The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XI. English-Canadian Literature

§ 6. Historians

A very enjoyable part of Canadian literature connects itself with accounts of expeditions into distant regions of an unexplored continent. A number of the best records of adventurous journeys are written in French, of which many have been translated. The earliest of these explorers’ volumes produced by an Englishman was by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, a high official in the North-West company, who made trips through to the Arctic and the Pacific, and, in 1801, published his Voyages from Montreal through the Continent of North America. It makes fascinating reading. George Heriot, the historian, wrote, in 1807, a curious pioneer volume Travels through the Canadas which is much more entertaining than his serious History of Canada. Alexander Henry was an American by birth who spent many years as a fur-trader in central Canada, and ended his days as a merchant in Montreal. His book Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories was published in New York, in 1809, and was edited as recently as 1901 by James Bain of Toronto. Anna Brownell Jameson, who wrote on Shakespeare’s women, spent a part of 1836–7 in and near Toronto, and, in the following year, published in three volumes Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada. Of a similar type were two books written by Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush; or Life in Canada (1852), and Life in the Clearing versus the Bush (1853). These books describe the conditions of life in the early settlements more faithfully and, withal, more humorously than any other writer has described them.

History is more successfully organised in Canada at the present time than any other branch of literature. Our archives are being systematically explored, and societies exist for the purpose of editing old, and publishing new, material of a historical nature. Our earliest historians, Heriot, Smith and Christie were of the laboriously dull type that history frequently breeds. John Charles Dent, an Englishman by birth, was much more entertaining; but his partisanship impairs the value of his work. This consists of two readable histories, The Last Forty Years and The Story of the Upper Canadian Rebellion. The most complete and painstaking of our histories, dull without being scientific, but quite praiseworthy, is William Kingsford’s History of Canada, which covers the period from the discovery of Canada to the union of 1841. Ten volumes stand to Kingsford’s credit, and he began to write history at the age of sixtyfive. Haliburton’s Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia (1829) is still useful. Two other works by him—The Bubbles of Canada (1837) and Rule and Misrule of the English in America (1851)—have a historical tinge.

The war of 1812 has been variously recorded. David Thompson was imprisoned for debt as a result of his historic venture on this theme. Major John Richardson’s War of 1812, in its re-edited form (1902), presents much valuable material. James Hannay produced a History of Acadia and a War of 1812. Lady Edgar, in her Ten Years of Peace and War in Upper Canada, presents a most interesting account of the time, based largely on the correspondence of the Ridout family to which she belonged. Her Life of Brock in the Makers of Canada series is clearly and entertainingly written. Lady Edgar also wrote a history of Maryland in the eighteenth century under the title A Colonial Governor in Maryland.

Sir John George Bourinot is the author of a popular history called The Story of Canada. He was a diligent and useful writer upon Canadian affairs, and his position as clerk of the Canadian house of commons gave him peculiar opportunities for the study of constitutional problems. The leading Canadian writer, however, on constitutional procedure was Alpheus Todd, whose works will be found in the bibliography. Two men, Joseph Howe and George Morris Grant, exercised by their voice and pen a powerful influence on the political thought of Canada. Their literary output was slender and does not give the full measure of their ability or influence.