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Travel literature as a commentary on development in the Canadas, 1763-1838 Owens, Noel Arthur Scott

Abstract

Travel accounts are an important source of information about eastern Canada during the period 1763-1838. The authors included civil and military officers, merchants, and farmers, of British, French, German, and American nationality. Most of them displayed the outlook and prejudices of the middle and upper classes, and almost all of them were Protestants of varying degrees of conviction. Between the Conquest and the Peace of Paris, these travellers found a conquered province inhabited mainly by French-speaking peasants with distinctive customs. The influx of Loyalists after the American Revolution augmented the small but influential English-speaking community and led to the establishment of the separate provinces of Lower and Upper Canada in 1791. After the War of 1812, immigration from Great Britain and Ireland added to the complexity of the eastern province and greatly increased the population of the western. Racial antagonism became serious in Lower Canada, but it was never important in Upper Canada. Social conditions showed gradual improvement throughout the period 1763-1838, but intellectual and cultural progress was slow, particularly in Upper Canada. The dominance of the Roman Catholic church in Lower Canada had no parallel in the western province, where religious diversity was the rule. Economically, "both provinces were backward, even in agriculture, the mainstay of their people. Transportation facilities were generally primitive, with certain important exceptions. The political struggle in Lower Canada was essentially an attempt by the French-speaking majority to assume the direction of its own affairs by subordinating the executive to the popular legislature. This racial issue did not arise in Upper Canada, where the reformers sought to put into effect democratic principles of British and American provenance. The Rebellions of 1837 came as a surprise, despite the evidence of mounting tension in the years immediately preceding. The observations of travellers were sufficiently consistent to act as a useful complement to Lord Durham's Report. On the whole, they confirmed his diagnosis and supported his recommendations. The picture of the Canadas derived from travel literature is of considerable value for an understanding of Canadian development during the period 1763-1838.

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