Thursday, October 18, 2007

Women in Canadian Literary History

Catherine Parr Traill on far left, 1899

I met a new blogger today, Mary from Ontario, Canada. In reading her recent posts, I found out that October is Women's History Month in Canada. I had been saving this post for a few weeks and finally found a focus for it. Grandma was an avid collector of books written by Canadian authors. I now have her books and have shared the volume of poems by Pauline Johnson in a previous entry. I have the books written by Nellie McClung and the classic pioneer volume, Roughing it in the Bush by Susannah Moodie.

Susannah Moodie and her sister, Catherine Parr Traill moved to Canada with their Scottish husbands in 1832. They were professional writers before their marriages and they recorded their experiences as pioneers in several books that are now important volumes of Canadian literary history. These women were truly remarkable! They had a genteel British upbringing, but tackled the tough life in the Canadian bush with energy and enthusiasm. They had a keen interest in the natural environment and Catherine became a respected botanist. The picture of the goldfinches on the left was drawn by Susannah Moodie.

We recently had an elderly patient on our unit who was a great-granddaughter of Catherine Parr Traill. She was always quick to tell us about her famous family and counted herself a naturalist as well. As she became stronger, she loved to walk outdoors on the grounds of the hospital, looking at birds and flowers. We allowed her to do this during her therapy sessions as often as possible and she had many stories to tell from the past. I printed her family tree from the internet and she was delighted to tell me about her various family members. One of her favourite stories was about being "treed by a bear" when berry picking with three maiden aunts. She recognized the cottage in the first picture, and while she never met Catherine Parr Traill, she knew the aunts in the photo. It was delightful to meet someone connected so closely with notable women of Canadian history!

The website of the Library and Archives, Canada has a very interesting section on these two women. Here is a list of some of their books.

Catherine Parr Traill.

Sketches from Nature; or, Hints to Juvenile Naturalists
The Backwoods of Canada
Canadian Wild Flowers
Studies of Plant Life in Canada
Pearls and Pebbles: Notes of an Old Naturalist

Susannah Moodie

Roughing It in the Bush
Life in the Clearings
Patriotic Songs


  1. How interesting! Thanks for sharing this! I always like to learn about new authors. I don't know too many Canadian women authors (sorry), but have loved L. M. Montgomery (of course), and Alice Munroe (I think). Are there others you recommend?

  2. Rondi- Margaret Laurence's, The Stone Angel is a book I really liked. Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, and Anne-Marie MacDonald are some good contemporary CND writers. I like Emily Carr's writings and paintings too. Of course, LM Montgomery always a favourite too.
    You likely know more Canadian authors that a lot of Canadians.

  3. Hi Ruth,
    What a neat story about those pioneer women and being able to spend time with your elderly patient who provided "living history" stories!

  4. Anonymous9:56 am GMT-4

    Great stuff you have here and very cool to meet a blogger!

  5. Ruthie- I could write a book about things my patients have taught me over the years.

    Monarch- Thanks. There are so many blogs out there and it is nice to find a new one with shared interests.

  6. Oh...I forgot about Carol shields and Emily Carr. Have you read Susan Vreeland's "The Forest Lover" about Emily Carr? Quite fascinating. I will check out The Stone Angel. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. Some times when I hear about people of the past toughing it out, I realize that I have it easy.

  8. Anonymous8:29 am GMT-4

    Wow! I wonder if I can find any of these books in our local library. I also wish I could remember the name of a Canadian author I met a LOOONNNGGGG time ago when I was a teen... She wrote children's books... I'll dig them out of the attic one of these days and tell you about her.

  9. Rondi- I have all of Emily Carr's books, but haven't seen the biography.

    Larry- The book Roughing it in the Bush is the story of a the longest fishing trip in the backwoods where you have to cut trees to build your cabin. And you have to catch fish or you will starve! ;-)

    Jennifer- some of these books have been reprinted, but the National Library in Ottawa houses the old copies. The website has a few scanned pages of these interesting books. You will have let me know the author you met in your youth!

  10. Ruth,

    How wonderful that you paid tribute to these wonderful women of history. And that book collection sounds divine.

    Thanks so much for posting this. I enjoyed my visit extremely. Drop by and see me anytime.


  11. Mary from ON- Thanks for the inspiration!


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