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Promise of Eden

Promise of Eden: The Canadian Expansionist Movement and the Idea of the West, 1856-1900

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 264
  • Book Info
    Promise of Eden
    Book Description:

    Through the last half of the nineteenth century, numbers of Canadians began to regard the West as a land of ideal opportuniy for large-scale agricultural settlement. This belief, in turn, led Canada to insist on ownership of the region and on immediate development.

    Underlying the expansionist movement was the assumption that the West was to be a hinterland to central Canada, both in its economic relationship and in its cultural development. But settlers who accepted the extravagant promises of expanionism found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the assumption of easstern dominance with their own perception of the needs of the West and of Canada.

    Doug Owram analyses the various phases of this development, examining in particular the writings - historical, scientific, journalistic, and promotional - that illuminate one of the most significant movements in the history of nineteenth-century Canada.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7881-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface to the 1992 edition
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    In the middle of the nineteenth century a number of Canadians became convinced that the possession and development of the Hudson’s Bay territories were essential to the future of Canada. This conviction fostered the growth of a powerful movement that developed very definite ideas as to the potential of the region and of its future role within Canada and the British Empire. Those ideas, in turn, helped to shape the policy of the government, the attitudes of Canadians, and the history of Canada itself as the nation faced the task of opening and settling the West.

    The initial task of...

  6. 1 A far and distant corner of the Empire: the image of Rupert’s Land before 1850
    (pp. 7-37)

    There is a tract of land in the interior of North America ‘consisting of some millions of acres, and, in point of soil and climate, inferior to none of equal extent in British America.’¹ With these words, Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, set out to provide relief to the overcrowded population of Scotland by means of emigration. Basing his opinions on the writings of such fur traders as Alexander Mackenzie, Selkirk in 1811 initiated the first settlement in the vast region known as Rupert’s Land. It was a bold experiment that ignored the traditional areas of settlement for...

  7. 2 New worlds to conquer: the opening of the expansionist campaign, 1856-57
    (pp. 38-58)

    In 1850 Sir George Simpson wrote Chief Factor Donald Ross of Norway House to tell him the good news that ‘H.M. Government has put an extinguisher on the agitation respecting the Company’s rights and management.’¹ Simpson’s comment accurately summed up the conclusion of the attacks on the Hudson’s Bay Company by Alexander Isbister and others. For all the doubts that had been raised concerning the future of the Hudson’s Bay territories, British policy indicated that it was still felt that the North West would remain a fur trading empire for the immediate future and that the company was best suited...

  8. 3 A means to empire: Canada’s reassessment of the West, 1857-69
    (pp. 59-78)

    In a burst of enthusiasm Canadian expansionists turned their attention to the North West in 1856 and 1857. It had been eastern aspirations, commercial, moral, and national, that had led them to insist that the West should be opened up and claimed as Canada’s inheritance. At the same time, even though they realized that the drive to the west obtained its impulse from eastern conditions, the nature of the land itself was important. Although Allan Macdonell might argue that the nature of the land was irrelevant, that ‘even if the whole country from Lake Superior to the Pacific be a...

  9. 4 Conspiracy and rebellion: the Red River resistance, 1869-70
    (pp. 79-100)

    By September 1869 the long campaign of the expansionists seemed on the verge of triumphant success. After a number of proposals and counterproposals, Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company had come to terms on the transfer of Rupert’s Land. Canada, for its part, had already passed the legislation necessary for the extension of its control and only the date of the official transfer remained to be set.¹ William McDougall had even been named as the territory’s first governor and was in the midst of preparations for his long journey. Canadian expansionists predicted that annexation marked the dawn of a new...

  10. 5 The geography of empire: the quest for settlers in the 1870s
    (pp. 101-124)

    The entry of the expeditionary force into Fort Garry in August 1870 made Canada’s annexation of the North West a reality. Canada now possessed the vast hinterland which it had sought for so long. In the preceding years the stereotype of the region as a wasteland had been replaced by an image of a fertile and empty land covering thousands of square miles. The problem for Canada after 1870 was to convert the visions of earlier years into concrete and detailed policies and to make the region a centre of growth and population.

    The analysis of the task before Canada...

  11. 6 The character of empire: the Britain of the West
    (pp. 125-148)

    From its beginnings, expansionism had social and moral overtones that imparted to the secular idea of potential wealth a sense of mission. The specific character of that mission had altered from time to time to adapt to the changing tempo of expectations for the West, but it was always present in some form. Alexander Isbister and the early critics of the Hudson’s Bay Company had focused attention on the plight of the Indians under company rule. Canadian expansionists had made the Red River settler, supposedly longing for political liberty, the centre of their attention; that specific crusade had faltered in...

  12. 7 John Macoun’s Eden: the final stage of expansionism, 1878-83
    (pp. 149-167)

    In the spring of 1879 a Canadian writer commented that ‘of all things that have impressed us most in the history of Canada during the last twenty years, none has been so strange as theapparent discoveryof new parts good for settlement.’¹ It was a perceptive statement for it summed up a great deal about the Canadian expansionist process. From the time that Palliser and Hind had reassessed the North West in the light of Canadian demands for expansion, geographical perceptions had altered not only according to scientific theory but also to meet the expectations of the nation. It...

  13. 8 Disillusionment: regional discontent in the 1880s
    (pp. 168-191)

    John Macoun’s enthusiastic reappraisal of the North West coincided with a period of growth and prosperity. Practically every indicator of the economy in the West showed marked improvement in the years surrounding 1880. Land sales, homesteads, and pre-emptions rose from 132,918 acres in 1876 to over a million acres by 1879 and an astonishing 2,699,145 acres by 1882.¹ Grain exports, first begun in 1876, continued to increase in value with each succeeding crop. Settlers, encouraged by this prosperity, pushed westward from the fertile soil of the Red River Valley onto land that had only recently been declared suitable for agriculture....

  14. 9 The West as past: the foundations of western history
    (pp. 192-216)

    The fascination for the West created by the expansionist campaign resulted in a widespread and rather uncritical interest in material on that region. Dozens of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and books brought information about the ‘new Canada’ to readers in the East and elsewhere. Given this atmosphere, Joseph James Hargrave might have felt hopeful that his history of Red River, published in 1871, would be received with interest.¹ If he had any such expectations, however, they were soon disappointed. His work received very little attention and such attention as it did get was far from encouraging. ‘Voltaire,’ wrote one of the...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-224)

    Most of the political ends sought by the expansionists had been realized by the end of the nineteenth century. The North West had been annexed to Canada and preserved from the supposed expansionist designs of the United States. The once all-powerful Hudson’s Bay Company had lost its control over the region and agriculture had become the basic activity over thousands of square miles of prairie and parkland. The Canadian Pacific Railway had been completed less than forty years after Synge and his contemporaries had first talked of a route to the Pacific. All these achievements seemed to give the men...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 225-254)
  17. A note on sources
    (pp. 255-256)
  18. Index
    (pp. 257-264)