Borderland Religion: The Emergence of an English-Canadian Identity, 1792–1852


386 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8671-3
DDC 280'.4'097146





Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. His
most recently published works are Biblical Religion and Family Values,
Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics, and Religion and


A favourite pastime of English-speaking Canadians has been holding forth
on the cultural differences between Canadians and Americans, and
historian J.I. Little of Simon Fraser University proposes that we
consider in this regard the long-term consequences of the failure of
“radical” American forms of religion to catch on in Quebec’s
Eastern Townships in the first half of the 19th century. Little’s
study is a “borderlands study in reverse,” for rather than focusing
on cultural connections between the southern New Englanders who settled
in the Eastern Townships and their cousins south of the border, it
explores how the immigrants largely remained immune to American
religious influences and accommodated themselves to the more
conservative religious culture of the British. An industrious
professional historian, Little has done the requisite research and
provides us with the expected quotations from historical and
contemporary sources, bibliographical references, detailed endnotes, and
statistics. As a bonus, 10 photographs of historic churches are thrown

Little’s appreciation of the historical influence of religion as
such—as a force not to be explained away in terms of other cultural
factors—helps to save this study from being a “scissors-and-paste”
affair, even if he overvalues the consequences of the particular
religious phenomena on which he concentrates. Little provides a wealth
of information on the various Protestant denominations in the borderland
during this period. In support of his “English-Canadian identity”
thesis, he draws attention to how Anglican leaders were sufficiently
creative, flexible, and fortunate to be able to respond effectively over
time to the challenges of Congregationalism, premillennialism,
revivalism, and other religious influences from south of the border; but
he also assigns some importance to a certain lack of interest on the
part of radical American religious leaders in carrying their campaign
north. It would have been helpful if Little had been more explicit and
more precise in indicating the permanent impact of these early
19th-century events on English-Canadian culture, especially inasmuch as
he actually believes that Canadians and Americans have subsequently
viewed religious matters “differently.” His book is primarily for
academic readers.


Little, J.I., “Borderland Religion: The Emergence of an English-Canadian Identity, 1792–1852,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,