735-1892-4)

Writing to his English relatives in the fall of 1836, William Spencer described the town of Bronte where he had acquired a small parcel of land. it was, he said a new settlement between Toronto and Hamilton, and one that appeared "to be in a flourishing state: there has been 25 dwelling-houses and two large warehouses put up this season." A river ran through it, and in the last four miles of its course, before it entered Lake Ontario, there were five sawmills and a flour mill; a sixth sawmill was under construction, and though they each produced three thousand feet of boards a day, there was "plenty of work for them all." There was also, by Spencer's account, "plenty of work for every one that will work and good pay". Settlers assisted others who fell into distress, and one and all "could fish and fowl as much as ... [they] pleased", for with "gamekeepers and waterkeepers" unknown, there was "none to make us afraid." (1)

There were powerful messages in this vignette. Upper Canada was a place in rapid transformation, where industry, freedom from restraint, and the kindness of strangers allowed even the unfortunate to put setbacks behind them. If you were here "you would be doing better" Spencer told his parents, though he had lost his wife to typhus fever shortly after their arrival in the new world, and had then spent some years working another's farm for a one-fourth share of its yield. Countless letters home echoed such sentiments through the first half of the nineteenth century. Life was not always a bowl of cherries on this frontier--some of the accounts of hardship and loss are heart-rending. Share John Capelain's grief at the toll of a "very great affliction" visited upon his family by "the Almighty" within days of their arrival in the Huron Tract: "I lost my poor little Mary for the first, then my poor dearest wife, then my two youngest, and little Edmund, all in the space of eight days. And what was more hard for me I was obliged to wrap them up in the rinds of trees and dig holes and put them in myself." Others, less traumatized, nonetheless found themselves forced to adapt to their new setting; it was, said a recently arrived shoemaker from Sussex, "not half like England, everything being very mean, when compared to that." Yet even Capelain was able to go on, sustained by the prospect of "a good living to be got." Twenty years later, another immigrant, the gentlewoman Catherine Parr Traill, encapsulated a common view when she wrote: "In Canada, persevering energy and industry, with sobriety, will overcome all obstacles." Indeed, claimed J. Sheridan Hogan, the author of a prize-winning 1855 essay celebrating the progress of the colony, Canada should be a "matter of wonder and instruction" for the way in which "upwards of a million of the working classes had within a short space of time, and by means hitherto unknown or unthought of, raised themselves to comparative affluence and independence. …

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