The Backwoods of Canada


335 pages
Contains Maps
ISBN 0-88629-306-5
DDC 917'1304'2




Edited by Michael A. Peterman
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Catharine Parr Traill’s The Backwoods of Canada, which first appeared
in 1836, is an engaging, informative, unpretentious, pleasantly written
account of early British settlers in what is now Ontario. Thirty years
ago, the only available edition was a “selected” (which meant
heavily abridged) version in the New Canadian Library, but even in that
inadequate form it was a fine example of early Canadian prose, more
disciplined if less complex than Roughing It in the Bush, a similar
account by Susanna Moodie, Traill’s sister. But what was its genre? It
purported to be made up of letters written home to the author’s mother
and relatives, yet I strongly suspected that it was, like Roughing It, a
much subtler literary creation. The brief and often inaccurate NCL
introduction offered no clues, and I found no literary-critical or
historical help elsewhere.

Thanks to Michael Peterman and the Centre for Editing Early Canadian
Texts, any reader approaching The Backwoods need encounter no such
frustrations. The bibliographical difficulties surrounding the book are
considerable, and far too intricate to discuss adequately here. Suffice
it to say that Peterman has provided a clear, authoritative text. In
addition, he has written an elaborate introduction telling us everything
we need to know about Traill and the background to her book. He also
offers helpful explanatory notes.

This is the 11th volume in the series to which it belongs, and the
second by Catharine Parr Traill (her novel for children, Canadian
Crusoes, appeared in 1986). The 19th-century heritage of Canadian prose
is a relatively modest one, but most of the important prose texts are
now available in handsome and reliable versions. Since editions of most
of the principal poets of the period are also available, the teaching of
early Canadian literature is now possible in a way unimaginable a
generation ago. Congratulations are in order.


Traill, Catharine Parr., “The Backwoods of Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024,