Catharine Parr Traills The Backwoods Of Canada English Literature Essay


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Nevertheless, one of the ship's officer's soon dissuades Traill and her husband of this opinion as he states that, if they were closer, they would find "every variety of disease, vice, poverty, filthy and famineâ€"human misery in its most disgusting and maddening form." They move up river towards Quebec. However, once again, they are not allowed to go ashore due to "pestilence" within the city. Traill's account of her experiences thus far, that is, the voyage and her first views of the Canadian landscape convey both the beauty of the vistas she perceived and their inherent dangers, as one can gather that hardship and disease were the constant companions of the land's natural beauty, which Traill is very good at describing in lyrical detail.

Throughout her account, the modern reader learns interesting details of Canadian life during this era. For example, she is intrigued when the ship passes islands that have herd of cattle grazing on them. The captain explained that local farmers ferry the animals to the island on flat-bottomed boats or swim them across, if possible, and leave them to graze, with someone from the farm canoeing out to milk them on a daily basis.

In Lower Canada, below Quebec, the land has a "wild and rugged aspect," but Traill comments on the increased fertility as the ship approaches Montreal and how the land surrounding this city seems "willing to yield her increase to a moderate exertion." Having landed in Montreal, Trail is struck by the "dirty, narrow, ill-paved or unpaved streets." Ultimately, Traill and her husband settle near the town of Peterborough and become true pioneering settlers, as her husband is entitled to land due to his British military service. Furthermore, they are able to purchase land that will give them a water frontage.

Throughout her letters, it is fascinating to read Traill's very British take on North American life. For example, she is critical of log cabins that she views from the river where the settlers have not taken time out from survival to plant roses around their casements. Likewise, she is amazed that "the sons of naval and military officers and clergymen" stand behind the counter in shops or wield an "axe in the woods" and still maintain their rank and status among the "aristocracy of the country." Likewise, she is equally surprised that the Americans she meets are "polite, well-behaved people" rather than the exhibiting the "odious manners" that she expected. Those people with the worst manners, who displayed a sense of "independence" that was not "exactly suitable" to their actual station in life were people who, like themselves, were European settlers. In particular, Traill criticizes a young Scotsman who seemed to be particularly adamant on stressing to Traill and her husband, as English aristocrats that in the New World, he was not obliged to observe the niceties of the European class system.

At every juncture in their journey, the Traills seem to have an easier time of handling the many transitions of emigration as they have money and can purchase assistance. For example, when they finally arrive at their homestead, Traill's husband "hired people to log up (that is, to draw the chopped timbers into heaps for burning) and clear a space for building our house upon." Nevertheless, she explains to her British mother, and in doing so also to her British readership, that they were also expected to "call the 'bee,'" that is, to provide everything necessary for the "entertainment of our worthy hive," i.e., the neighbors who assemble to "raise the walls of your house, shanty, barn or any other building" in a "'raising bee.'" Once again, Traill appears to be astonished that all evidence of class distinctions are laid aside in order for neighbors to help each other.

It is interesting to note how Traill quickly learns to abandon the notions of what is proper, which she naturally brought with her from England, as she adapts to her new country. She comments on the need for adaptation by writing about the different peoples to whom life in Canada is well suited. For example, she says that the poor laborer suited to this life because, after a few years of hard work, he can enjoy his own log-house and the fruits of his land and see his children grow up as "independent freeholders." Likewise, a rich speculator can do well in the New World. However, an aristocrat whose "habits have rendered him unfit for manual labor" is not suited to life in North American to the slightest degree, for "if he is idle himself, his wife extravagant and discontented, and the children taught to despise labor...They will soon be brought down to ruin."

When the Traill home is finished, it sounds extremely inviting. The pillars of their verandah are "extremely pretty, wreathed with the luxuriant hop-vine, mixed with the scarlet creeper and 'morning glory,' the American name for the most splendid" flowering plant." They have a "handsome Franklin stove with brass gallery and fender" for warmth and also a "brass-railed sofa...Canadian painted chairs, a stained pine table, green and white curtains and a handsome Indian mat that covers the floor." Their many books occupy one side of the room, while large maps and prints cover the rough walls.

Traill has a knack for description that enlivens her entire narrative, as she paints verbal portraits of landscapes and settings that enable her readers to envision what she sees and does. Sometimes, her reactions are surprising. For example, in describing the severe cold of a Canadian winter, she seems perplexed by the presence of static electricity in her clothing. Nevertheless, while suffering to some extent in the severe cold. Traill is, as always, able to find something pleasurable about the experience and she also lists the "charms" of this season.

By the end of her narrative, Traill has totally discarded all reference that disparage her life in North America as compared to life in England and embraced freedom from convention, identifying herself as a "bush-settler," writing:

we bush-settler are more independent: we do what we like; we dress as we find most suitable and most convenient; we are totally without the fear of any Mr. or Mrs. Grundy; and having shaken off the trammels of Grundyism, we laugh at the absurdity of those who voluntarily forge afresh and hug their chains.

From this passage, it is implied that the reference to "Grundyism" refers to the notions of etiquette that Traill has thoroughly rejected as inappropriate and silly within the context of frontier life. It is easy to see that a nascent sense of the Canadian national character being forged in her consciousness, as she rejects class distinctions and embraces the liberty and opportunity possible in her new life.

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