Looking back

Catherine Parr Traill

Catherine Parr Traill

I love stories from the pioneer days and recently I found a book on my shelf, it’s called The Canadian Settler’s Guide by Catherine Parr Traill, first published in 1855. I have the second publication, with an added introduction © 1969.

Clara Thomas, York University writes,
“In 1854, twenty two years after her arrival in Upper Canada, Catherine Parr Traill compiled The Canadian Settler’s Guide, terming it a “Manual of Canadian house-wifery” and dedicating it to the “Wives and Daughters of the Canadian Emigrant.” “

“From her position of experience and success in pioneer living, Catherine Traill looked with concern at the numbers of women for whom life in Canada was a disaster:

Disheartened by repeated failures, unused to the expedients which the older inhabitants adopt in any case of difficulty, repining and disgust take the place of cheerful activity; troubles increase, and the power to overcome them decreases; domestic happiness disappears. The woman toils on heart-sick and pining for the home she left behind her. The husband reproaches his broken-hearted partner, and both blame the Colony for the failure of the individual.

Understandably, few women who endured the rigours of Upper Canada in the early days had either the desire, the ability or the energy to spare for writing of their experiences.”

“As a general thing they are told that they must prepare their minds for hardships and privations, and that they will have to exert themselves in a variety of ways to which they have hitherto been strangers; but the exact nature of that work, and how it is to be performed, is left untold. The consequences of this, that the females have everything to learn, with few opportunities of acquiring the requisite knowledge, which is often obtained under circumstances, and in situations the most discouraging; while their hearts are yet filled with natural yearnings after the land of their birth, (dear even to the poorest emigrant), with grief for the friends of their early days, and while every object in this new country is strange to them.”


The women and daughters that emigrated were completely unprepared for what lied ahead! I want to pause for a moment and consider that. Not only were they faced with physical challenges that we often think about, for the sake of merely surviving, they had to face disappointment, discouragement, longing for friends and family which would make the physical challenges that much harder or were often the result of the physical challenges.

Catherine’s book shares practical advice in all areas of pioneer living.

” It was not written with the intention of amusing, but simply of instructing and advising. I might have offered my female friends a work of fiction or of amusing facts, into which it would have been an easy matter to have interwoven a mass of personal adventure, with useful information drawn from my own experience during twenty-two years sojourn in the Colony; but I well knew that knowledge conveyed through such a medium is seldom attended with practical results; it is indeed something like searching through a bushel of chaff to discover a few solitary grains of wheat.”

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share bits and pieces from her book and get your reactions.

What are your thoughts so far?



4 responses

  1. It makes me thankful that we have the internet, books, friends and family – and also household servants such as washers and dryers – so we not only have more leisure, but more sharing of information and effort. Not much need to reinvent the wheel. I would like to hear more from her book, to see the advice she gave the settlers. I would think it was very helpful and well received, if the situation was as desolate as she painted it. I am eager to see more!

    • Wardeh, I’m thankful for what we have now too! Something as simple as a telephone would have eased a lot of their loneliness but they didn’t have it. Telephones, among other things are really taken for granted now.

  2. I love reading books about Pioneers. Non-fictional and fictional. I love the ‘romantic’ idea of that life. But the reality of it would be very difficult. I’m interested in reading more!

  3. Pingback: The CSG (Household servants) « Prairie Sunrise

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