Natives and Newcomers: Canada's "Heroic Age" Reconsidered


430 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0594-6




Reviewed by J.R. Miller

J.R. (Jim) Miller is Canada Research Chair of History at the University
of Saskatchewan and the author of Reflections on Native-Newcomer
Relations: Selected Essays and Lethal Legacy: Current Native
Controversies in Canada.


It is a pleasure to watch a master at work. The distinguished McGill university anthropologist and ethnohistorian Bruce Trigger has produced a gem of scholarship in Natives and Newcomers. Trigger makes the results of his 1976 two-volume study of the Huron, The Children of Aataentsic (McGill-Queen’s), more widely available in an updated form, and he alerts specialists to the lessons they can learn from other disciplines. In particular, historians are enjoined to take note of the many insights into the early history of the St. Lawrence lowlands that are available from archaeology, anthropology, and ethnohistory. Natives and Newcomers is a case study of the application of a multi-disciplinary approach to the eastern agricultural Indians.

Six jam-packed chapters both reiterate and reinterpret the results of the work of previous scholars in the light of recent discoveries in the social sciences. The opening chapter is a masterful survey of “The Indian Image in Canadian History” that assesses both historical and anthropological writing, while the second examines the prehistory of eastern North America after explaining what sort of information can be obtained from archaeology and anthropology. The third through fifth chapters use the insights of these disciplines, strengthened by the discoveries of ethnohistory, to study “The Approach of the Europeans” the era of “Traders and Colonizers, 1600-1632” and the period of “Plagues and Preachers, 1632-1663.” Finally, a concluding chapter, “Who Founded New France?,” re-examines the early history of Canada and revises the traditional view of the importance of Indians, traders, missionaries, and administrators to the establishment and development of New France.

Tnigger’s re-assessment is both impressive and persuasive. With astonishing ease he wields the instruments of many disciplines, occasionally overpowering the reader with information, but never confusing the audience. His contention that greater weight should be placed on the contribution of Indian peoples — their economic motives, their social assumptions, and their diplomatic ambitions — to the path and rate of change of Canada is convincingly sustained. Trigger demonstrates both that Indian societies were mature and adaptable before contact with Europeans and that their stability and dynamism were at least as powerful influences on the newcomers as were the aims of the Europeans on the indigenous peoples.

If there is any reason for disquiet with Natives and Newcomers, it is only that its geographical scope is too restricted. One would like to see a similarly eclectic and masterful treatment of all eastern Canada, including the Algonkian peoples of Acadia as well as the Iroquoians of the St. Lawrence region.


Trigger, Bruce G., “Natives and Newcomers: Canada's "Heroic Age" Reconsidered,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024,