Who We Are:  British North Americans

A Story of Challenge

By J.M.S. Careless

Chairman of the Department of History
University of Toronto
© J.M.S. Careless, 1963
First published 1953
Revised and enlarged edition 1963
Reprinted 1964

Library of Congress Catalogue Card No. 64-10638



Chapter 9

1. – The Migration from Britain
2. – Advances in Transportation
3. – The Maritime and St. Lawrence Trading Systems
4. – The Pioneer Age


1. The Migration from Britain

Following the War of 1912, an age in the movement of people into British North American came to an end.  Since the fall of New France the main flow of immigrants to Canada had been from the old thirteen colonies.  Whether ardent Loyalists or indifferent republicans, most of the English-speaking settlers in this period had been North Americans long established on the continent.  But now the American immigration by land largely ceased, and was replaced by a movement by sea, from Britain, of people new to North America.  They not only greatly increased the population and speeded the development of British North America; they added new elements to its society and did much to mark it off further from the American republic.

The flow of American settlement died away after 1815 for various reasons.  In the Maritimes, of course, American immigration had really ended with the Loyalist influx, and it had never reached Newfoundland.  Nor had it been large in French-speaking Lower Canada, whether Loyalist or not.  But in Upper Canada, which had received the greatest number of settlers from the United States, the anti-American spirit after the War of 1812, and new enactments preventing Americans obtaining land until they had been residents for seven years, discouraged further immigration.  More than this, however, the westward movement of the American frontier by now had carried it past Upper Canada.  The frontiersmen of the United States saw broader fields to conquer in the opening American Middle West.

Meanwhile new conditions had arisen across the Atlantic that would provide a stream of immigration far greater than British


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North America had yet known.  Up to 1815, long years of war had kept most of the people of Britain at home.  The dangers of war-time emigration and the constant need for man-power during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had reduced the movement of British people overseas to a low level.  Earlier, the American Revolutionary War, which had also involved fighting between France and Britain, had had the same effect.  But after 1815 an era of peace followed in Europe, and a great tide of British emigration set in, to fall away only after 1850.

Hard times as well as peace were responsible for sending people from crowded Britain to empty, fertile fields overseas.  The end of the Napoleonic struggle caused sudden depression and serious unemployment.  Although times gradually improved, the very speed of industrial change in Britain continued to bring strain and suffering to the poorer classes, and many among them turned their eyes abroad to look for a new life.  Others besides the poor also looked to the colonies, attracted by stories of the great opportunities to be found in young lands crying to be developed.  Accordingly, between 1815 and 1850, though mainly from 1820 on, British North America received a stream of settlers from Britain that ebbed and flowed but never really stopped.  After 1850 the gold rush to Australia did much to turn the ebbing tide to the Pacific colonies, while the onset of mid-Victorian prosperity in Britain about the same time finally brought this first great age of British emigration to Canada to a close.  There was far less desire to leave a more contented Victorian Britain, despite the so-called ‘Great Depression’ of the later nineteenth century.

Changed world conditions by 1900 led to a new flow of British settlers into Canada, but this second British migration was accompanied by other streams from the United States and continental Europe.  Hence it was not so striking nor so all-important as the first British migration of the earlier nineteenth century.  During that time, of course, British migrants went to other British colonies besides those in America, and, indeed, went to the United

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States in greater numbers than they came to Canada.  Yet in the United States they were absorbed into a population that was already large.  In Canada they almost swamped the small existing English-speaking communities, especially in Upper Canada.  They made the North American colonies more British than they had ever been before.  As a result, the significance of this first British migration can hardly be stressed too much in Canadian history.

Between 1815 and 1850 more people came to the British North American colonies from Britain than there had been in all these provinces at the earlier date.  Their total population rose from under half a million in 1815 to nearly three million in 1850.  In all, nearly 800,000 immigrants came; discharged soldiers and half-pay officers from Wellington’s armies, Irish weavers and paupers, Scottish artisans and dispossessed crofters, English country labourers and factory workers.  There were numbers of middle- and upper-class emigrants, who often failed in their hopes of becoming gentlemen-farmers in the wilderness, but the urge, indeed, the need, to emigrate was strongest in the lower ranks of society.  On the whole those who came proved themselves hardy and self-reliant.  Many, however, had scraped together their last funds for passage-money for themselves and family.  They arrived almost penniless, to tax the limited resources of the colonies.  The Irish famine-immigrants of the late 1840’s were perhaps the worst case of this sort.  Starvation and disease carried them off in hundreds in the ’emigrant sheds’ on their arrival.  Yet, if a man were strong, the constant need for labour in a new land gave even the penniless arrival a chance to earn a living, to learn the ways of the country, and to save enough to buy a farm of his own.

Although some of the emigrants received aid from the British government or private charitable societies, most came at their own expense.  The more well-to-do travelled in the cabins of regular packet ships, but the poor made the long voyage under sail in the steerage of crowded emigrant vessels.  Often they were crammed into the dark holds of timber ships, which thus picked up a cargo

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of living ballast for the trip back to British North America after having discharged their lumber in Britain.  Even the cabin passengers had to carry their own supplies, and, despite regulations against overcrowding, the problem of cooking and eating, sleeping and living, in an airless confined space below decks, with seasick or possibly diseased neighbours close by, sometimes made the voyage in the steerage a nightmare.  At least the coming of the steamship shortened the length of the nightmare, but undoubtedly the Atlantic passage helped the British settlement of Canada in a ruthless way by getting rid of the more unfit on the journey.

Of the new arrivals, about 40,000 went to Nova Scotia between the years 1815 and 1838.  After this time the last frontiers in the province had been fairly well occupied, and immigration declined.  More than half of the immigrants were Scots, who came to form the third group in Nova Scotia, following the Loyalists and hte pre-Loyalist New Englanders.  Scots went also to Prince Edward Island in considerable numbers.  New Brunswick secured well over 60,000 settlers, two-thirds of them Irish, and filled up the fertile St. John valley and the Gulf of St. Lawrence shore.  The crest of the movement to New Brunswick came later, particularl in the 1940’s, when the ‘famine Irish’ arrived.  The result was to lessen the staid Loyalist character of this province, as was the case in Nova Scotia, though in both provinces Loyalist groups continued to dominate society.  Newfoundland did not share particularly in the great British Atlantic migration, though a trickle of settlers continued to go there.  The island was being chiefly populated from Ireland and the west of England.

As for the Canadas, few of the British immigrants settled in Lower Canada except in the Eastern Townships or in Montreal and Quebec, but many passed through on the way to Upper Canada.  the broad confines of Upper Canada received the largest flow of settlers.  This province grew very rapidly.  Rising only after 1820, the flood of British immigrants to Upper Canada reached 12,000 in the year of 1828, 30,000 in 1830, and 66,000 two

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years later.  Outbreaks of cholera, the dreaded scourge of the immigrant, and troubled times in Upper Canada, sent more British settlers elsewhere in the later thirties, but a new peak of immigration was reached in the 1840’s.  English, Welsh, Lowland and Highland Scots and Catholic and Ulster Irish all shared in the immigration.  The English, indeed, had entered into all the provinces, but since they did not settle in blocks as the Scots and Irish did, or retain their national characteristics as long, they are less easy to trace.

In Upper Canada several large group settlements were made.  In the western part of the province, above Lake Erie, the Talbot Settlement considerably lessened the American character of the region.  Colonel Thomas Talbot, an English backwoods despot, gathered in 30,000 settlers, founded the town of St. Thomas, his namesake, and scattered British names in the forest, from the British edge of Lake Erie to the new village of London.  On the shores of Lake Huron the Canada Land Company, formed in 1823 with John Galt, the novelist, as its first secretary, sought to settle a million acres.  The towns of Guelph and Goderich were founded by the Company and this western Huron Tract began to flourish.  Meanwhile the whole shore of Lake Ontario had been filled in and settlement was pushing inland.  Settlers were also following in the wake of lumbermen up the Ottawa valley.  The population of Upper Canada reached almost 400,0000 by 1838 and nearly a million by 1850.

This expansion was not always achieved easily.  The immigrant’s troubles were by no means over with the trying Atlantic passage, even if he arrived with money enough to buy a farm.   Confused policies of granting land in Upper Canada, favouritism among officials, the holding back of crown and clergy reserves from sale, combined with much land speculation, too often made farms either expensive to buy or hard to reach.  The hard and lonely life of pioneering placed a heavy burden on people from an old and well-populated land, even if they had not been town-

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dwellers there.  And finally, if their health and spirit were not broken in the dark forest clearings, they might find that the lack of roads and uncertain markets in Britain limited the sale of the grain crops they had raised with so much toil.  It is every honour to these immigrants that so many of them survived the grave difficulties and won through to success, developing Upper Canada in the process, and helping to shape its society as they did so.

The influence of the British immigrants could be seen everywhere throughout the society of British North America.  The Scottish imprint remained on Nova Scotia, and is still clear to-day, especially on the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders of Cape Breton.  The Catholic Irish communities in New Brunswick and in the cities of Quebec and Montreal formed distinct and important elements in the population.  In Upper Canada, Protestant Irish outnumbered Catholic Irish nearly three to one, and the Ulster influence in this community was visible in the wide growth of the Ulsterman’s Orange Society.  Unfortunately it was also seen in mounting religious friction between Catholic and Protestant settlers.  The strongly pro-British and anti-American leanings of the Loyalists in Upper Canada were strengthened by the Orangemen’s devotion to the British tie; while the anti-Catholic outlook of Ulster came to affect the Upper Canadian view of the French Canadians.  In general, the powerful Ulster Irish influence increased the conservative tendencies in Upper Canada that had been brought into being by the Loyalists and by the reaction to the War of 1812.  The English influence also tended to work in this direction.  English gentlemen who entered the government service or the dominant Church of England brought a decided belief in class distinctions with them and a dislike of ‘levelling’ democracy.  At the same time, the English half-pay officers or small gentry who settled on farms tended to supply what education there was in the backwoods, though a number of doctors, ministers and teachers continued to come to Upper Canada from the United States.

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Not all British immigrants in Upper Canada, however, joined conservative ranks.  Some brought new liberal or Reform ideas from Britain, or developed democratic feelings in North America.  Some were roused by the land muddle to question the ruling powers in the colony.  In any case, the entrance of immigrants in large numbers all over British North America nearly everywhere disordered society and raised pressing problems of government.  Hence a new age of political change began, a time of growing pains for the expanding colonies.  This age of change led finally to self-government for British North America, which, thanks to immigration, was becoming strong enough to manage its own affairs.  And during the years up to 1850, while self-government was being achieved, immigration also went hand in hand with general economic development, another important aspect of the new age.

2. Advances in Transportation

The commercial development of the British North American colonies after 1815 generally followed lines laid down before the war of 1812.  Lumbering and grain-growing remained the chief concerns of the Canadas; lumbering and shipbuilding, shipping and fishing, the principal employments of the Maritimes.  The period up to 1850, however, saw great progress made in all these activities.  This economic advance resulted both from immigration and from improvements in the means of transport.  At the same time commercial prosperity invited more immigration, while improved transportation brought in settlers more easily and carried their goods more readily to market.

One of the greatest improvements in transportation came with the introduction of the steamship.  In the long run this triumph of the Industrial Revolution affected the British North American colonies, as it did all the overseas possessions of Britain, by bringing them closer to the centre of empire.  The bonds of the sea were knit tighter.  The products of rising British industrialism were poured more freely into British North America.  In return, the

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growing factory towns of Britain demanded more lumber for building and more grain for bread from the lands across the ocean.  This was indeed a long-run development.  The day of the sailing vessel did not finally pass away until the later nineteenth century.

Yet the coming of the steamship and the whole age of steam pointed in the direction of continually increasing trade with Britain.

Steamships also came into use on the waterways of British North America.  As early as 1809 the steamer Accommodation  had been launched at Montreal and had successfully plied the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec, though sometimes she required the help of oxen pulling on shore to move her upstream against the strong current.  By 1816 the first Canadian steamship on the Great Lakes, the Frontenac  had made her appearance.  By the 1830’s steamboats were found on even the smaller lakes and rivers.  They were ungainly creatures that belched clouds of black wood smoke through tall thin funnels, and were often built like wooden boxes on rafts.  Yet they supplied easy, and sometimes very comfortabloe transportation by water while much of the land was still almost impassable by road.

Especially in Upper Canada, the roads, to dignify them by that name, were often impassable for anything but a mounted rider or a pedlar’s pack horse.  Military roads like the Dundas highway west of Toronto, Yonge Street to the north, and the Danforth road to Kingston and Montreal in the east, were at least well surveyed and sometimes roughly bridged.  But even they descended at times to deeply rutted paths cut through the all-embracing forest.  The practice of building ‘corduroy’ roads, particularly in swampy sections — formed of logs laid side by side across the track — improved travel while the road was new; but sinking and rotting logs added a new hazard and made for a bumpy journey at best.

Travel by springless stage coaches was, therefore, none too pleasant.  It was best in winter, when runners replaced wheels, and the stage glided over a frozen track.  The mud of the spring

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thaw, however, closed down the roads for a considerable length of time.  Of course, highways were gradually improved as the years went by, and the worst of the conditions described were found before 1830.  Yet, until the building of railways, travel by land remained difficult in British North America.  The first railways appeared well before 1850, but they were few, short, and relatively unimportant.  The railway era did not begin for Canada until after 1850.  It was only then that great interior areas could be opened up.

The period under discussion was thus the age of the waterways.  In Upper Canada, the Great Lakes and the river systems draining into them, in Lower Canada, the St. Lawrence, still supplied the mans of communication, though sailing schooners and steamships had now replaced canoes.  Even in the Maritimes, where distances were less and roads often better (though not in rugged Newfoundland) most traffic went by water.  The coasting trade handled most of the needs of the Maritimes and Newfoundland.  A large local merchant marine developed in this region, as it did on the inland waters of British North America.

Because of the importance of water transport, steps were soon taken to improve it.  Better types of vessel were developed in the Canadas long before the coming of steam.  Bateaux, large open boats, usually driven by poles or sweeps, replaced canoes; Durham boats, still bigger craft that often carried sails, replaced the bateaux.  On the open Great Lakes, in particular, quite large sailing vessels appeared.  As a military example, the noble line-of-battle ship St. Lawrence,  built at the Royal Naval dockyards at Kingston on Lake Ontario in 1814, was larger than the Victory,  in which Nelson had died at Trafalgar nine years earlier.

The most important improvement in transport affected the water routes themselves.  After 1815 British North America embarked with great enthusiasm on canal-building.  Canals had proved highly successful in Britain, where they preceded the rail-

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way-building age.  They seemed to be having equal success in developing the inland waterways of the United States to their fullest use.  In 1825 the most outstanding American canal was completed, the Erie Canal between Lake Erie and the Hudson River, which linked the Great Lakes by water with the Atlantic port of New York.  The Erie entered on an enormously profitable career, since it carried much of the traffic of the American West to the ocean at New York City.

In British North America there were canal projects in the Maritimes, but the main efforts were made in the Canadas in an attempt to improve the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes system as a great water highway between the West and the sea.  The steady flow of traffic along this St. Lawrence waterway was broken by the thundering cascade of Niagara Falls, by long stretches of foaming rapids in the upper St. Lawrence, and by shallows between Quebec and Montreal which stopped the largest ocean-going craft at the former port.  Canal-builders attacked these breaks in easy water communication.  In 1825 the first canal was completed around the Lachine rapids, one of several of the ‘white water’ barriers in the upper St. Lawrence.  In 1829 the first of eight Welland canals was built to join Lakes Erie and Ontario and avoid Niagara Falls.  Three years later the Rideau canal was opened, linking Lake Ontario at Kingston with the Ottawa river.  It completely avoided the rapids of the upper St. Lawrence, since small vessels could now sail to Lake Ontario from Montreal by going up the Ottawa to the entrance of the Rideau canal.

This, however, was a rather roundabout route.  The Rideau canal had really been built by the British government for military purposes, to provide a pathway between Montreal and Upper Canada that would be distant from the United States border.  Then in wartime the Americans would not be able to cut off communications along the upper St. Lawrence as they had threatened to do in the War of 1812.  Yet a better commercial route was necessary if the St. Lawrence was to succeed as a great highway between the

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West and the sea.  High costs and political difficulties held this project back, but at last, by 1848, a chain of canals had been constructed around the St. Lawrence rapids.  A larger Welland canal had also been completed and the shallows below Montreal deepened.

Before 1850, therefore, ships could sail by the St. Lawrence from the sea to the Upper Lakes along channels nine feet in minimum depth.  The canals did not achieve all that their creators had hoped for the St. Lawrence, and they were not deep enough for later ocean-going vessels.  But they did provide a basic line of water transport, which steadily improved and is still vital to modern Canada, even though the age of the all-important waterways has passed away.

3. The Maritime and St. Lawrence Trading Systems

While the population of British North America was rising and its means of transport steadily improving, far-reaching empires of trade were being constructed, based on the waterways and the advancing wealth and progress of the provinces.  The day of the fur kingdom was over in the eastern half of the continent, but powerful business interests were thriving on exporting the staples of lumber, fish, and grain.  In the Maritimes the commercial interests were built on trade by the Atlantic, in the Canadas, on the St. Lawrence trade.  They came to wield much power even in the political life of the colonies.

Maritime commercial life was not as tightly organized nor as closely focused on one city as that of the Canadas, which largely revolved about Montreal.  Nevertheless the shipping interests of Saint John and the lumber kings of the Miramichi were powerful in New Brunswick, as the West Indies merchants of Halifax were in Nova Scotia; while the big commercial houses of St. John’s in Newfoundland came to dominate the island’s fisheries.  Most of the goods required by the fishing outports of Newfoundland came by way of St. John’s, which also gathered in their catch

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for marketing abroad.  The island’s fishermen, however, utterly dependent on their one ‘crop’ of fish, were often desperately poor.

This was the day of ‘wood, wind and water’ in the Maritimes, and it was close to being their golden age.  Until the iron and steel steamship finally drove sail from the oceans of the world, the Maritimes were well equipped by position and resources to prosper in the age of wooden windships.  Trade still went by water, not by rail, along the coasts of the continent.  Maritime coasters built of the plentiful Maritime timber, were busily occupied.  Hundreds of fishing schooners sailed to the banks and carried their catch to the West Indies.  New Brunswick shipyards turned out great wooden vessels for the open sea as well; and Nova Scotian ‘Bluenose’ seamen, sailing far over the globe, developed one of the world’s leading merchant fleets.  Saint John and Halifax harbours were crowded with ships from the seven seas.  The clipper ship, the last and most splendid achievement of the age of sail, was so well fashioned in the Maritimes that some of the noblest American clippers were designed by Bluenose ship-builders who had gone to the United States.

Nor was the steamship ignored by Maritime sea-enterprise.  In 1833, the Royal William,  built at Quebec, had already been the first vessel to cross the Atlantic under steam the entire way, though she had also used sails to assist her.  Soon afterwards the British government was considering the possibility of establishing a regular Atlantic steamship service for mails.  Sailing ships might take from six to sixteen weeks in passage, if the winds so decreed, but letters could travel quickly and on schedule by steamship.  Few men, however, in Europe or America would then risk establishing a steam mail line.  Yet the leading business figure in Nova Scotia, a shareholder in the Royal William,  was prepared to do so.  In 1839 Samuel Cunard of Halifax secured a British government mail contract, and the next year the first Cunarder ‘steamship on schedule’ crossed the Atlantic.  The huge Cunard Queen ships of

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to-day can trace their ancestry back to Maritime provinces of British North America.

In the interior provinces the one great trade route of the St. Lawrence gave a single direction to commercial enterprise that was lacking in the Maritimes.  As it had done since the time of the French fur trade, the St. Lawrence route opened the way to the centure of the continent and carried inland commerce to the sea.  Though furs had departed from it, the St. Lawrence system flourished on forwarding grain and lumber to Europe and transporting British manufactures to the spreading farms of Upper Canada.  Yet the powerful mercantile interests of Montreal, that had grown up with the fur trade, felt that handling the commerce of the Canadas was not enough.  Once the St. Lawrence traders had commanded most of the traffic of the American West besides, directing the flow of furs towards Montreal from south of the Great Lakes as well as from the north-west.  Now that American settlements were reaching into the prairies, why should the St. Lawrence not control their trade, carrying their farm products to European markets and supplying their wants?

The St. Lawrence route still had its natural advantages, on which the Montreal merchants counted heavily.  It supplied a direct water route behind the Appalachians from the Atlantic to the prairies.  From points on the Great Lakes the rich American carrying-trade could be linked to Montreal and Quebec, which lay closer to Europe than the seaports of the United States.  There were only a few breaks in the system of easy water communication.  Thus it was that canal-building was so important to those merchants who shared the vision of a St. Lawrence commercial empire ruling the whole interior of North America, Canadian and American alike.

Yet the grand St. Lawrence dream achieved only partial success.  American trade routes penetrated the Appalachian barrier and offered increasing competition.  They tied much of the western carrying-trade to Atlantic ports in the United States.  In particular,

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the Erie canal, that led to New York City, diverted a great deal of the traffic from the St. Lawrence river outlets.  Here once again was the old rivalry of the St. Lawrence and Hudson valleys for the western trade, a rivalry that had begun with Champlain at Quebec and the Dutch at Albany.  The ‘Erie ditch’, completed in the same year as the first St. Lawrence canal, the Lachine, tapped the Great Lakes and carried traffic in a southerly direction to a port larger than Montreal and one that was ice-free all the year round.  New York defeated the Canadian city.  The difference in the present size of the populations of these two chief metropolitan centres of the United States and Canada seems to suggest the margin of victory:  New York, eight million, Montreal, one million.

Nevertheless, the St. Lawrence trading system still controlled the lands north of the Great Lakes and did not yield the commerce of the American West without a struggle.  The final outcome was not clear in the years before 1850.  After the building of the Erie canal the men of the St. Lawrence countered with their thorough-going canal improvements, only completed in 1848.  The construction of railways in the United States, however, overcame these canals; whereupon, after 1850, the main St. Lawrence trading interests increasingly turned from waterways to railways, in an attempt to win the American western carrying trade through this new means of transport.

Hence the St. Lawrence trading system did not abandon its vision of empire, although as well as American competition it had to face problems within its ‘home’ provinces of the Canadas.  The farmers of Upper Canada were not always ready to pay tribute to a St. Lawrence empire if they could import goods at a lower cost via New York and the Erie canal, or send crops to market more cheaply that way.  The division of Upper and Lower Canada put ther St. Lawrence route under two governments and sometimes disputes over commercial policies and customs duties hampered the flow of trade.  The St. Lawrence was one economic unit, but

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politically it was cut in two.  Finally, quarrels arose within Lower Canada between the English-speaking merchant and the French Canadian majority, which opposed the great power of the trading interests and objected to their expensive plans for developing the St. Lawrence.

All in all, however, the St. Lawrence system proved that it did have strength by continuing to grow in the face of these disadvantages.  It served still to bind Upper and Lower Canada together in mutual dependence.  It brought wealth and development beyond what the Maritimes knew.  New York may have defeated Montreal; but Montreal and its trading network remain to-day one of the largest commercial systems in the world.  The traffic of the American West was not held in the long run, but the Canadas continued to pour their rising wealth into the St. Lawrence.  And, in a later day, that vast north-west that had been lost to the Hudson Bay fur traders would return to the St. Lawrence commercial system, once railways, settlement, and grain-farming had opened it to civilization.

4. The Pioneer Age

Up to 1850, this growing, changing British North America was still in the pioneer age.  Though conditions of life naturally varied a good deal between the sea coasts and the Great Lakes, the colonies at this time were, on the whole, in the stage of pioneer development, the first carving of civilized communities out of the raw North American forests.  Lower Canada, where the French-speaking community had gone through its pioneering stage in the days of New France, seems the obvious exception to this statement.  Since the end of the French regime there had been little change in the placid farming existence of the habitants in Lower Canada.  Even here, however, English-speaking immigrants in the Eastern Townships and French Canadian farmers advancing inland from the long-cultivated banks of the St. Lawrence provided a pioneer fringe.  And in the Maritimes, though the areas of

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frontier settlement were smaller, there was still much pioneering to be done up to 1850.  As for Newfoundland, in the lonely outposts scattered along the coasts the inhabitants lived constantly under stern frontier conditions.

Yet Upper Canada was the chief centre of pioneer life, and the home of the largest farming frontier.  It was only after 1850 that the last good wild lands were taken up in the fertile Upper Canadian peninsula between the Great Lakes.  Until then, though towns on the Lakes were growing into busy commercial centres, and the farmlands of the ‘Front’ were taking on an old settled look, there was always a broad belt of back-country, a region of bush farms and lonely log cabins, where the frontiersmen were steadily cutting back the margin of the forests.

The life of the pioneer farm was hard and even brutal.  There was no time for learning or social graces; the refinements that settlers might bring with them from a more civilized background soon tended to drop away.  It is unwise to be too romantic about the simple charms of the crude shanties and the ignorant, hard-drinking and over-worked population who lived in them.  But such a life had its merits as well.  If it was lonely, then neighbours some miles apart by forest trail were the more valuable to one another.  They combined against the weight of the wilderness in ‘bees’ to clear each other’s land, or to raise the barns and hewn-log cabins that replaced the first rough shanties.  If there was ignorance, there was also a desire to bring schooling to all, and not to a privileged few.  If pioneer life could mean drab monotony and a bitter struggle to succeed, it also brought freedom, a sense of self-sufficient strength and the constant hope of a steadily improving future.  Year after year, as the fields spread out, as frame or brick houses replaced cabins, and the forest gave way to a bountiful countryside, that hope seemed to be justified.

Apart from the mass of the pioneer population, the pedlar, the teacher, and the preacher were the notable figures of the frontier.  The first brought the scant luxuries to be purchased in the

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backwoods or the few necessities not provided by the pioneer farm, whether clocks or shawls, salt or tea, or knives and iron pots.  The second was usually a frontier-dweller too inform or incapable to farm for himself:  perhaps a disabled soldier, or an old seaman in the Maritimes.  Men like these, who turned their little cabin into a school and often taught in return for food and firewood, obviously made poor teachers.  They knew little more than their pupils and sought to fill in the gaps with frequent use of the rod.  Yet from this small beginning popular education was born on the Canadian frontier, and from it rose a demand for a general system of public schooling.

The preacher was a most important figure on the frontier.  His regular visits supplied almost the only release from the monotonous toiling round of daily life, and so it is small wonder that religious services among the pioneers were emotional in the extreme.  The services held in the little log churches built for travelling ministers, or in great ‘camp meetings’ under the trees were religious revivals, popular holidays, and exciting public festivals all rolled in one.  As a result, the more formal and restrained Church of England, which claimed religious control in the principal English-speaking colonies, was not widely popular on the frontier.  Indeed, its clergy tended to stay among the officials and well-to-do merchants in the towns and left the back-country to Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist ministers.  The Methodist ‘circuit-riders’, in particular, who were often from the United States, built up the power of Methodism among the pioneers of British North America.

The widespread growth of churches in the colonies was also a sign of the beginnings of culture.  Catholicism, of course, was firmly based in Lower Canada, but it came with the Irish and Highland Scots to Upper Canada and the Maritimes as well.  In Nova Scotia, Presbyterianism early established a strong foothold, and rose with the growing Scottish population in that province.  In Upper Canada the narrow but powerful mind of Archdeacon

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John Strachan did much to advance the Church of England and to found higher education in the colony.  Higher education, in fact, was closely connected with the churches.  Thus in Nova Scotia in 1802, the Church of England foundation of King’s College (now part of Dalhousie University) became the first university to be chartered in British North America.  In 1827 the earnest Strachan secured a charter for a King’s College in Upper Canada, which later grew into the University of Toronto.  The University of New Brunswick came into being in 1829, and McGill University in Montreal, Lower Canada, arose out of the bequest of a rich North West Company trader, James McGill in 1821.  Other institutions founded by religious bodies before 1850 included Queen’s University (Presbyterian) and Victoria University (Methodist) in Upper Canada, and Acadia University (Baptist) in Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile education was advancing on lower levels.  In the 1840’s a province-wide system of government-controlled primary education was set in operation in Upper Canada, and the first public secondary schools were similarly established in the 1850s.  Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, newspaper editor, political reformer and superintendent of education, was the true founder of this school system.  In the other provinces as well, the state provided for public primary education.  These ‘common’ schools were not generally under the control of the churches, except among the French-speaking people of Lower Canada, where the Catholic Church continued to manage the many tasks of education as it had in the time of New France.  In Newfoundland, however, control of the school system was divided between the leading churches, Anglican, Methodist, and Catholic.

With increasing education went also an increasing interest in books and newspapers.  As well, no doubt, the gradually passing of the hardest stages of pioneering produced a people with more time to read and to discuss public questions.  British North America was becoming strongly politically minded.  Hence little newspapers sprang up on every hand to recount the doings of the

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THE PIONEER AGE, 1815 – 50

colonies’ governments; some to cry out against abuses and to urge reforms.  These journals were symbols of growing cultural maturity, though for a long time to come they were almost the only literature produced in the British North American provinces.  Only in Nova Scotia, where traditions of culture had deeper roots, thanks to the educated Loyalists who had gone to that colony, were there the beginnings of a real native literature before 1850.  Here Judge Thomas Haliburton, son of a Loyalist, produced his humorous chronicle of Sam Slick the Clockmaker,  which won much fame in Britain and the United States as well as in Canada.

Before 1850, therefore, while the frontier stage was at its height in eastern Canada, not only were the colonies being solidly populated and their commercial like developed, but these pioneer communities were also laying the foundations for a culture of their own.  Out of the pioneer age there came a growing self-conscious spirit, impatient of outside direction, that turned itself towards the goal of self-government for British North America.

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