Essay 2

Tokens of Being There:
Land Deeds and Demarkations


How did the early European colonists and settlers of Canada come to own their lands? Or, more fundamentally, "[h]ow do things come to be owned? (Carol M. Rose 73). In recent years, there has been much discussion and controversy surrounding the ownership of land in Canada. Not only the Native peoples but also the Quebecois, particularly those committed to separation ("maîtres chez nous"), have made aggressive claims to ownership of large portions of the country. Provincial governments from coast to coast, especially in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, have been obliged and sometimes forced to (re-)negotiate agreements involving rights in land that sometimes go back hundreds of years. There has even been talk of enshrining property rights in the Constitution. In the midst of all this, few Canadians of non-Native descent pause to ponder the first principles under which their ancestors acquired that portion of the earth’s surface now called Canada, let alone to consider the possibility that early Canadian poetry might reflect those principles in a manner that could shed light on current events in the realm of land ownership. Yet poems written in and about Canada during the era of European exploration and settlement are "distant mirror[s]" (Tuchman) that can illuminate the present, and, often in surprising and disturbing ways, they do reflect the three principles of land ownership that had—and have—immense consequences for Canada and all its peoples: (1) the right of first discovery; (2) the right of first possession; and (3) the right of annexation through labour.

On May 2, 1670, the Charter of the Hudson’s Bay Company was proclaimed by "CHARLES THE SECOND [b]y grace of God King of England Scotland France and Ireland defender of the faith etc." (Charters 3). Legitimizing a scheme originating with two disaffected French traders, Radisson and Groseilliers, the Charter gave "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England tradeing into the Hudson’s Bay" exclusive commercial rights in the vast area of land drained by rivers emptying into Hudson Bay. It also christened this vast area "Rupert’s Land" and made "the said Governor and Company" its "true and absolute Lordes and Proprietores…" (Charters 4, 11-12). Among the key terms in these residually feudal proceedings is the possessive phrase "Hudson’s Bay," for it was because Henry Hudson, an English navigator in the service of James I, was in 1610-1611 the first European explorer to enter the bay which was given his name, that sixty years later Charles II could assign Rupert’s Land to a company of English traders and explorers. In appropriating Hudson Bay and Rupert’s Land through the right of first discovery and then assigning it to the Hudson’s Bay Company on the basis of that right, Charles II was merely operating according to a long-standing convention among the imperial powers of western Europe. A succinct account of the origin and purpose of the right of first discovery is given by the great American jurist John Marshall in the 1832 aboriginal rights case of Worcester v. State of Georgia: "[t]he great maritime powers of Europe discovered and visited different parts of [North America] at nearly the same time…. To avoid bloody conflicts, which might terminate disastrously for all, it was necessary for the nations of Europe to establish some principle which all could acknowledge, and which would decide their respective rights as between themselves. This principle, suggested by the actual state of things, was, ‘that discovery gave title to the government by those subjects or by whose authority it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession’" (qtd. in Calder et al. 197). With the "creation of monopolies" around Hudson Bay, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and elsewhere, adds Olive P. Dickason in The Law of Nations and the New World (1991)," such regions…became exclusive to the European power…concerned" (L.C. Green and Dickason 230).

Thus, when he proclaimed the Hudson’s Bay Company Charter in 1670, Charles II assumed the understanding and agreement of what might be called a consensual community—a European audience who knew the rules of the game of first discovery and were prepared to abide by them. Almost needless to say, the Native peoples living in and around Hudson Bay were not part of the relevant consensual community1indeed, they have only recently become forcibly so through highly visible political demonstrations such as those at Oka and South Moresby Island and, less spectacularly, through the Canadian legal system. In the 1980 Federal Court case of Baker Lake et al. v. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development et al., for example, the Canadian government argued that the Charter of 1670 and subsequent legislation had abrogated any rights that the Inuit may have had in lands in the Northwest Territories. This argument was not entirely accepted by the presiding judge, however, for while maintaining the subordination of native rights in land to Parliament, Justice Mahoney acknowledged the existence of an "aboriginal title" that was "not extinguished by the grant of title to the Hudson’s Bay Company, [or] by surrender or by legislation expressly extinguishing title" (193).2 The Baker Lake case is but one instance of the complex and, at times, bitter struggle that is now taking place in Canada over lands subsumed by European discovery, royal proclamation, and the resultant re-naming or "Englishing" without which they could scarcely be included in what Thomas Carlyle would later call in Past and Present (1843) England’s "Epic Poem"—the text of the British Empire as inscribed and signed on the "Earth’s surface" in centuries of conquest, expansion, and settlement since the Renaissance (10:157).

The fact that the imperial nations of western Europe generally accepted and respected the right of first discovery did not prevent them from engaging in military disputes and commercial rivalries, especially on the contentious peripheries of areas claimed by other European powers. It was not until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 that Britain secured from France and other signatories to the treaty uncontested sovereignty over the territory around Hudson Bay (as well as over Nova Scotia and Newfoundland). Even after the Treaty of Utrecht, the Hudson’s Bay Company faced challenges to its rights in Rupert’s Land from two quarters: from rival traders in England who sought to discredit the Company and divest it of its monopolies by demonstrating its failure to undertake the exploratory activities specified in its Charter (see Robson); and from rival traders from New France who sought to establish trading depots and partners on the peripheries of the area rather cavalierly claimed for the Company by Charles II. It was during the acquisitive period prior to 1713 that the earliest first-hand account of Canada in English poetry was written by a man who was acutely aware of possession as a necessary supplement to the right of first discovery in the establishment of property ownership. That man was Henry Kelsey, a servant of the Hudson’s Bay Company who is generally credited with being the first European to set his foot and make his mark on the Canadian prairies.

In the spring of 1691, probably on "a bend of the Saskatchewan River about twelve miles below [what is now] The Pas, Manitoba" (K.G. Davies 309), Kelsey planted a large wooden "Cross" at a place that he had earlier christened "deerings point" after Sir Edward Dering, the deputy governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company (Kelsey 1-4). Kelsey later used this event to conclude a verse journal about his "Journey" in 1690-1691 from York Factory on Hudson Bay to the Canadian plains:

At deerings point after the frost
I set up there a Certain Cross
In token of my being there
Cut out on it the date of year
And Likewise for me to veryfie the same
added to it my master sir Edward deerings name….

What Kelsey did by erecting his "Certain Cross" at "deerings point" was to give clear notice to the relevant community—the traders of the Compagnie du Nord and their superiors on both sides of the Atlantic—that the Hudson’s Bay Company was operating in the region surrounding the Saskatchewan River (whose waters do, as a matter of fact, empty into Hudson Bay). Very likely, Kelsey’s erection of a "Certain Cross" as a "token of [his] being there" was intended to recall the act that announced the French appropriation of the St. Lawrence estuary: Cartier’s raising of the Cross of France on the Gaspé on July 24, 1534.3 If so, it was an act whose meaning would have been unequivocally clear to the relevant consensual community from and in (New) France. As was the case with the Charter of 1670, it is striking that the Native peoples—the people who guided Kelsey from York Factory to the Saskatchewan River— did not figure largely, if at all, in Kelsey’s consensual community: a Christian symbol inscribed with a date from the Gregorian calendar and the name of an aristocratic Englishman could hardly be for them the "token" or—to use the more common term—the "notice of possession" that it would have been to a French trader. As Stephen Greenblatt observes of Columbus’s "proclamation…with the royal standard unfurled" on his arrival in the New World in 1492, "[t]he ritual of possession, though…apparently directed toward the natives, has its full meaning…in relation to other European powers when they come to hear of the discovery" (Marvelous Possessions 52, 60). Almost exactly a century after Kelsey, and with the Romantic egoism characteristic of his age, Alexander Mackenzie also spoke to a European consensual community when he wrote "in large characters" on a rock near Vancouver: "ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, FROM CANADA, BY LAND, THE TWENTY-SECOND OF JULY, ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND NINETY-THREE" (349). In 1805, William Clark of Lewis and Clark would echo Mackenzie’s inscription when he carved on a "large pine tree" by the Pacific "WILLIAM CLARK DECEMBER 3RD 1805. BY LAND FROM THE U[NITED] STATES IN 1804 AND 1805" (Moulton 107). If an inscribed cross was an accepted token of imperial possession during the period of the First British Empire and earlier, the inscribed name and origin of the explorer was apparently an accepted token in the Second. In both cases, the meaning of the token as an announcement of appropriation was as clear to those of European origin as it must have been opaque to the Native peoples.

An aspect of Kelsey’s act of appropriation in 1690-1691 that deserves further discussion is its linguistic dimension:

The Inland Country of Good report hath been
By Indians but by English not yet seen
Therefore I on my Journey did not stay
But making all the hast I could upon our way
Gott on the borders of the Stone Indian Country
I took possession on the tenth Instant July
And for my masters I speaking for them all
This neck of land I deerings point did call….

In these lines, as throughout Kelsey’s verse journal (though not in his prose account of 1691-1692), the language of the Native peoples is silenced, and both the Indians themselves (the "Assinae poets [Assinipwatug] of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s officers…[of the] time" [Kenney 47n.]) and "their Country" are systematically Englished, most obviously in the case of "deerings point." It might be an exaggeration to say that only after "Wa-pas-kwa-yaw" (Whillans 55-56) has become known and iambically scannable as "deerings point" can it enter a regular decasyllabic couplet, take its place harmoniously in the "Epic Poem" of the British Empire. Nevertheless, "This neck of land I deerings point did call" is notable not only for the poeticizing flourish of its delayed verb (a device also evident earlier in the passage) but also for its metrical regularity and smoothness, a quality that sets it off from its surroundings as a point of special importance for both Kelsey and his Company. Greenblatt could be writing of Kelsey or, indeed, Mackenzie when he observes of Columbus that in taking possession of the New World for Spain he sought to evoke "an aesthetic response in the service of a legitimation process," "to conjoin the most resonant legal ritual he [could] summon up with the most resonant emotion" (Marvelous Possessions 74, 81).4 Nowhere more clearly than in his self-signalizing description of his supreme moment of discovery and appropriation does Kelsey cast himself as an author of the "Epic Poem" of Empire.

To most people of British origin who emigrated to eastern and central Canada, or were born there, in the years surrounding Mackenzie’s journeys to the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, the principle of first discovery was probably as remote as Baker Lake or the Straits of Juan de Fuca. For them, possession of a piece of property was not established by a proclamation of presence in vermilion paint on a rock face. Nor could it necessarily be secured or insured through the acquisition of a deed or title to land, for, as many learned to their dismay, these were not always issued and not always honoured. What, then, counted as possession for farmers in the Annapolis Valley or settlers on the north shore of Lake Erie? The answer lies in what Richard Schlatter in Private Property: the History of an Idea (1951) has called "the standard bourgeois theory" (151) of ownership: the theory set out most famously and influentially by John Locke in section twenty-five of the second of his Two Treatises of Government (1690). According to Locke, ownership of land devolves to the first person who "hath mixed his labour with [it],…and joined to it something that is his own," and, hence, "remove[d] [it] from the common state that nature hath placed it in…" (134). Or as David Hume states the theory in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751): "[w]here a man bestows labor and industry upon any object which before belonged to nobody, as in cutting down and shaping a tree, in cultivating a field, etc., the alteration which he produces causes a relation between him and the object, and naturally engages us to annex it to him by the new relationship of property" (125-26n.).5 In the current atmosphere of contention and uncertainty about Native peoples’ property rights and land claims, it is inevitable that the statement "which before belonged to nobody" should leap out from this passage like one of the more obstreperous villains in a medieval romance. Nor would this effect have failed to register itself on a thoughtful settler in late eighteenth- or nineteenth- century Canada, for the statement "which before belonged to nobody" raises the question of what counts as first possession or original occupation in areas previously inhabited by Native peoples—areas that could not be said unequivocally to have "belonged to nobody."

Fortunately for the peace of mind of many early Canadians, there had risen almost simultaneously in Britain and France at the middle of the eighteenth century, a theory of social development that neatly categorized Canada’s Native peoples as among those who had no rights in property because, in Locke’s terms, they had not "mixed their labour" with the land and, hence, "removed it from the state of nature." Formulated and promulgated in Britain by Adam Smith and in France by A.R.J. Turgot, the four stages theory was, as Ronald L. Meek has shown, "a very common and very important ingredient in Enlightenment thought in the social sciences from 1750 to 1800" (230), and found its way into such widely read and influential works as William Robertson’s History of America (1777), William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769), and Henry James Pye’s The Progress of Refinement (1783). According to the theory, all societies develop through four distinct stages, each defined by its mode of subsistence: (1) a savage stage based on hunting and gathering; (2) a barbaric (or pastoral) stage based on herding; (3) an agricultural stage based on farming; and (4) a commercial stage based on trading. Of these four stages the first two were held—in the buzz words of the day—to be "rough" and "rude," and the second two "polished" and "refined," with the great leap forward occurring with the agricultural stage when, in Blackstone’s words, "tillage" gave rise to the right to "permanent property in the soil" (2: 7-8). Out of the "separate property in lands" that comes with agriculture, argues Blackstone, comes the "civil society" necessary to "ensure" property rights, and, with civil society, comes the "long train of inseparable concomitants" that make up a polite and polished civilization, from "laws…and the public exercise of religious duties" to the "leisure" required "to cultivate the human mind, to invent useful arts, and to lay the foundations of science."

Now the crux of the four stages theory as regards property rights is that the Native peoples were regarded by proponents of the theory as "savages" or, at best, "barbarians," and, hence, as nomads: unsettled and therefore relatively uncivilized people whose relationship with the land was only transitory and sporadic.6 Because nomads did not mix their labour with the land, they did not own it. As William Cronon has shown in Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983) (56; Rose 86n.), the only land recognized by Europeans as the property of the Native peoples was land under cultivation. And as J. Mackay reveals in Quebec Hill (1797), early British visitors and emigrants to Lower Canada were either genuinely or wilfully blind to the fact that in their homelands the Hurons who settled in Quebec after the diaspora of 1659 had been practising agriculture for thousands of years (see Trigger, Children). "They are now so far civilized as to cultivate their lands for their subsistence," writes Mackay of the Hurons at Lorette; "yet many of them still retain, not a little, of the indolent roving disposition of their ancestors" (1: 229n.). In Abram’s Plains, published in Quebec eight years earlier, in 1789, Thomas Cary makes a similar observation, describing the agricultural Hurons of Lorette as "an half-tam’d race" who are well placed "To learn the manners of the polish’d town" (414-16). To Cary, it is the duty and burden of the white man to cultivate simultaneously the physical and moral landscapes of Canada. "How blest the task, to tame the savage soil…!" he exclaims,

But oh! a task of more exalted kind,
To arts of peace, to tame the savage mind;
The thirst of blood, in human breasts, to shame,
To wrest, from barb’rous vice, fair virtue’s name;
Bid tomahawks to ploughshares yield the sway,
And skalping-knives to pruning hooks give way;
In Circe’s glass bid moderation reign,
And moral virtues humanize the plain!                                                               (56-63)

By treating mental culture as an aspect of agriculture, Cary implies that the Native peoples exist in a state of wild and fallen nature like animals, experiencing much the same emotions and drives as four-legged hunters and predators. Mackay implies much the same thing when he observes in a footnote to Quebec Hill that during the winter the "savages [of Lower Canada] range through the woods…much as usual" (2: 63n.). Of course, there are only two things to be done with such wild creatures: either they must be "tamed" and domesticated or they must be driven into the forest where they can do no harm to European settlers. In the first instance—and this is Cary’s solution—they would accrue the characteristics of "polish’d" societies, including rights in property; in the second, they would remain nomadic hunters without an investment in the land and, thus, with no rights in it.

This latter solution is the one favoured by most early Canadian poems that deal with European settlement, be they set in Nova Scotia, like Oliver Goldsmith’s The Rising Village (1825, 1834), or Upper Canada, like Alexander McLachlan’s The Emigrant (1861). Goldsmith’s view that the "wandering savages" of Nova Scotia were little better than the "beasts of prey" with whom they shared the "woods and wilds of Acadia" ([1834] 44-45) probably derives in part at least from Thomas Chandler Haliburton, who, in turn, follows William Robertson in viewing North American Indian culture as the "rudest" and "least civilized" (Robertson 2: 30-244) that could be conceived. In his General Description of Nova Scotia (1823), Haliburton does little more than plagiarize Robertson’s History of America when he describes "savages" as "wandering tribes, who depend upon hunting and fishing for subsistence" and, thus, "nearly resemble…animals" (46, 52). Since Robertson’s views of the character-traits of "savages" dictated directly or indirectly the way in which Goldsmith and many others perceived the Native peoples, it is worth placing them briefly on view. Apparently on the assumption that the mentality of hunters is shaped by their mode of subsistence and nomadic way of life, Robertson lists such qualities as "perseverance" and a "spirit of independence" among their positive characteristics; however, he also dwells at great length on their vengeful and cruel disposition, which he sees as the salient feature of all savage societies. "[T]he most frequent or the most powerful motive of the incessant hostilities among rude nations," he asserts, is "the passion of revenge, which rages with such violence in the breast of savages, that earnestness to gratify it may be considered as the distinguishing characteristic of men in their uncivilized state….The desire for revenge is communicated from breast to breast, and soon kindles into rage," which, in turn, issues in great acts of cruelty (2: 233). Similar views are expressed by most of the travel writers upon whom Canada’s early poets relied for information about the Native peoples. A "diabolical lust for revenge…is the predominant passion in the breast of every individual in every tribe" (2: 328-42) wrote Jonathan Carver, the principal source of Abram’s Plains. "[A] word in the slightest degree insulting will kindle a flame in their breasts that can only be extinguished by the blood of the offending party, and they will traverse forests for hundreds of miles…to gratify their revenge" (2: 264-65), added Isaac Weld, a principal source for both The Rising Village and The Emigrant. No wonder a note of relief is heard in both these poems when, after brief skirmishes with or near the settlers in the Halifax and Toronto areas, the "wandering Indian[s] turn…another way" (Goldsmith [1834] 99) and are "seen and heard no more" (McLachlan 6: 190). The best place for nomadic hunters driven by revenge is the distant forest where, as is the case in "The Indian Battle" episode in The Emigrant, their violence and cruelty can be vented on one another rather than on white settlers.

Further support for the notion that Canada’s Native peoples were nomads with no investment or rights in the land over which they roamed in search of food and, occasionally, revenge was provided by another theory that was current throughout the Colonial period and beyond because, in the words of Cornwall Bayley in a footnote to Canada (1806), it appeared highly "agreeable" both to scientific "reason" and to Christian "Revelation" (95n.). This was the theory, traceable to the Spanish Jesuit Joseph de Acosta (Huddlestone), that the Native peoples of the Americas were descendants of Noah who had migrated across Asia after the "confusion of tongues" (Bayley 95n.) described in Genesis 11 and, from Asia, had come to the New World by way of an isthmus—the Bering bridge—between present-day Russia and Alaska. Of great importance in reconciling "the designs of God" with the four stages theory was what Bruce G. Trigger calls "degenerationism" or the "theory of degeneration" (Natives and Newcomers [1985] 51, 406): the idea that—to quote Pierre de Charlevoix—as Noah’s progeny "separate[d] and…spread themselves…over the whole earth" (1: 47) they became degenerate in proportion to their distance in space and time from their point of origin. (Incidentally, the application of the same theory to the other passengers on the ark led to the idea, prevalent among emigrants to Canada until well into the nineteenth century, that by comparison with their European counterparts, the animals of North America were degenerate—hence McLachlan’s contention that the birds of Ontario are "songless" [3: 96]7 and Catharine Parr Traill’s assertions that, on the contrary, the birds of Canada are no more songless than the flowers of the country are odourless [80].) As Bayley explains in the long Note "on the subject of the origin of native Americans" that he cribbed from Carver and appended to Canada, the degeneration of peoples far removed from the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia took place in all spheres, from "manners and customs" to language and religion:

Superstition would naturally creep into their religious ceremonies; the climate and local circumstances of the regions they colonized would alter not only their manner of living, but even their bodily appearance—The loss of literature and education would corrupt their language—and the want of proper materials and opportunities would occasion that decay of arts and sciences which must finally terminate in barbarity.

As this passage intimates, environment was frequently added to distance and isolation from civilized origins as a factor determining the degenerate and savage—or barbaric—nature of the Native peoples of North America. No wonder Canada’s Native peoples were in a state of extreme degeneracy.8 Among other things, they had been exposed for centuries to a climate in which, as Frances Brooke has Arabella Fermor observe in The History of Emily Montague (1769), "Tis sufficient employment…to contrive how to preserve an existence." Not only does the cold "bring…on a sort of stupefaction," writes Arabella, but it also "suspends the very powers of the understanding." "Genius will never mount high," she concludes, "where the faculties of mind are benumbed for half the year" (103). Since even Milton counted the "cold/Climate" of England as a factor hostile to the creation of epic poetry (9: 41-47), few could wonder for long why Canada’s Native peoples had no written literature or history, no music of any complexity or charm, and—in the words of the Swedish traveller Peter Kalm—no "built towns and houses, [no] artificial fortifications, [no] high towers and pillars and such like" (2: 276-77)—in short, no culture or property of any real value or consequence.

It should now be evident that in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Canada, a number of theories and preconceptions operated together to generate and sustain the view that the Native peoples of North America were animalistic nomads who could hardly be expected in their natural state to understand the concept of rights in land, let alone to possess or exercise such rights. The very fact that property rights and Native peoples are nowhere brought into conjunction in such poems as Abram’s Plains, Quebec Hill, and Canada may in itself be an indication that such a conjunction, though not unthinkable, was not for many years after the conquest a topic for serious reflection or anxiety in either Britain or British North America. To take just one more example: in Adam Hood Burwell’s Talbot Road (1818), a poem that commemorates the founding (May 1803) and celebrates the history of the Talbot Settlement on the north shore of Lake Erie, the only mention of the Native peoples is contained in a passing reference to the ability of Commerce to "tame…the hardy savage, rough and rude…" (565). Nowhere in his lengthy account of what John Howison calls "the only monument of the colonizing exertions of an individual" in Upper Canada (167) does Burwell refer to the existence, let alone the rights, of Native peoples in the immediate or adjacent areas. Rather, he treats Colonel Talbot and his first settlers as the original occupiers and possessors of the area between Niagara Falls to the east, Amherstberg to the west, and Westminster Township (near present-day London) to the north—the area frequented by the Ojibwa from time immemorial.

Indeed, any special interest that Talbot Road holds from the perspective of property rights resides in the unmistakably sexual colouring lent by Burwell to what Hume, following Locke, calls "occupation or first possession…[as] the foundation of property" (125n.). Throughout the poem, both Colonel Talbot and Burwell’s narrator view the settlement of Upper Canada as a process of stripping naked a female Nature and reclothing her in a more elaborate and attractive dress. "Earth shall resign the burden of her breast, / And wear a richer, variegated vest" decides Talbot early in the poem, and later the narrator confirms that we have "beheld [Nature’s] pristine form display’d, / And seen the changeful hand" of Talbot and his settlers "prepare, / A robe, more pleasing, for her…to wear…" (103-04, 472-74). Carole Fabricant could be commenting on these and other passages in Talbot Road when she connects the eighteenth-century habit of viewing Nature as a "maiden in need of sartorial assistance, as a goddess alternately being stripped bare and clothed in finery," with a desire to "redress" or "cancel out the ill effects of the Fall" by recreating a "Paradisial existence" in a corner of the post-lapsarian world (126-30). But Burwell’s Nature is not merely undressed and reclothed; she is twice "pierc’d" (92, 117)—twice occupied, first by Talbot himself and then by his first settler—as if to imply that she has been taken in marriage by both men and, as was the case at the time, become their property. There may be some "masculine fantasy" in this aspect of Talbot Road, and perhaps also some sexual pathology, but there seems to be no anxiety about antecedent or competing Native property rights. No Native lover preceded Talbot on the north shore of Lake Erie and no sordid divorce involving one seems likely, particularly since, by 1818, the Talbot settlers had so mixed their labour with the land that, in Lockean terms, their rights in it were beyond dispute.

Remote in time as they now are, the conceptions of Native peoples and property rights that pertained in Canada during the Colonial period have persisted to the present day, particularly in that most conservative of disciplines, the law. In the Baker Lake case, a good deal of historical, anthropological, and contemporary evidence was adduced to demonstrate that "[a]side from a handful employed in the settlement [at Baker Lake], the Inuit of the…area were nomads less than a quarter century ago" (206-07).9 In an eerie echo of the view of four stages theorists such as Robertson that the Native peoples of North America had achieved only a rudimentary level of social organization, "Proof of Aboriginal Title" in the Baker Lake case turned to a considerable extent on whether the "Inuit and their ancestors were members of an organized society…"—a society, that is, with rights comparable to those of advanced (post-agricultural) "states or nations" (226, 219). The view that "the Inuit’s nomadic ways, relationship to the land and social and political order [had not] changed from prehistoric times until their settlement" (208) was weighed against opinions expressed by previous courts in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, with special emphasis on Calder et al v. Attorney-General of British Columbia, a pivotal case of 1973 in which the Nisga’a Indian Tribal Council advanced the claim that "the aboriginal or Indian title to certain lands had never been lawfully extinguished" (145). "[T]he fact is that when the settlers came [to British Columbia], the Indians were there, organized as societies and occupying the land as their forefathers had done for centuries. This is what Indian title means" runs a crucial passage from the Calder case (328) that is quoted in Baker Lake (224). Also brought forward from Calder (383) is part of Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in the seminal American case of Worcester v. State of Georgia (1832):

America, separated from Europe by a wide ocean, was inhabited by a distinct people, divided into separate nations…having distinct institutions of their own, and governing themselves by their own laws. It is difficult to comprehend the proposition that the inhabitants of either quarter of the globe could have rightful original claims of dominion over the inhabitants of the other, or over the lands they occupied; or that the discovery of either by the other should give the discoverer rights in the country discovered which annulled the pre-existing rights of its ancient possessors. (qtd. in Baker Lake 225)

Supporting Marshall’s enlightened arguments in the Baker Lake case is Justice Baldwin’s opinion in Mitchel v. U.S. (1935) that the Indians’ "hunting grounds were as much in their actual possession as the cleared fields of the whites….[T]heir right of occupancy is…as sacred as the fee simple of the whites" (qtd. in Baker Lake 228-29).10 Precisely to the extent that they are concessive and balanced, these opinions point to the conflict that lies at the heart of many land disputes involving Native peoples in North America and, no less in the present than in previous centuries, provokes the fear and anger of many whites. As Justice Mahoney states it: "[t]he coexistence of an aboriginal title with the estate of the ordinary private land holder is…an absurdity. The communal right of aborigines to occupy it cannot be reconciled with the right of [the] private owner of peaceful enjoyment of his land" (Baker Lake 233).

In Canadian poetry, the first sign of misgiving regarding Native rights in land occupied by Europeans occurs in The Rising Village, which was begun by Goldsmith in 1823 and first published in England in 1825.11 The locus of this anxiety is an explicit treatment and dismissal of Native property rights whose origins seem to lie in the poem’s textual, biographical, and historical contexts. The most prominent of these contexts is the early chapter in A General History of Nova Scotia in which Haliburton not only furnished Goldsmith with his theme of "[t]he origin and growth of a modern Colony," but also provides several examples of the "great outrages" visited upon "the solitary and peaceable settlers" in the Maritimes by the "savage" and "ferocious" Micmacs and Richibuctos. In the vicinity of Halifax particularly, Haliburton observes, "[t]hese savages…defended with obstinacy a territory they held from nature, and it was not until after very great losses, that the English drove them out of their former hunting grounds" (47). "[H]ideous yells announce the murderous band, / Whose bloody footsteps desolate the land," run the equivalent lines in The Rising Village, "And now, behold! [the settler’s] bold aggressors fly, / To seek their prey beneath some other sky; / Resign the haunts they can maintain no more" ([1834] 107-09). Goldsmith was much less learned in the law than the future Judge Haliburton, but he had enough legal knowledge to appreciate the force of the phrase "territory…held from nature" in his compatriot’s account of the Native resistance to white settlement in Nova Scotia. Such knowledge can be claimed with confidence because, according to his Autobiography, one of the legal texts that Goldsmith read during a brief stint in his teens as a clerk in a "Lawyer’s Office" in Halifax was none other than Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (34). As well as being grounded in the four stages theory (and in this respect alone an important influence on The Rising Village), Blackstone’s Commentaries contains a highly enlightened discussion of property rights that may have been a formative influence on Haliburton and Goldsmith, and a source of anxiety for the latter.

The relevant portion of the Commentaries is the section entitled "Of Property, in General" in the second volume, where Blackstone draws a distinction between the primeval "natural right" of "wandering" peoples to the land that they use or need for subsistence and the "idea of a more permanent property in the soil," which, as observed earlier, was "introduced and established" through the "regular connexion and consequence" that came with "the art of agriculture" (2: 7). Blackstone goes on to draw an explicit contrast between, on the one hand, the natural law under which "American [Indian] nations" and the "first Europeans"—the savages and barbarians of Europe—held "transient" rights to property and, on the other, the post-agricultural notion of "permanent property," and he expresses deep misgivings about the practice of "sending colonies" into "countries already peopled, and driving out or massacring the innocent and defenceless natives." "How far such conduct [is] consonant to nature, to reason, or to christianity," he writes, "deserves well to be considered by those who have rendered their names immortal by thus civilizing mankind" (2: 7).

As Haliburton’s concessive and Blackstonian reference to "territories…held from nature" by the Micmacs indicates, the question of the right of settlers to land was still being considered—or, perhaps, beginning to be reconsidered—in Nova Scotia in the early eighteen twenties. So, too, was it in the United States, as witness the landmark case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, which was decided in the same year—1823—as the publication of Haliburton’s General Description and the writing of The Rising Village. In a decision that was controversial in its day, and which is still cited in American and, occasionally, Canadian land disputes involving Native peoples, Chief Justice Marshall held that, while "exclusive title" to a huge area to the northwest of the Ohio River in what is now Illinois and Indiana has passed under the "fundamental principle" of "discovery" from its "original inhabitants" to the European nation that first discovered it, the Indians remained "the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as a just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion" (qtd. in Guerin v. The Queen 378). As Chief Justice Dickson writes in the seminal supreme court of Canada case of Guerin v. The Queen (which acknowledges Native rights in land), Marshall "was…of the opinion that the rights of Indians in the lands they traditionally occupied prior to European colonization both predated and survived the claims to sovereignty made by various European nations in the territories of the North American Continent" (377-78). In essence Marshall recognized that, in Chief Justice Dickson’s words, "the Indians’ rights in the land were…diminished; but their rights of occupancy and possession remained unaffected" (378). Only "by purchase or by conquest" could the "Indian right of occupancy" be extinguished by the Crown (Johnson v. M’Intosh qtd. in Calder 151).

Goldsmith’s response to the vexed and vexing issue of Native land claims in The Rising Village seems aimed at reassuring his white readers. In the first place, he implies that the area of Nova Scotia that was colonized some "fifty summers" earlier by emigrants from Britain was at that time completely uninhabited: when the first "lonely settler" built his "home" "amid a wilderness of trees," Goldsmith writes, "not a voice upon his ear intrude[d]; /…[and] solemn silence all the waste pervade[d]" ([1834] 59-63; emphasis added). In similar attempts to obviate the perception of a conflict between "aboriginal rights" and "white conceptions of ownership and possession of…land" (Monkman 133) both Alexander McLachlan and Isabella Valancy Crawford send their settlers into areas where, in the words of Malcolm’s Katie (1884), the animals have not seen "the plume or bow / Of the red hunter" (Crawford 2: 86-87). To further reassure his white readers, Goldsmith emphasizes that, since the land settled by Europeans in Nova Scotia was an uninhabited wilderness, the newcomers to what Blackstone calls "countries already peopled" were the "wandering savages" who suddenly appeared on the scene:

Behold the savage tribes in wildest strain,
Approach with death and terror in their train;
No longer silence o’er the forest reigns,
No longer stillness now her power retains;
But hideous yells announce the murderous band,
Whose bloody footsteps desolate the land….
                         ([1834] 81-86; emphasis added)

Since the Native peoples have violated the principles of first discovery and first possession, their claims to sovereignty are as astonishing as their sense of justice is perverse. In the following passage, the phrase "white man’s" is placed in the italics of amazement, and the terms "right" and "sentence" are obviously intended to parody the language of justice:

He hears them oft in sternest mood maintain,
Their right to rule the mountain and the plain;
He hears them doom the white man’s instant death,
Shrinks from the sentence, while he gasps for breath,
Then, rousing with one effort all his might,
Darts from his hut, and saves himself by flight.                                                ([1834] 87-92)

"[A] man’s home is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium" (162) wrote the great English jurist and common lawyer Sir Edward Coke in a passage that has become proverbial, and may well have been known directly to Goldsmith in Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England (1630-1644), the first part of which he read alongside Blackstone’s Commentaries during his brief apprenticeship as a lawyer.12

Lest there be any doubt that in driving the settler out of his house and off his land, the Native peoples have burned a fat volume of legal principles, Goldsmith proceeds to emphasize the extent to which the settler has removed his land from the common state of nature by mixing his labour with it. Before the arrival of the Native peoples the settler had cleared the land of trees and planted it with "golden corn" ([1834] 65-72). After their departure he "retains possession of the soil" through "patient firmness and industrious toil" (The Rising Village [1834] 103-04). In case the reader has failed to grasp the Lockean point, Goldsmith adds a note to the effect that "[t]he process of clearing land, though simple, is attended with a great deal of labour" (The Rising Village [1834] 72n.). Since The Rising Village is a poem and not a brief, it augments legal points with affective strategies that find an appropriate gloss in Hume’s supplement to Locke’s theory of ownership. "Perhaps, too, private humanity towards the possessor concurs" with the legal arguments, observes Hume, "and engages us to leave with him what he has acquired by his sweat and labour, and what he has flattered himself in the constant enjoyment of" (126n.). It is no small irony that the Native peoples, exiled from their traditional lands by the agricultural and commercial activities of the white colonists of Nova Scotia, were in a parallel position to those same colonists whose exile "beyond the Western main" as described in The Deserted Village provided the Canadian Goldsmith with the inspiration for his chronicle of settler heroism and achievement. The difference, of course, is that, while the plight of his fellow whites who were "forced…to quit their native plains" (The Rising Village 5) excited Goldsmith’s "private humanity," the plight of the Native peoples in similar circumstances did not. To Goldsmith and many others in colonial Canada, whites were the only finders and keepers, losers and weepers, who really mattered.

More sympathetic to the Native peoples of Nova Scotia was Joseph Howe, a "conservative reformer" (Beck 370) who in 1832-1834 celebrated the past achievements and current prospects of his beloved province in a poem that was not published until the year after his death in 1873. Looking back in Acadia to the time before Nova Scotia’s "wild beauties were by [agri-]culture graced," Howe sees the Micmac Indians as "dusky Savage[s]" whom he treats in a manner consistent with his liberal conservatism. Both a skillful hunter who "stray’d" through the wilderness uttering "death notes" and "bedew[ing] the flowers" with "blood" and the "Lord of all the loveliness his eye survey’d" who "bow[s]" to "God…but stoops[s] to none beside"(159-66, 172), Howe’s typical Micmac is by turns the ignoble savage of the four stages theory and the noble savage of post-Rousseauian Romanticism. Since Howe, like Goldsmith, relied heavily on Haliburton for his view of the Native peoples, it is scarcely surprising that he also introduces them in close conjunction with the "wild animals" that they hunt and "nearly resemble." Inhabiting the "ancient groves" of Nova Scotia with the "Cariboo" and the "moose," Howe’s Micmac is animalistic by association and mode of subsistence. "[M]ark his agile figure, as he leaps / From crag to crag, and still his footing keeps, / For fast before him flies the desp’rate deer…/ His hardy limbs are equal to the race" (173-75, 187-92). Yet Howe also shows "the forest’s dusky child"(200) living a life that is passionately in tune with the natural world. As he stands over a "fallen tenant of the wild"—the deer that he has just slain—he gazes over the surrounding terrain with a "glow of pride" that is both justified and ominous, for the sense of ownership that he "proudly feels" for the "beauties" of Nova Scotia is likened to that of the "am’rous Othello" for "[t]he budding beauties of Venetia’s maid" (199-218). Neither callous nor sentimental about the fact that the "dusky Savage" is doomed, like the deer, to become a "fallen tenant" of Nova Scotia, Howe views the Micmacs with pity and fear as the admirable yet flawed victims of a tragic destiny and a superior culture.

In the chapter "Of Property in General" in his Epitome of the Laws of Nova Scotia, a Blackstonian compilation printed by Howe in 1832-1833, the Halifax lawyer Beamish Murdoch includes a discussion of the "right of European nations to dispossess the aboriginal inhabitants of America, of the territories of the new world" that could well have been in Howe’s mind when he wrote Acadia. Confining his remarks to "these Northern regions" where Britain and France took possession, not of "agricultural and comparatively civilized countries," but of "an uncultivated soil…filled with wild animals and hunters almost as wild," Murdoch argues that "[i]t might with almost as much justice be said that the land belonged to the bears and the wild cats, the moose or the cariboo, that ranged over it in quest of food, as to the thin and scattered tribes of men, who were alternately destroying each other or attacking the beasts of the forest. I do not think that they themselves had any idea of property (of an exclusive nature) in the soil, before their intercourse with Europeans" (2: 56-57). More inclined than Murdoch to credit the Micmacs with "an idea of property," Howe nevertheless depicts them as nomadic hunter-warriors whose relationship with the land is usufructuary rather than "exclusive." The "sylvan city" to which the hunter returns is a "Camp," a temporary dwelling typical of a culture at the savage and most "rude" (Acadia 227-28) stage of social development. The fact that Howe’s subsequent descriptions of the Indian camp and an Indian war dance (239-48, 265-310) echo those of Weld (2: 239-40, 294-300) and John Lambert (who in 1808 visited a "detachment of Micmacs…and other small tribes" during one of their annual visits to Quebec [1:353-85]) suggests that these two travel writers were also among the channels through which the four stages theory passed to Acadia. Lambert includes Robertson among the principal sources of the chapter on the "Aborigines of North America" in his Travels (1813) and, though sympathetic to the Native peoples, characterizes them as "half-civilized, half-savage" hunters and fishers who, for the most part, lead an "indolent," "erratic," and "wandering life" (2: 354-65).

Nowhere is Acadia more clearly imprinted with the four stages theory and its implications for rights in land than in Howe’s summary remarks about the state of the Native peoples of Nova Scotia prior to the arrival of John Cabot in 1497:

    For ages thus, the Micmac trod our soil,
The chase his pastime, war his only toil,
’Till o’er the main, the adventurous Briton steer’d,
And in the wild, his sylvan dwelling rear’d,
With heart of steel, a thousand perils met,
And won the land his children tread on yet.                                                       (311-16)

Not only does this passage imply that, as nomadic hunter-warriors, the Micmacs had little, if any, rights in the "soil:" it also canvasses several legal principles—first discovery, consummation by possession, and conquest—under which Nova Scotia has become "our soil." As Haliburton states the case in his Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia (1829): "[t]he discovery of Cabot, the formal possession taken by Sir Humphrey [Gilbert], and the actual residence of Sir John Gilbert [in Maine], are considered, by the English, as the foundations of the right and title of the crown of England, not only to the territory of Newfoundland, and the Fishery on its banks, but to the whole of its possessions in North America" (1:8; qtd. in Howe 50). Haliburton’s account of the defeat of the Native peoples by English settlers in the Halifax area in his General Description is relevant here, as is Murdoch’s discussion of the principles of discovery, possession, and conquest in his Epitome (2: 55-56). As germane to Howe’s treatment of the Micmacs as to his ensuing description of the Acadians is an excerpt from Murdoch’s commentary "On the nature of the tenures of land in Nova Scotia" that broaches a topic related to—it might almost be said, bordering upon—the present discussion: "[t]he lands in the province are all either the property of the crown, or held by titles derived from it, the rights of the Acadian settlers having been extinguished by the Provincial Act of 1759,…which recites in its preamble that this province always belonged of right to the Crown of England, both by priority of discovery and ancient possession,…that the French King by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, had ceded to Queen Anne, the province and all rights therein" (2:76).

In the Calder case of 1973, Justice Hall observed that during the Colonial period in Canada "understanding of the customs and culture of our original people was rudimentary and incomplete….[T]hey were thought to be wholly without cohesion, laws or culture, in effect a subhuman species" (169). To substantiate his point, Hall quoted Marshall in Johnson v. M’Intosh as stating that "the tribes of Indians inhabiting the country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war." And as if to demonstrate the longevity of the four stages theory, he also quoted Justice Davey’s statement in the judgement under appeal in 1973 that the Indians of mainland British Columbia "were undoubtedly at the time of settlement a very primitive people with few of the institutions of civilized society, and none at all of our notions of private property" (170). A position similar to that of Justice Davey was taken by the judge whose decision was appealed in Simon v. The Queen, a 1985 case turning on the "right to hunt" of a Micmac Indian in an area of Nova Scotia covered by a Treaty of 1752. "[T]he Indians were never regarded as an independent power," wrote Justice Patterson; "[a] civilized nation first discovering a country of uncivilized people or savages held such country as its own until such time as by treaty it was transferred to some other civilized nation. The savages’ rights of sovereignty, even of ownership, were never recognized" (qtd. in Simon v. The Queen 399). Commenting on this opinion, Chief Justice Dickson wrote that "the language used by Patterson J.…reflects the biases and prejudices of another era in our history. Such language is no longer acceptable in Canadian law and indeed is inconsistent with a growing sensitivity to native rights in Canada" (Simon v. The Queen 399). Further evidence of such growing sensitivity in the courts can be found in R. v. Sioui, a 1990 case involving the rights of a "Huron band on the Lorette Indian reserve" as defined by a Treaty of 1760 (1025). There, Justice Lamer argued that "a fundamentally different viewpoint"—the viewpoint of the Native peoples—had to be taken into account in disputes involving aboriginal rights, and urged the adoption of "[a] liberal and generous attitude, heedful of historical fact" in approaching very different and, perhaps, incommensurable conceptions of land and possession. And, of course, there is the Delgamuukw ruling of December 1997, which states that aboriginal bands that have not signed treaties have a constitutional right to their ancestral lands and that governments must consult with them when making decisions about such lands—a ruling that in British Columbia has precipitated Native claims to more than the entire area of the Province and occasioned considerable unease in its investment and industrial sectors. Such are the fundamental conflicts and differences that must be faced and, somehow, resolved if Canada is to achieve within its borders the consensual community without which the unity of the country is surely not possible. This essay offers no answers to the urgent questions regarding rights in land that now face all Canadians, but rests on the conviction that there is at least some value in attempting to understand the legacy of the past that is still very much present in Canadian writing and Canadian life.

Supplement 1
Thomas Moore’s Construction of Upper Canada in "Ballad Stanzas"


The utopian power of poetry can only lie in its concrete connections, as a language of practice, with its relevant social contexts rather than in its capacity either to separate itself from those contexts or to set itself above them.

—John Brenkman, Culture and Domination (1987) (108)

Yes! Moore belongs to Canada as well as Ireland in that special sense which links a poet’s name with a locality…. The spot is pointed out at Kingston where he wrote "I knew by the smoke that so gracefully curled."

—Nicholas Flood Davin, The Irishman in Canada (1877) (190)

During the half-century after the Treaty of Paris (1763), British perceptions of what is now southern Ontario underwent some spectacular transformations. In The Present State of the British Empire in Europe, America, Africa and Asia etc. (1768), an anonymous work attributed to Oliver Goldsmith, Upper Canada is an unnamed and scantily described region between (Lower) Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company Territories (337-49), but in Talbot Road, the long poem by Adam Hood Burwell that was published in The Niagara Spectator in 1818, the area north of Lake Erie is a prime destination for emigrants—"The happiest country in the happiest clime," where "Productive nature" has "strew[n] her bounties with a lavish hand" (26, 78). It was around the turn of the century that perceptions of southern Ontario underwent the most marked changes. In 1797 in Quebec Hill, J. Mackay drew upon John Reinhold Foster’s translation of Pehr (Peter) Kalm’s Travels (1753) to depict Upper Canada as a wilderness of "forests and lakes…intersected with [the] swamps" that, according to the then current miasma theory of disease, emitted vapours that caused "fever and ague, as well as other maladies…highly pernicious to the human condition" (1: 87n.). In 1799 in The Pleasures of Hope the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell looked to the day when "Erie’s banks," now the haunts of "tigers" (cougars) and "the dread Indian" who "bathe[s] in brains  the murderous tomahawk," will be graced by "flocks on thymy pasture," "shepherds danc[ing] at Summer’s opening day," and "the glittering haunts of men" (1: 325-32). And in 1806 in Canada Cornwall Bayley, relying on observations in Isaac Weld’s Travels (1799), affirms with delighted surprise that

Now on wild Erie…the scatter’d cot,
But proves the former deserts of the spot;
…[and] the frequent fires that blaze, declare
How cultivation even travels there!

By 1806, a region which had been all but unknown in Britain at the time of the Conquest was well on its way to becoming a proven and highly desirable destination for British emigrants to Canada. Not until the onset of "Manitoba fever" (W.L. Morton 361) in the eighteen seventies would Upper Canada have a serious rival as a land of opportunity for migrants from Britain, Europe, and elsewhere in North America.

At least as indebted to Weld’s representation of Upper Canada as Cornwall Bayley was the author of a lyric which, more than any other poem, helped to shape British, Canadian, and American perceptions of the Province in the early nineteenth century. Not only did Thomas Moore apparently bring Weld’s Travels with him when he arrived in Upper Canada from the United States on July 21, 1804 but he regarded his fellow Irishman’s description of the primary object of his visit—Niagara Falls—as the "most accurate" available (Letters 1: 77).13 Indeed, Moore could be expanding upon Weld’s conviction that "[n]o words can convey an adequate idea of the awful grandeur of the scene" at the Falls (2: 128) when he writes that "[i]t is impossible by pen or pencil to convey even a faint idea of their magnificence. Painting is lifeless; and the most burning words of poetry have all been lavished upon inferior and ordinary subjects. We must have new combinations of language to describe the Falls of Niagara" (Letters 1: 77). No such misgivings prevented Moore from writing the brief lyric about a "cottage" in a "wood" beside the Niagara River or Lake Ontario that was to exert a profound and lasting influence on perceptions of Upper Canada:

                               Ballad Stanzas.

I knew by the smoke, that so gracefully curl’d
  Above the green elms, that a cottage was near,
And I said, "If there’s peace to be found in the world,
  "A heart that was humble might hope for it here!"

It was noon, and on the flowers that languish’d around
  In silence repos’d the voluptuous bee;
Every leaf was at rest, and I heard not a sound
  But the woodpecker tapping the hollow beech-tree.

And, "Here in this lone little wood," I exclaim’d,
  "With a maid who was lovely to soul and to eye,
"Who would blush when I prais’d her, and weep if I blam’d,
  "How blest could I live, and how calm could I die!

"By the shade of yon sumach, whose red berry dips
  "In the gush of the fountain, how sweet to recline,
"And to know that I sigh’d upon innocentlips,
 "Which had never been sigh’d on by any but mine!"
                                             (Poetical Works [1915] 124)

That this lyric, like Moore’s even more influential "Canadian Boat Song,"14 was at least partly inspired by Weld is evident from the resemblance between its famous second stanza and Weld’s description of the uncanny silence of the forests of northern New York: "[a] few squirrels were the only wild animals which we met within our journey through the woods, and the most solemn silence imaginable reigned throughout, except where a woodpecker was heard now and then tapping with its bill against a hollow tree" (2: 320).15 What may have drawn Moore to this passage is a quality that also helps to account for the effectiveness of "Ballad Stanzas": a focus on small, local details—such as "a woodpecker…tapping" and the "red berry" of a "sumach"—which convey a sense of the appealing sounds and sights to be experienced in the solitude of a North American forest.

It is a measure of the importance of "Ballad Stanzas" to the literature and life of Upper Canada that the poem provides a point of departure for both the title poem in Adam Kidd’s The Huron Chief, and Other Poems (1830) and "The Log Cabin" in Alexander McLachlan’s The Emigrant (1861). The opening stanza of the former, set on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, describes a silence broken by the "sound" of "birds tapping the hollow tree" (4-5) and the anapestic rhythm of the lyric that begins the latter, set on the north shore of Lake Ontario, clearly echoes the measure of "Ballad Stanzas." Kidd’s volume is dedicated to Moore as, among other things, "[t]he Most Popular, Most Powerful, and Most Patriotic Poet of the Nineteenth Century" and McLachlan’s lyric, like Moore’s, treats of a "cabin…far in the woods" as an abode of pastoral "peace" and child-like innocence (5: 1-36). Moreover, "Ballad Stanzas" is used as a foil in The Emigrant (1840) of Standish O’Grady when the horrors of emigrant life in Lower Canada—"a cottage, dismal, cold and dank" surrounded by "stunted alders…stagnant waters…serpents, toads, and vile mosquitoes" (1833-43)—invite unflattering comparison with Moore’s warm "cottage" with its "green elms," "gush[ing]…fountain," "voluptuous bee," and harmless "woodpecker." Not surprisingly, the Preface to O’Grady’s poem designates "[t]he Upper Province…by far a more desirable emporium" than the Lower Province for Britons contemplating emigration to Canada or already resident in the country (5).

Nor was the impact of "Ballad Stanzas" merely literary. In his novel of pioneer life in Canada, Bogle Corbet (1831), John Galt alludes to the local "tradition" that Moore wrote his "Woodpecker poem" under a "small tree" on the north shore of Lake Ontario between Kingston and Toronto (3:4), and in his collection of historical essays, Annals of Niagara (1896), William Kirby recounts the more mythopoeically appropriate legend that the poem was composed under "a majestic spreading oak tree about two miles from the town [of Niagara] on the Queenston road" (128)—that is, within a short distance of the site of one of the decisive British and Canadian victories of the War of 1812. Whether "small" or "majestic" the trees associated with Moore served as reminders not merely of a celebrated poet’s presence in Upper Canada, but also of his flattering assessments of the Province’s scenery and possibilities. And thanks to the ubiquity of woodpeckers, settlers all over Upper Canada had access to the sentiments expressed in "Ballad Stanzas"—or so William Cattermole would have had it believed in his influential and infamous Emigration. The Advantages of Emigration to Canada (1831). Appended to the two lectures of which Cattermole’s book is comprised are a selection of letters purporting to have been written by happy emigrants to Upper Canada. In one such letter, "John Inglis" of Guelph attests to the resonances bequeathed by Moore on the woodpecker: "I often, when I see it, remember the song of ‘The woodpecker tapping the hollow beech-tree’" (203). Apparently literary resonances were held to add to the appeal of North American locales for prospective emigrants, a conjecture supported by the fact that Galt was a director and Cattermole an agent for the Canada Company. It would appear that "Ballad Stanzas" played a part, however small in comparison to such factors as abundant land and the promise of wealth, in generating the flood of emigrants that increased the population of Upper Canada by over fifty percent in the early eighteen thirties.

Beyond the two obvious and related facts that Moore was the only Romantic poet of stature to visit Canada and that "Ballad Stanzas" is an accomplished lyric containing some memorable lines, what was it about this particular poet and poem that lodged them so firmly in Upper Canadian culture? One answer lies in the realm of politics—in the outspoken anti-Americanism that prefaced and shaped readers’ responses to "Ballad Stanzas" in Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems (1806) and in most other collections of Moore’s work in which the poem was subsequently published, including his ten-volume Poetical Works of 1840. Before coming to Canada, Moore had spent three months in Bermuda and travelled extensively in the United States, a country that, like many Romantics, he was inclined to view as preferable to most European nations on account of its foundational endorsement of libertarian and utilitarian principles. As he explains in his Preface to "Poems Relating to America" in Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems: "I went to America with prepossessions by no means unfavourable, and indeed rather indulged in many of those illusive ideas, with respect to the purity of the government and the primitive happiness of the people, which I had early imbibed in my native country, where…the western world has long been looked to as a retreat from real or imaginary oppression; as, in short, the elysian Atlantis, where persecuted patriots might find their vision realised, and be welcomed by kindred spirits to liberty and repose" (Poetical Works [1915] 94). Moore’s letters suggest that these views were seriously shaken when he arrived in New York City in May 1804. "Such a place! such people!" he exclaimed to his mother after telling her of his safe arrival; "barren and secluded as poor Bermuda is, I think it a paradise to any spot in America that I have seen. If there is less barrenness of soil here, there is more than enough of barrenness of intellect, taste, and all in which heart is concerned" (Letters 1: 84).

Like Moore’s ensuing letters from New York, Baltimore, and elsewhere, the Preface to "Poems Relating to America" and the poems themselves are replete with negative and satirical observations on American manners, politics, and heroes: "the lower orders" exhibit a "rude familiarity" and are "filth[y]" to boot (Poetical Works [1915] 94; Letters 1: 86-87), the Native peoples and the Blacks are heinously treated by a system that proclaims liberty but practises slavery; Thomas Jefferson "dream[s] of freedom in…[the] arms" of a "black Aspasia" and George Washington "lost the rebel’s in the hero’s name, / And climb’d o’er prostrate loyalty to fame" (Poetical Works [1915] 116, 118). Only when consorting with attractive women, enjoying the "romantic" scenery on the Hudson River and elsewhere, and hobnobbing with John Dennie and his Federalist (conservative) coterie in Philadephia did Moore find relief from a society that seemed to have been seriously, if not fatally, poisoned by the "drug of French philosophy" (Poetical Works [1915] 118). No doubt, Herbert G. Eldridge is correct in "Anacreon Moore and America" (1968) in suggesting that a principal reason for Moore’s hostility to most things American was the alliance of the United States with France against Great Britain and Ireland in the Napoleonic War that recommenced in earnest in May 1803, but a secondary reason may well lie in his heavy reliance on Weld’s Travels as a guidebook to North America, for not only does Weld express a similar distaste for slavery, the American treatment of Native peoples, and the boorishness of the "lower and middling classes" in the United States (1: 124), but he also anticipates Moore’s repeated expressions of pleasure at the prospect of returning to Britain.16 At least as important, Weld is outspoken in his preference for Canada over the United States and in this very likely "preposess[ed]" Moore to enter Upper Canada in July 1804 with feelings akin to those of unhappy tourists returning to their homeland. As Kirby, himself a fervent anti-American, puts it: Moore’s "residence in Niagara seems to have been a great relief and pleasure to him" (Annals 128).

The crucial point about all this is that "Ballad Stanzas" is so placed in "Poems Relating to America"—between "To the Honourable W.R. Spencer From Buffalo, Upon Lake Erie" and "A Canadian Boat Song Written on the River St. Lawrence"—that it gains and gives the impression of being a homecoming poem, a poem whose positive and reposeful tone reflects its author’s "relief" at being back on "British ground" (Letters 1: 94). In context, the poem is much more than a celebration of a delightful location in a North American forest; it is a celebration of Upper Canada as a more pristine and habitable place than the United States. The "elysian Atlantis [of]…liberty and repose" that Moore failed to find in the American Republic exists in the most westerly region of British North America: "‘If there’s peace to be found in the world, / A heart that was humble might hope for it here!’" Not merely in its reposeful tone and pastoral subject, but in its very lyricism—its musicality and subjectivity—"Ballad Stanzas" seems to reflect Moore’s movement from the multifariously negative environment chronicled in the American poems to a realm of simplicity, harmony and peace. With the slow movement of its anapestic tetrameter slowed yet further by strong cross-rhymes (abab) and medial punctuation in ten of its sixteen lines, the poem declares itself to be in every respect a lyric of repose and meditation, a quietistic response to the external world that simultaneously registers natural and human particulars and grants them intellectual and philosophical significance. Precisely to the extent that they are created as well as perceived in a poem charged with political and allegorical implications, Moore’s "gracefully curl[ing] smoke" and "green elms" ask to be read as natural emblems: whereas rudeness and barrenness were everywhere evident in the United States, even an isolated cottage in a "‘lone little wood’" in Upper Canada bespeaks a refined and lush simplicity. One of the characteristic patterns of Romantic poetry— the excursion from the (infernal) city to the (paradisial) country— has been assimilated to a cultural contrast between the United States and Upper Canada that can only have been gratifying to most of Moore’s British and Canadian readers. No wonder Galt, Kirby, and Cattermole drew attention to the compositional circumstances and affective content of "Ballad Stanzas": the poem was a signpost directing emigrants away from the United States and towards Upper Canada.

While the focus of Moore’s first two stanzas falls primarily on details of the external world, the emphasis on the second two rests heavily on the loving relationship that the poet imagines to be possible in "‘this lone little wood.’" With their masculinist assumptions and sentimental exoticism these stanzas are typical of much minor Romantic poetry, and correspondingly distasteful to most academic readers today. Cloying and patronizing though it now seems, however, Moore’s emphasis on female beauty, innocence, and deference in his final stanzas is both characteristic of his times and consistent with his overall aim of depicting Upper Canada as the pristine counterpart to the fallen world of the United States. In a subsequent poem set in Canada—"To the Lady Charlotte Rawdon From the Banks of the St. Lawrence"—Moore represents the Thousand Islands area as a place "where the first sinful pair / For consolation might have weeping trod, / When banished from the garden of their God" (Poetical Works 126). In the final lines of "Ballad Stanzas," Upper Canada is similarly a refuge from the post-lapsarian world, a green and shady garden to one side of the United States. And, like Eden, Moore’s vision of Upper Canada contains the microcosm of a traditional, patriarchal society:17 a decidedly asymmetrical and undemocratic couple consisting of an innocent and blushing woman who exists primarily for the sensual pleasure of an authoritarian and censorious man who, it appears, does most of the thinking and talking (and who, to judge by the juxtaposition of that "red berry dip[ping] / In the gush of the fountain" with "innocent lips, / Which had never been sigh’d on my any but mine!" desires the usual Edenic combination of sexual inexperience and availability). Although written in the past tense and with many conditionals, "Ballad Stanzas" implies that an Edenic state (in both the existential and the political senses of the term) remains a real possibility in Upper Canada—that the "western world" may yet see the creation of an "elysian Atlantis," albeit one based on very traditional social patterns and assumptions.18

At heart, then, "Ballad Stanzas" is a nostalgic fantasy of harmony and romance whose roots lie in the eighteenth-century topos of rural retirement. The peaceful coexistence in the poem of the human and the natural orders—the unobtrusive "cottage" nestled among the trees—recalls countless paintings and poems in the picturesque and pastoral traditions where a quaint dwelling and contented bucolics seem to exist in an organic relationship with their natural setting.19 As well as implying that Canadians live tranquilly and obediently within a paternalistic frame, Moore’s rural idyll remains notably silent about the strains of dislocation and subsistence experienced by most emigrants to Upper Canada around the turn of the nineteenth century. There is nothing in "Ballad Stanzas" of the hardships and loneliness of the pioneer experience. Nor are there any references to agricultural buildings, plants, and animals. Indeed, the only human construction mentioned in the poem—the "cottage"—remains hidden—shielded from description and appraisal by the "‘lone little wood’" that lends distance and enchantment. To imagine it as what it may well have been—a "cabin rude" with "sheets of bark of elms o’erspread,…A paper window, and a blanket door" (Burwell 227-32) in the depths of "great," "dark forest" (Hollingsworth 186-87)—would be to cut against the idyllic grain of the poem. Precisely to the degree that it is idealized and sentimental, "Ballad Stanzas" aligns itself with such works as Cattermole’s Emigration, which, as Susanna Moodie observes in her Introduction to Roughing It in the Bush (1852) "prominently set forth all the good to be derived from a settlement in the Backwoods of Canada; while they carefully conceal…the toil and hardship to be endured in order to secure these advantages" ([1997] xxii). The absence of any reference to "Ballad Stanzas" in Moodie’s book is as predictable as Cattermole’s reference to it.

There is no evidence that Moore’s male-centred vision of life in the Upper Canadian backwoods appealed more to men than to women, though the enthusiastic interest of Galt, Cattermole, and Kirby in "Ballad Stanzas" could be seen as carrying this implication. Nor is there any evidence that Burwell knew Moore’s poem (though it would be surprising if he did not) or had it in mind when he envisaged the future of the Talbot Settlement near what is now London, Ontario:

On every farm a stately mansion stands,
That the surrounding fields at once commands,
Where, oft, the farmer contemplates alone,
The little Eden that he calls his own.
Blest spot! sacred to pure, domestic joy,
Where love and duty find their sweet employ.

If Moore did not provide direct inspiration for Burwell’s lines, he certainly helped to construct the vision of Upper Canada from which they arose.

Supplement 2
The Pioneer Picturesque and Settler Sublime


The monument of [pioneer] history is the fair land in which we live; its archives are the lines on mouldering head-boards where perhaps an emigrant and the partner of his exile, sustained through their lowly but heroic struggle with the wintry wilderness by mutual affection, rest in their humble grave.

—Charles G.D. Roberts, "Canadian Literature" (1883) (329)

While Max Gordon is off carving a homestead out of the ‘"dim, dusky woods"’ of the West in the central parts of Isabella Valancy Crawford’s Malcolm’s Katie: a Love Story (1884), his fiancée Katie Graem remains behind with her father, an elderly emigrant from Scotland who has long since transformed a tract of forest in what may well be Ontario into a prosperous mixed farm. Somewhat regretful that he has been blessed with a daughter rather than a son, Malcom Graem supplements Katie’s education in "city schools" with lessons in agriculture:

…Malcolm took her through his mighty fields,
And taught her lore about the change of crops;
And how to see a handsome furrow plough’d;
And how to choose the cattle for the mart;
And how to know a fair day’s work when done;
And where to plant young orchards….
                                                         (3: 36-41)

Even while the additive structure of this passage reflects the cumulative nature of Katie’s agricultural education, its qualifying adjectives—"mighty," "handsome," "fair"—indicate the presence of an economic aesthetic in the perspective that Malcom imparts to his daughter: to him, and, through him, to her, a "field" is "mighty," a "furrow" is "handsome" and a "day’s work" is "fair" insofar as it represents the presence or the promise of productivity and, hence, profit. After all, this is a man who, in his future son-in-law’s words created ‘"Outspreading circles of increasing gold’" from his own father’s tract of "dim, dusky woods" by yoking himself and his brother to a mouldboard plough and drawing its ‘"ripping beak through knotted sod, / Thro’ tortuous lanes of blacken’d, smoking stumps; / And past great flaming brush heaps’" (1: 111, 77-79). Differ though it does from Moore’s, Malcolm’s perception and (literal) construction of rural Canada also has eighteenth-century sources and a nineteenth-century history that helped to give the country its present shape.

As frequently remarked in these essays and elsewhere, standard components of the mental outfit that emigrants as well as tourists brought to Canada throughout the Colonial and Confederation periods were the aesthetics of the sublime and the picturesque. This does not mean that settlers, from, say, Hampshire in England or Perthshire in Scotland had actually read Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757) or Uvedale Price’s Essay on the Picturesque, as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful (1794), but merely that they would almost certainly have come across pictures and descriptions that were shaped by the aesthetics that these and numerous other writers and works had propounded and discussed—that is, they would have been familiar with a discourse that accorded special status to scenes of such magnitude as to cause "astonishment" (Burke Philosophical Enquiry 1: 108) and to scenery characterized by the variety of colours, textures, and landscape forms found in paintings by such artists as Claude Lorraine and Nicholas Poussin. They might have seen the engraving of Niagara Falls in Weld’s Travels (1799) (2: 121-22), for example, or the picturesque engravings of W.H. Bartlett in Nathaniel Parker Willis’s Canadian Scenery Illustrated (1842). In one or more of a great many travel accounts and emigrant guides, Canadian settlers would have encountered assurances that their adopted country was at least as well endowed with sublime sights and picturesque scenes as Europe or the United States. "Canada presents few objects which can occupy the enquiries of an antiquarian [or naturalist]," observes George Heriot in his Travels through the Canadas, Containing a Description of the Picturesque Scenery on Some of the Rivers and Lakes…of These Provinces (1807), but it is rich in sights of "singular sublimity" and scenes of "inexhaustible…variety" (47).

The disjunction between, on the one hand, the aesthetic expectations generated by such writers and artists as Weld, Bartlett, and Heriot and, on the other, the actual (but never unmediated) experience of the country accounts in large measure for the acute disappointment experienced by many early nineteenth-century emigrants when they arrived in Canada or reached the site of their homestead. In 1832, Susanna Moodie was gushingly enthusiastic about the sublimity of the St. Lawrence estuary but profoundly disconcerted by the "contaminating sights and sounds" of Grosse Isle ([1997] 9) and, in the same year, Catharine Parr Traill was similarly captivated by the "picturesque appearance" of the Island and "disappointed in [her] first acquaintance with…Montreal, a place of which travellers had said so much" (26, 38). Even more disconcerting to both sisters was the gap between their expectations and thereality of life in the bush or backwoods of Canada West: Moodie gazed upon what was to be her new home "in perfect dismay, for [she] had never seen such a shed called a house before" ([1997] 56) and Traill, despite all that she "had seen and heard of the badness of the roads in Canada,…was not prepared for such a one as [she and her husband] travelled along" on their way to their lot near Lakefield (96). Both Roughing It in the Bush (1852) and The Backwoods of Canada (1836) contain fictional elements and both relentlessly pursue their aim of correcting the propagandistic misconceptions of Canada purveyed in Cattermole’s Emigration (1831) and other works, but there is little reason to doubt that their emphasis on the shocks of the unexpected reflect the actual experiences of their authors.

One Canadian reality for which Moodie and Traill were amply prepared by travel writing was the sheer extent of the forests of Upper Canada and its aesthetic and emotional consequences. In a book with which they were both conversant, John Howison’s Sketches of Upper Canada (1821), the "emotions" engendered by "cultivated scenery" are at first belittled in comparison with "the sublime flow of ideas that is generated by solitary wanderings in the pathless wilderness" (165, and see 11); however, when, near Delaware in what is now southwestern Ontario, Howison happens upon "the remains of a large Indian wigwam" that contains "[s]everal fragments of…utensils…the skull of a deer" and a blackened spot of "ground…where a fire had once been," his attitude is very different. "It seems almost inconceivable, that human beings should be permanent inhabitants of this wilderness," he writes

— that domestic ties and affections should often brighten the gloom of such a solitude,—and that those leading passions, which agitate the hearts of all men, should be elicited and brought into action amidst the appalling loneliness and depressing monotony of the boundless forest. The decaying vestiges of human existence, which the wigwam exhibited, made the scene appear more desert and affecting than it would otherwise have done.                                                          

Traill may have had this passage in mind when she observed en route to Peterborough that "[t]o the mere passing traveller, who cares little for the minute beauties of scenery, there is certainly a monotony in the long and unbroken line of woods, which insensibly inspires a feeling of gloom almost touching on sadness" (63), as may Moodie when, in the same area, she remarks contrarily that "in spite of its monotonous character" the forest scenery is so "new to [her]" that it overcomes her "melancholy" ([1997] 56). Elsewhere, however, Moodie identifies Canada’s "gloomy" and "boundless woods," not merely as a source of sadness, but as a "prison" from which the only escape is death ([1997] 116, 94). In their different ways, Howison, Traill, and Moodie all expound communion with Nature as a palliative for the loneliness and sadness engendered by the "monotony" of the Canadian forest, but time and time again they also suggest that the only effective cure for the disease is the removal of the cause. Settlers would find happiness when and where the forest had been cleared, the "monotony" banished, the scenery picturesquely variegated by buildings, fields, fences, and domestic animals.20

More than being an antidote to melancholy and a source of (aesthetic) pleasure, the absence of trees was regarded by many early nineteenth-century cultural theorists as a necessary pre-condition for local attachment and patriotic love. An eloquent exposition of this view can be found in The Letters of Agricola on the Principle of Vegetation and Tillage (1822) where John Young draws on Archibald Alison’s Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790) and Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) to argue that tracts of land that "exhibit…throughout the same uniform appearance" because they are "covered with…forest" or "unvaried" in their flatness can never "take…a strong…hold of the mind" or "awake[n]…vivid and thrilling emotions" (403-04):

In Nova Scotia the emphatic and high-meaning words [of Scott],
                             "This is my dear, my native land"
can never be uttered with appropriate glow and enthusiasm, till we can fully and uninterruptedly survey its general aspect, with its hills and dales, its ravines and glens, its rocks and caves, its springs and rills, its uplands and meadows, now hidden under an uninteresting mantle of foliage. The wilderness is a term of cheerless import, and involves whatever is repugnant to the human heart. When the lineaments of the country have become distinct and visible, it will win our affections, and consolidate our patriotism.                                       

Clear echoes of this analysis are to be heard in The Rising Village, where the "solemn silence" and "gloomy shades" of the "wilderness of trees" are a source of "horror" and depression to Nova Scotia’s early settlers and the Province becomes a "Dear lovely spot!" to "each native heart" only after fifty years of agricultural development have transformed it into a picturesquely varied landscape of "verdant meads" and a "wood-bound lake," "smiling orchards" and a "murmuring…rill," "broad marsh[es]" and "The farmer’s cottage, bosomed ’mong the trees" ([1834] 60-64, 451-81; and see Bentley, Mimic Fires 109-23). Both in its content and by its very existence, The Rising Village implies that "unvaried" landscapes are no more productive of accomplished art than they are of patriotic feeling or, indeed, communal memory: although the products of a "commemorative spirit" (Le Goff 86), the tombstones of the village’s "sacred dead" are "rude cut," embellished with "laboured verse," and devoted to individual men and women, but the poem that commemorates the village’s history and celebrates its accomplishments is a communal document that displays (or so Goldsmith hopes) at least "Some…of th[e] sweet poetic art" ([1834] 464-66, 22) of The Deserted Village (1770). With agricultural development comes patriotism, communal spirit, and cultural refinement.

Of all the reasons for the preference among agricultural immigrants for land unencumbered by "the boundless forest" none was more important than economics. It was all very well for travellers such as Weld and Howison to extol the sublimity of Niagara Falls and the picturesqueness of the Thousand Islands, but to practical eyes Canada’s celebrated waterfalls and rapids were barriers to transportation and all but the largest islands in the St. Lawrence were too small and rocky to warrant agricultural development. As would be expected of the founder of Guelph, Ontario, Galt’s description of the Thousand Islands in Bogle Corbet (1831) is aesthetically appreciative and economically canny:

I was a good deal shattered…by the beauty of the scenery, which, as the vessel…meandered among the islets, opened innumerable vistas of pleasing nooks and sylvan bowers, beautiful as if they had been the artificial ornaments of some Blenheim or Stowe, adorned by a Capability Brown, and not the unpremeditated graces of Nature in her playfulness…. [But] except in a few places, the picturesque in th[is] romantic wilderness of cliffs, and trees, and glassy waters, is certainly obtained in contempt of all profitable beauty. 21                            
                                                                                                                       (3: 2-3)

Of course, the key phrase and concept here is "profitable beauty," for what Galt’s novel advises its emigrant readers to seek are lands that have been or could be successfully settled. A similar combination of aesthetic and economic criteria is discernible in Traill’s remark between leaving Lower Canada and travelling to the backwoods that she prefers the scenery of the Upper Province because, though "not…grand in scale," it is "more calculated to please, from the appearance of industry and fertility it displays" (47). "I am delighted…with the neatness, cleanliness, and comfort of the cottages and farms," she adds; "[t]he log-house and shanty rarely occur, having been supplanted by pretty farmhouses, built in superior style…. Around these habitations [are] orchards, bending down with a rich harvest of apples, plums, and the American crab" (47). Both Galt and Traill were steeped in the aesthetic conventions whereby, as Anne Bermingham has shown in Landscape and Ideology: the English Rustic Tradition, 1740-1860 (1986), the most "pleasing landscapes" and occupations were those that had become "economically [un]productive" and "anachronistic" (66, 81), but as emigrant advisors they redirected the picturesque aesthetic to scenes that combined aesthetic appeal ("beauty," "prett[iness]") and economic viability ("profit," "rich[ness]"). In the process, they not only replaced the "profound pessimism" of the British picturesque tradition (Bermingham 70) with the buoyant optimism of a developing country, but also helped to create the economic aesthetic—the pioneer picturesque—that underpins the agricultural lessons of Malcolm’s Katie.

Difficult though it may be for many readers today to accept, the primary requisite for a scene to correspond to many settlers’ notions of "profitable beauty" in central and eastern North America was the absence of trees. Among the first to notice this was Weld, who found while visiting the United States in 1795 that his admiration for "uninterrupted woods" and "beautiful cascade[s]" was not shared by "[t]he generality of Americans": "[t]o them the sight of a wheat field or a cabbage garden would convey a pleasure far greater than that of the most romantic woodland views. They have an unconquerable aversion to trees; and whenever a settlement is made, they cut away all before them without mercy" (1: 39). After pondering various explanations for this, Weld concludes:

the fact of the matter is, that from the face of the country being entirely overspread with trees, the eyes of the people become satiated with the sight of them. The ground cannot be tilled, nor can the inhabitants support themselves, till they are removed; they are looked upon as a nuisance, and the man that can cut down the largest number, and have the fields about his house most clear of them, is looked upon as the most industrious citizen, and the one that is making the greatest improvements in the country.                                                                                                                    (1: 40-41)

Some forty years later, Weld’s analysis was echoed by Anna Jameson in Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838): "[a] Canadian settler hates a tree, regards it as his natural enemy, as something to be destroyed, eradicated, annihilated by all and any means. The idea of useful or ornamental is seldom associated here even with the most magnificent timber trees" (64; and see Essay 12: Historied Trees).

In view of the great significance attached to the removal of trees in settler culture, it is scarcely surprising that each of the three "principal methods of killing" them that Jameson mentions—"ringing" (or girdling), felling, and burning—evoked strong emotional and, indeed, aesthetic responses. Jameson likens ringing, the killing of a tree by encircling its trunk with a deep cut so that "by degrees it droops and dies," to the destruction of "a woman’s heart by sorrow" (64-65)22 and Traill, who vainly urged the men who cleared her lot to leave a few trees in the interest of taste, nevertheless experienced "a strange excitement in the mind whilst watching the felling of…the gigantic pines or oaks of the forest" (163-64). It was the burning of trees, however, that elicited the most profound and extensive responses from those that witnessed it. While travelling through Virginia in 1796, Weld witnessed the progress of a fire that had been deliberately started to clear the land of trees and his evocative account of the event established a precedent for several later Canadian writers. "About five o’clock, the horizon towards the north became dark," he writes,


and a terrible whirlwind arose…. It carried with it a cloud of dust, dried leaves, and pieces of rotten wood, and in many places, as it came along, it levelled the fence rails, and unroofed the sheds for the cattle…. On looking round immediately after the whirlwind had passed, a prodigious column of fire now appeared in a part of the wood where some brushwood had been burning; in many places the flames rose considerably above the summit of the trees, which were of a large growth. It was a tremendous, and at the same time sublime sight.                                                                    
                                                                                                                 (1: 160-61)

Taking his cue from Weld, Burwell presents the firing of brushwood and heaped logs in similarly sublime terms in Talbot Road:

Amongst the leafy brushwood fast [the Woodman] plies,
When lo! a hundred brilliant spires arise,
Columns of flame, and denser smoke that shrouds
The mid-day sun, and mingles with the clouds,
Wide wasting conflagration…

                      •         •        •

…through the shades of the autumnal night,
The flaming log-heaps cast a glaring light;
In contrast deep—the clouds, of sable hue;
Spread their dense mantle o’er the ethereal blue;
Above is pitchy blackness—all below
Wide flashing fires—Around, far other show—
Majestic trees, whose yet unfaded bloom,
In pale reflection, gives a sylvan gloom—
A dubious maze, which leads th’ uncertain sight
To the drear confines of eternal night,
As it might seem:—While….raging fires
…upward shoot a thousand…spires….23
(265-69, 279-90)

No less Weldean and sublime are Traill’s descriptions of clearing fires:

It is…a magnificent sight to see the blazing trees and watch the awful progress of the conflagration, as it hurries onward, consuming all before it, or leaving such scorching mementoes as have blasted the forest growth for years….Of a night the effect is more evident; sometimes the wind blows particles of the burning fuel into the hollow pines and tall decaying stumps; these readily ignite, and after a time present an appearance that is exceedingly fine and fanciful. Fiery columns, the bases of which are hidden by the dense smoke wreaths, are to be seen in every direction, sending up showers of sparks that are whirled around like rockets and fire-wheels in the wind.24 (158-59)

To Traill’s chagrin, the one "pretty sapling beech-tree" that she had managed to save from the axe on her own lot was later subjected to the "fiery ordeal" of a clearing fire which "scorched and withered up its gay green leaves" and left it standing as "a melancholy monument of the impossibility of preserving trees thus left" (163).

A perceptive gloss on these and other instances of what might be called the settler sublime is provided by John Strachan when he remarks in A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819 (1820) that the sight of "burning masses [of logs]" at "night…through a large extent of country present[s] a brilliant spectacle" that becomes "powerfully interesting" when "it is considered that these are the first steps towards reducing the wilderness into a fruitful country" (76). Unlike those strains of sublimity that affirm the grandeur of the external world and the insignificance of the individual observer, the settler sublime speaks to the capacity of humans to develop nature in accordance with God’s injunction to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1.28 to "[b]e fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." Nowhere more than in the settler sublime is there evident the close relationship between the sublime aesthetic and British imperialism that has been brightly illuminated by Sara Suleri in The Rhetoric of English India (1992) and Mary Louise Pratt in Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992). The most radical stage in the Europeanization of the wilderness, the "brilliant spectacle" that Strachan found so "powerfully interesting" heralded the transformation of an agriculturally and emotionally negative space into a realm of "profitable beauty" and emotional inspiration. When Burwell’s Woodman has completed his Lockean day’s work, he watches over his "fireheaps" while regaling his "wife and sons" with "schemes for future happiness" that include the building of a "barn," the clearing of "new land," the planting of an "orchard," and the purchase of a separate "farm for each deserving son" (301-12). The sections that follow the one devoted to the "Burning of the Log-heaps" in The Backwoods of Canada are entitled "Crops for the Season," "Farming Stock," "Comparative Value of Wheat and Labour," "Choice Land, and Relative Advantages," and "Clearing Land" (157). "[I]n the glow" of "forest pyres" and "amid the blacken’d stumps" in Malcolm’s Katie, "the lean weaver" looks "forward to the ploughing of his fields, / And to the rose of Plenty in the cheeks / Of [his] wife and children" and Max Gordon speaks so often of a future ‘"home…with vines about the door’" that a "black slope all bristling with burn’d stumps" becomes known among the settlers’ wives as ‘"Max’s house’" (2: 216-20, 247-53).

At the heart of this joke at Max’s expense is the disjunction between his dream of a vine-clad home and the reality of the "blacken’d" or "burn’d stumps" that, as Crawford perhaps knew from The Backwoods of Canada,25 Canadian settlers regarded as a practical hindrance and an aesthetic blight. "After the burning is over," writes Traill, "the ground [is] perfectly free from all encumbrances, excepting the standing stumps, which rarely burn out, and remain eye-sores for several years" and necessitate the use of "a queer sort of harrow that is made in the shape of a triangle for the better passing between [them]" (159-60). In earlier letters, Traill had described "a fine cleared farm" whose "green pastures…[are] rendered more pleasing by the absence of the odious stumps that disfigure the clearings" in the Peterborough area and anticipated the happy day when her own farm would not be encumbered by "horrid black stumps" (93, 108),26 and in her final letter she gauges her growing affection for Canada by her response to these same "eye-sores":

I daily feel my attachment to [the country] strengthening. The very stumps that appeared so odious, through long custom, seem to lose some of their hideousness; the eye becomes familiarized even with objects the most displeasing, till they cease to be observed. Some century hence how different will this spot appear! I can picture it to my imagination with fertile fields and groves of trees planted by the hand of taste; —all will be different; our present rude dwellings will have given place to others of a more elegant style of architecture, and comfort and grace will rule the scene which is now a forest wild. (250-51)

In the meantime, "black stumps," like "rude dwellings," are tolerable not merely because familiarity has rendered them (almost) invisible, but because they represent a stage—indeed, the crucial agricultural stage—of the country’s progress from rudeness to refinement, from "forest wild" to "comfort and grace."27

Both Traill and Crawford were sensitive to the great costs that the settlement of Canada levied on the environment as well as the settlers, but it was Moodie who left the most poignant image of the harm that Nature and Man were capable of inflicting on each other in the process of "reducing the wilderness into a fruitful country." One of the many character-sketches in Roughing It in the Bush depicts a merry widow named Betty who "live[s] in a lone shanty in the woods" with her two children and a man who is "not her husband." Of Betty’s three legal husbands, the first is still living, the third is not described, and the second has met a fate that almost justifies Northrop Frye’s contention that Canadian nature is malevolently opposed to human values and activities:28

Betty’s second husband had been killed in one of our fields by a tree falling upon him while ploughing under it. He was buried upon the spot, part of the blackened stump forming his monument. ([1997] 107)




  1. In "Possession as the Origin of Property" (1985), Carol M. Rose draws on Terry Eagleton, Stanley Fish, and Christopher Norris to treat this audience as an "interpretive community" in which the "‘text’ of first possession" finds its meaning (82-87). Stephen Greenblatt, in Marvelous Possessions (1991) draws on J. L. Austin to consider "rituals of possession" as "speech acts" directed primarily towards the home audience (52-70). The present formulation is indebted to both of these ideas, as well as to the discussions of interpretive contexts in a number of Canadian court cases (see, for example, [R. v Sioui [1990] on "rules on interpretation" [1044]). L.C. Green comments repeatedly in The Laws of Nations and the New World (1989) on the fact that, "insofar as the indigenous population is concerned, there is no suggestion in early accounts of acts of possession in the New World" that they "played any part in the proceeding or had in fact been consulted" (Green and Dickason 14, 17, 23, 35, 38, 39). [back]

  2. See also Baker Lake (1980): "[i]t seems to me that the grant of title to the [Hudson’s Bay] Company was intended solely to define its ownership of the land in relation to the Crown, not to extinguish the aboriginal title."(233). Justice Mahoney proceeds to note that, prior to European settlement in the area, agreements were made between the Company and the Inuit or Indians. See also Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in the case of Worcester v. the State of Georgia (qtd. in Calder 196) that the right of first discovery "was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it; not one which could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers; but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants, or as occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man." Olive P. Dickason’s chapter on "Canadian Courts and Aboriginal Rights" in Canada’s First Nations (1992) (339-54) provides an excellent analysis of the legal and constitutional backgrounds of the issue of Native rights in land. [back]

  3. Samuel de Champlain also erected such a cross, as had Columbus and as did Simon-François Daumont, Sieur de Saint-Lusson at what is now Sault-Ste. Marie in 1671; see L.C. Green and Dickason 7-17, 224-225. [back]

  4. For a more extended account of Kelsey’s aesthetics, see Bentley "‘Set Forth as Plainly May Appear.’. ." (1990). See also Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions 82-83, 147-48 and passim, and the same author’s "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century" (1976) in Chiappelli 561-80. Chiappelli’s volumes contain several essays that furnish backgrounds and supplements to the present discussion. [back]

  5. Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions 27-28, 55-56, 117-18 discusses the various "symbolic acts" used to demonstrate possession by Columbus and his immediate successors, and cites the relevant precedents in Roman Law, notably Justinian’s "the ownership of things originated in natural possession." Although the instances considered by Greenblatt are pre-Lockean, he arguably placed too little emphasis on the mixing of labour with the land that is involved in such symbolic activities as "placing stones, cutting grass, raising mounds or pillars, erecting crosses, even drinking water" (56); see also L.C. Green and Dickason 7-17, 228-29. "Before they left" the Northwest for the third and final time in the 1570s, Greenblatt observes, Frobisher’s men "built a house out of lime and stone. Frobisher thought perhaps that this structure, like the crosses and coats of arms left on other shores, would serve as a sign of English occupation and hence possession" (Marvelous Possessions 117-18). For a pre-Lockean example of mixing labour with land as a test of possession, see Robert C. Palmer’s The Whiton Dispute, 1264-1380 (1984): "[w]hat he [Nicholas] had done on the land was insufficient. There was never any evidence that he had had the land plowed; on the contrary, there was such trouble in the countryside that he did not dare work the land. Nor, it seems, did he receive rent from the tenants, dismiss his father’s bailiff…and replace him with his own man, or free any of the unfree tenants. All of these actions were customary ways of showing that one could now dispose of the property as one’s own, that one had title. Nicholas would not have needed to perform all of them, but what he had done fell short of decisive use of the land. The actualization of his seisin [possession; now, as freehold] was marginal and therefore questionable"(32). In Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto (1894-1914), J. Ross Robertson quotes a notice of September 6, 1800 from the office of the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada on the tasks to be performed by settlers to secure their ownership of land: "they are required within three months…to cut and burn all the brush and underwood on their lots; and within six months…to fell all trees that are standing thereon, on pain of their lots being forfeited" (6: 265). See also E. Hepple Hall, Lands of Plenty (1879) for discussions of the provisions governing land ownership under the Free Grant and Homestead Act of 1868 (after clearing fifteen acres "the settler is entitled to a deed making the land absolutely his own" [42]) and the Homestead Law of 1872, and Canada: a Memorial Volume (1889) for details of the amount of cultivation and the length of residence necessary for a settler to acquire a "patent" on a homestead (54-56). [back]

  6. The four stages theory thus co-operated in the process by which the classification of "land occupied by migratory and semi-sedentary peoples as terra nullius or…vacuum domicilium…" circumvented the Justinian principle that "the right of first possession can only be claimed on lands previously unoccupied" (L.C. Green and Dickason 233-35). See also L.C. Green and Dickason 73-78, 239-40 for discussions of Emer de Vattel’s argument in Le Droit des gens (1758) that "cultivation of the soil" is an "obligation imposed upon man by nature" (God) which has been disdained by tribes in the New World whose "occupancy of…vast regions cannot [therefore] be held as a real and lawful taking of possession." [back]

  7. As Robert Gourlay puts it in his Statistical Account of Upper Canada (1822), "[n]o lark—no linnet—no blackbird—no thrush—no nightingale—no robin, but by name. Chirp, chirp, and but little of that" (2: iii). Gourlay’s "but by name" gestures towards the settlers’ nostalgic and, at base, metaphorical habit of naming North American species of flora and fauna after British and European species that they resembled or recalled. [back]

  8. Even while contesting the notion that Natives are especially given to revenge, the explorer David Thompson gives support to the four stages theory and the theory of degeneration in his Narrative, 1784-1812 (1962): "[w]hen injured they are resentful, but no more than the lower classes of Europeans. They frequently pass over injuries, and are always appeased with a present, unless blood has been shed. In this case however they may seem to forgive, they defer revenge to a more convenient opportunity…. Although the young men appear not to be passionate lovers, they seldom fail of being good husbands." And, Thompson concludes, "their domestic utensils are all rude, their snowshoes and canoes show ingenuity which necessity has forced on them; the state of every thing with them arises no higher than absolute necessity, and in all probability their ancestors some hundred years ago, were equal to the present generation in the arts of life" (82). [back]

  9. In Baker Lake an attempt was also made to show that the disputed area was uninhabited at the time of its European discovery: "[h]istory around Baker Lake began with Henry Hudson’s voyage….That voyage constituted the basis for England’s claims to that part of Canada. It did not record the observation of human habitation anywhere near Chesterfield Inlet" (204). In fact, Hudson was never near the west coast of Hudson Bay, and no European sailed into Chesterfield Inlet before Moses Norton in 1762. In 1613, however, Thomas Button and other members of the Company of the Merchants Discoverers of the North-West Passage (whose Charter was granted in 1612), sailed across the mouth of the bay named for Hudson, passing within some seventy-five miles of today’s Baker Lake. [back]

  10. In Calder, Wilson Duff’s Indian History of British Columbia (1969) is quoted to a similar end: "[i]t is not correct to say that the Indians did not ‘own’ the land but roamed over the face of it and ‘used’ it. The patterns of ownership and utilization which they imposed upon the lands and waters were different from those recognized by our system of law, but were nevertheless clearly defined and mutually respected. Even if they didn’t subdivide and cultivate the land, they did recognize ownership of plots used for village sites, fishing places, berry and root patches, and similar purposes" (149). [back]

  11. See Goldsmith, Autobiography (1985) 42-43 for the history of the poem’s composition and first publication. [back]

  12. For a detailed discussion of The Rising Village in terms of the four stages theory, see Bentley "Oliver Goldsmith and The Rising Village"(1990). [back]

  13. Moore also cites Weld with approval in the Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824) 302n. [back]

  14. For the role of this poem in generating an enduring stereotype of French Canadians, see Gross (1990). [back]

  15. See also Traill The Backwoods of Canada (1836): "[w]e soon lost sight entirely of the river, and struck into the deep solitude of the forest, where not a sound disturbed the almost awful stillness that reigned around us. Scarcely a leaf or a bough was in motion, excepting that at intervals we caught the sound of the breeze stirring the lofty heads of the pine-trees, and wakening a hoarse and mournful cadence. This, with the tapping of the red-headed and grey woodpeckers on the trunk of the decaying trees, or the shrill whistling cry of the little striped squirrel, called by the natives ‘chitmunk,’ was every sound that broke the stillness of the wild" (95). [back]

  16. For example, "To the Honourable W.R. Spencer from Buffalo, upon Lake Erie" ends with a quotation from Euripides’ Medea that translates "O my country, how very much I remember you now!" Its concluding lines are "I hear Niagara’s distant cataract roar, / I sigh for home,—alas! these weary feet / Have many a mile to journey, ere we [Moore and Spencer] meet…." [back]

  17. Moore’s first act on arriving in Upper Canada was "to drink the King’s health in a bumper" and a month later in Quebec he commented on the "gratifying" "politeness" with which he had met in Canada, particularly from a "poor watchmaker in Niagara" and from the "captain" of the vessel that carried him along Lake Ontario (Letters 1: 94, 97, and see 98). [back]

  18. The September 29, 1829 issue of The Quebec Mercury contains a parody of "Ballad Stanzas" by "Philo Moose" that substitutes a steam ship for Moore’s "cottage." Such was progress. [back]

  19. In Building with Wood and Other Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Building in Ontario (1967), John I. Rempel observes of American culture that "[a] log cabin was the home of the nineteenth-century Adam repossessing the Garden of Eden and, in the symbol’s greatest days, thus the preferred birth-place of all politicians. It attained the metaphorical heights of being declared ‘the cradle of the American home’" (18). Describing the Canadian manifestation of this iconological process in Building Canada: an Architectural History of Canadian Life (1966), Alan Gowans writes that "log cabins are the great frontier symbol…of Upper Canada (Ontario). Here you find them preserved as shrines to the cult of the pioneer—at Exhibition Park in Toronto, for example, where John Scadding’s cabin, built in 1794 on the east bank of the Don River, was moved in 1879 to memorialize ‘Toronto’s oldest house,’ following the great romantic popularization of the ‘pioneer log cabin’ at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876"(6). "Culturally speaking," adds Gowans, "the log cabin is always a primitive architectural form. It is a harbinger of civilization rather than one of its manifestations" (7). See also Harold R. Shurtleff, The Log Cabin Myth (1939). [back]

  20. See also Francis Hall’s observation in his Travels in Canada, and the United States, in 1816 and 1817 (1818) that, while at first glance "[n]othing looks less cheerful than the hut of a primitive settler [in Upper Canada], especially when isolated in the mass of a dark heavy forest," a closer look reveals "pleasant comfort and progressional improvement" (215-16) and Traill’s remarks in The Canadian Settler’s Guide (1855) about the cheerful feelings evoked by "a house surrounded by a garden" (56). [back]

  21. Galt’s description may well be indebted to Howison’s remark that in the Thousand Islands "Nature seems…to have thrown sportively from her hand a profusion of masses of the material world, that she might perceive what combination of scenery might be produced" (931-32). [back]

  22. In contrast, the killing of a woman’s heart by "passion" corresponds to the destruction of a tree by fire, "which sometimes leaves the root uninjured to rot gradually and unseen, or be grubbed up at leisure, or more generally,….[leaves] a visible fragment of a charred and blackened stump" (Jameson 64). [back]

  23. Burwell also treats of large numbers of felled trees as a sublime sight: "In heaps on heaps the shivered timbers lie, / A scene of terror to the astonish’d eye" (921-22). To Francis Hall, it was the aftermath of the felling and burning that was most evocative: when log-huts are "surrounded by stumps of trees" that are "black" from "fires kindled for the purposes of clearing" and "still burning in some quarter," "the whole settlement, betwixt the remains of former conflagrations, and the volumes of blue smoke…curling through the massive woods, has a very Cimmerian aspect" (196)—the Cimmerians being a fabulous people who are said by Homer in the Odyssey to live in the remote and sunless land where Ulysses gains access to the spirits of the dead. [back]

  24. Traill adds that "there is no work…more interesting and exciting than that of tending the log-heaps, rousing up the dying flames and closing them in, and supplying the fires with fresh fuel" (159). See also Howison 138-40 for a description of an "accidental conflagration" that is also sublime. [back]

  25. It is also possible that Traill’s account of clearing fires, quoted above, lies behind Crawford’s description of the same phenomenon:

      Then roar’d the crackling mountains, and their fires
    Met in high heaven, clasping flame with flame.
    The thin winds swept a cosmos of red sparks
    Across the bleak, midnight sky; and the sun
    Walk’d pale behind the resinous, black smoke.
                                                                 (2: 177-81) [back]

  26. Traill echoes Howison’s admiration for fields that are "smooth and level from frequent ploughing, and not disfigured by stumps or decayed timber" (136). [back]

  27. Also inimical to the pioneer picturesque were what Young calls "cradle-hills"— that is, "hillocks" centred on the "trunk of a tree" and "varying in height from ten to thirty inches" (408). "Some…go so far as to define these vestiges of original rudeness" as "beneficial," but Young urges their removal in the interests of "beautifying and cultivating the earth," arguing that they not only "militate against the correctness and expedition of all field operations," but also constitute "deviations from chasteness and simplicity" that violate the "harmonious symmetry" of the "universe" (407-09).[back]

  28. Frye’s best-known and most influential statement of this view is in "Canada and Its Poetry" (1943) with regard to the "evocation of stark terror" that he finds in A. J. M. Smith’s The Book of Canadian Poetry (1943): "[w]hen all the intelligence, morality, reverence and simian cunning of man confronts a sphinx-like riddle of the indefinite like the Canadian winter, the man seems as helpless as a trapped mink and as lonely as a loon. His thrifty little heaps of civilized values look pitiful beside nature’s apparently meaningless power to waste and destroy on a superhuman scale, and such a nature suggests an equally ruthless and subconscious God, or else no God" (The Bush Garden 138).[back]